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Going to the Dogs

Whenever I do a school visit, I painstakingly put together a whole new series of visuals to share with each class or age group. But no matter how old the students are, no matter where the school is located, no matter how long the kids have been listening to me talk about my writing process, research tips, etc., there is always the same reaction when I press the remote button on the projector and whoosh!—up comes the photo of Sam, our family’s Springer Spaniel: ”OOOOhhhh!!!!” and “Awwwwwww . . .” Then murmurs: “My dog is that color!” and “What kind is he?” “How old is he?” “What’s his name?”

Majik and Sam
Sam (on the right) and his mother, Majik

Do you have a dog?

Well, “Sam” became “Blake” in my novel Pieces of Georgia because the first rule of good writing is “write what you know.” (Sam is sleeping on my foot as I type this blog post.)  He also has his very own fan club, and he even has another wonderful book dedicated to him (as well as to a number of other canines) entitled: Do You Have a Dog? by Eileen Spinelli. If you haven’t seen this book, and you love—or even like dogs—then don’t miss it. It’s loaded with fun facts on lively rhyming pages about dogs and their famous owners: Lewis & Clark’s Newfoundland “Seaman,” Empress Josephine’s “Fortune,” Jackson Pollock’s “Ahab,” and Agatha Christie’s “Peter.”

As Sylvester Stallone’s character says in Rocky I, dogs “fill gaps” in our physical and emotional lives—and they do it faithfully and without prejudice or complaint. Dogs can be companions, guardians, guides, jesters, saviors, and yes, sometimes even our creative Muses (Emily Dickinson’s dog Carlo was her “shaggy ally” and her output decreased dramatically upon his death.) Today, I began a list of the dogs I remembered most through childhood stories and literature: Rin-Tin-Tin, Sounder, Lassie, Shiloh, Sky (in Sharon Creech’s Love that Dog) and so many more . . . . and more recently, dogs in adult fiction such as Enzo, the canine narrator in The Art of Racing in the Rain, the many amazing and oh-so memorable dogs in The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, and the outrageously original Unleashed: Poems by Writers’ Dogs.

Golden RetrieverSo—is there a canine in your family? And which dog[s] do you remember most from childhood books, TV programs, etc? Are you reading anything now that features a dog character and /or narrator? Share your pet memories and stories below!

3 thoughts on “Going to the Dogs”

  1. Now, you knew this would strike a chord! What a wonderful post. Here’s a little stream of consciousness: I had many Golden Books featuring dogs–the Pokey Little Puppy and Frisker come to mind right away. And I remember “Cupid” hiding a heart-shaped box of chocolates and a copy of “Go Dog Go” for me–still the best Valentine’s Day gift ever. I loved Cleo, the Basset with the expressive ears, on TV’s The People’s Choice. And the Clampett’s bloodhound. Shari Lewis’s Hushpuppy. Disney’s Lady and the Tramp and 101 Dalmations, which made me notice Labrador Retrievers after Pongo rolled in soot.

    Don’t you love the library programs that allow kids to read to pets?

    Travels with Charley. Some day, just me, my dog, and a car.

  2. Yes, there’s a dog in my family – Annie, a Lab. Because my son’s name is Danny, I couldn’t resist the pairing of Old Dan and Little Ann from Where the Red Fern Grows, one of my favorites.

  3. Oh, my . . . Sue, that really takes me back! I loved “go dog GO!” and Shari Lewis’s Hush Puppy, too.
    And Lisa–yes, absolutely, Old Dan & Little Ann
    from that classic tale–I almost cry just thinking about them!
    I wonder if there’s a documentary film somewhere that reviews the great dogs in film & literature. I’d buy it in a heartbeat . . .

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