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Susan Tasaki

Susan Tasaki is a The Bark contributing editor.

Culture: DogPatch
Q&A with Theresa Schwegel
Author of The Good Boy

What could be better than a novel that combines a strong sense of place, a fast-moving story and a dog as a primary character? Theresa Schwegel’s newest book, The Good Boy (Minotaur), fulfills all these requirements and then some; Butch, a Chicago PD K9, races through its pages in a most authentic way. Despite a busy book-tour schedule, Schwegel kindly took time to answer a few questions—like all dedicated dog people, she enjoys talking about her co-pilots.

Bark: In the acknowledgments, you thank the dogs who inspired you, Wynne and Wiley and CPD K9 Brix. Tell us more about the first two, and how you came to know Brix.

Theresa Schwegel: Wynne is my wonderfully neurotic Australian cattle dog mix; Wiley is my stomach-brained Ridgeback-Lab. They’re rescues and they’re my best friends. My husband trained them when they were puppies, and they’re easier off-leash (especially since Wynne’s herding instinct only tangles us). They both exist in Butch— his yin and yang, I suppose—as does Brix, the German Shepherd/Belgian Malinois mix I met when I asked a detective friend to find me a working K9. And yes—Brix is Butch’s physical model; I’d seen Bloodhounds work as well, but I needed a dog who could track and trail and detect and protect.

Bark: Your portrayal of the world of the working police dog has a lot of authenticity. Were you already tapped into it, or did it require research?

Schwegel: Research, of course. I need to see what I write, whether it’s a place or person or procedure. I was fortunate to spend time with some German Shepherds; both a trainer and a former K9 officer were kind enough to let me peek into their homes to see how a working dog lives off the clock. And Brix’s handler, Tara Poremba (now a trainer for the Chicago Police Department), was instrumental in teaching me how a dog team works; at one point, we staged a mock drug search at a neighborhood bar. Truthfully, though, I think Butch’s authenticity comes from living with my two dogs. I think Wiley would be a great K9 if I put bacon in the Kong.

Bark: Butch has a brief foray into dog fighting. What made you decide to add that element?

Schwegel: I felt Butch needed to fight his own fight, too. To be the real “good boy.” What limited research I did with regard to dogfighting was mortifying. The culture, the language, the cruelty. Despite the tough bullying scenes in the book, I could only bring myself to allude to the dogfight.

Bark: Butch really is a central character, one who in some ways drives the action, or at least inspires a lot of it. Did you start with that intent, or did it develop as you wrote?

Schwegel: I knew Butch would cause Joel’s journey, and I knew he had to go along (Joel would need someone to talk to). He became a central character as I realized he was the only one who couldn’t tell a lie (and everybody else in the book was buried under them). His “personality”—if I may anthropomorphize, because I always do— developed as a result of his interactions with Joel.

Bark: We were also interested in your choice to give Jack London’s book White Fang a role in the story; what inspired that? Are you a reader of dog books, or other mysteries with dogs in them? Any favorites or recommendations?

Schwegel: I wanted Joel to have a city map and a moral compass on his journey. White Fang is one of my favorite soul-searching books, and so it was an obvious choice. I don’t really seek out “dog” books, though two favorites that both feature dog-as-narrator are Timbuktu by Paul Auster and The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein.

Bark: Are there any more “Murphy and Butch” books in the works?

Schwegel: I don’t have plans for a series, though I had a writer-friend recently comment that Joel would be a “pretty interesting dude” if I let him grow up. The novel I’m working on now jumps to the other end of the spectrum, as it deals with financial exploitation and elder abuse. (I must admit, though, that I’m partial to the idea of giving the detective a dog.)

Culture: Reviews
The Good Boy
Minotaur Books

“Butch did his job . He recognized threat. He defended his handler. And lately, it seems like he’s the only one who will.” In Edgar Award–winner Theresa Schwegel’s new book, Chicago PD K9 officer Pete Murphy is under siege both on the job and on the home front. Fortunately, his partner Butch, a Belgian Malinois/German Shepherd mix, has his back. Butch is also devoted to Murphy’s son, Joel, an intelligent, intensely focused 11-year-old with a penchant for playing detective.

As in her four earlier books—all of which are also set in the city of Chicago —the people in The Good Boy struggle with professional and personal complexities. In Pete’s case, the suggestion that he had an affair with a female judge he was assigned to protect affects his job and his marriage. He’s been reassigned to the K9 unit, fellow officers keep their distance, and his wife and teen-age daughter are furious about having to move to a cheaper neighborhood. Joel, on the other hand, considers their new situation ripe with opportunities for “undercover” work. For Butch, whose specialty is drugdetection, life is straightforward: he works hard, is devoted to Pete and his family, and will defend them—especially Joel—at all costs.

The story hits terminal velocity quickly. Joel, accompanied by Butch, follows his sister when she sneaks out to a party at the home of a boy Joel knows is dangerous. As they spy on the partygoers, Butch scents drugs and leaps into action. In the process, shots are fired. The narrative follows Joel and Butch as the two make their way across Chicago, armed with a map, four dollars and a copy of Jack London’s White Fang, to the one person Joel feels can save Butch from the consequences of doing his job. As his mother frantically waits, and his sister hides her role in the situation and his father anxiously searches for them, Joel and Butch navigate some of the city’s bleaker byways.

Both Joel and Butch qualify as the “good boy” of the title. Joel is bright and innocent and loyal; Butch is honest, and honestly portrayed by a writer who knows dogs and their behaviors (she even knows why dogs’ feet smell like popcorn, an intriguing bit of trivia).

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Springtime Checklist
Spring is a good time to take stock, sort out and get ready for the months ahead!

Personal Care

• Grooming is a year-round activity, but to avoid the “dreads,” now’s the time to step it up. Many dogs are losing their winter coats, so be extra diligent about combing/brushing. A pro shares her tips at thebark.com/groom.
• Give your dog the sniff test. If breath or ears are a little, well, stinky, start with a good tooth-brushing or a gentle  ear-cleaning at home, or have them checked out by your vet. And, if your dog is one of those plagued by their anal glands, ask your vet, groomer or other professional to check those out as well.
• Pollens and dust can affect your dog, especially in springtime. Consult with your vet to help manage allergies.

Yard Work

• Temps allowing, sow parsley, thyme and rosemary outdoors or plant a windowsill garden; herbs can brighten up your dog’s diet.
• Be careful when choosing new plants for the yard; some are toxic, as are some bulbs, including tulips, lilies and daffodils. Check the ASPCA’s online list for safety.
• Remember that dogs find fresh green grass almost irresistible, both to roll in and eat, so ixnay on the chemical fertilizers (even organic fertilizers can cause GI upset and inflammation). Slug and snail bait are also hazardous to your dog’s health.

House Work


• When you do spring housecleaning, use nontoxic products; vinegar and baking soda are your (and your dog’s) friends! See thebark.com/green for details.
• Planning some remodeling now that the weather’s better? Look for “green” materials. More info here: thebark.com/living-green

Out and About


• Shape up—gradually. Now that you and your pal can take longer walks, you may be tempted to overdo. Go easy to avoid injury.
• Polish up training. Refreshing mannerly leash walking and reinforcing spot-on recalls will make springtime outings more enjoyable.
• Are your dog’s ID tags up to date? If not, make sure they are, and replace tags that are scratched or hard to read. It’s also a good time to get your dog microchipped and be sure that contact info is current too. microchipregistry.foundanimals.org.
• Avoid fungi. Spring showers often bring out mushrooms and other fungi; steer your dog clear, as nibbling on these can be fatal (and, depending on where you live, don’t forget to check your yard).
• Watch out for wildlife. Animals are on the move, looking for food, mates or good places to have their young.

Find lots of tips, tricks and advice from the pros by using the search function to find more about any of these topics.

Culture: Reviews
Book Review: The Last Walk
Reflections on Our Pets at the End of Their Lives

No one who lives with and loves a dog wants to think about the subject of this book. We know quite well that one day we’re going to have to face life without our dog’s physical presence … that, indeed, we will very likely have to make the decision that ends our dog’s life. Yet, denial runs deep. Not now, we think. Not yet.

Hard though it may be to do, however, read this book. In it, the author seamlessly weaves journal entries detailing the last year of her old dog Ody’s life with what science has to say about animal aging, end-of-life care and, ultimately, death. She engages both heart and mind in her quest to come to terms with Ody’s deteriorating condition, and to figure out how to best meet his needs. Above all, she’s driven to answer two questions: What does a “good death” look like? And, by extension, how can she ensure that Ody has one?

Impeccably researched, the book covers the biological, philosophical, cognitive and medical aspects of animal aging. Pierce, a bioethicist and (with Marc Bekoff) co-author of Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals, has a gift for explaining scientific subjects to non-scientists.

Yes, you’ll cry. The bond Pierce has with Ody, and her commitment to honoring it, will touch your heart. Nonetheless, traveling with her on that “last walk” is the best way to prepare yourself for the time you’ll have to make it with your own dog.

It has been said that knowledge is power. In this book, the author has given dog lovers a powerful tool to help them navigate one of life’s most profound passages.

Culture: Reviews
Book Review: All that Ails You
Published by CreateSpace
All That Ails You

All that Ails You is narrated by Wrigley, a most attentive caregiver: emotionally attuned, good-natured, resilient—just what’s needed in an assisted-living facility. Sure, he’s a dog, but that’s a plus in an environment where it’s sometimes hard to remember that life was once joyful. As All that Ails You makes clear, dog power can be a perfect antidote to illness and loss.

Culture: DogPatch
Masterwork: Gertrude Käsebier
Classic portrait of Charging Thunder and his dog.
Charging Thunder, American Indian photograph from glass negative. ca. 1900

Before becoming one of the most influential American photographers of the 20th century, Gertrude Käsebier (1852–1934) was a wife and mother, experiences that informed her hallmark studies of women and their children. She also had an independent streak. At 37, an age by which most women of her day had settled into domesticity, Käsebier enrolled in painting and drawing classes at the Pratt Institute, then switched to photography and made it her career.

Käsebier later opened a portrait studio on New York City’s Fifth Avenue and, in April 1898, watched as Buffalo Bill’s Wild West troupe paraded past it on their way to Madison Square Garden. Among the performers was a contingent of Lakota Sioux. Inspired by the respect she had for the Sioux people of her Colorado youth, she asked William “Buffalo Bill” Cody for permission to make studio portraits of those traveling with the show, and Cody agreed.

Käsebier’s photographs—some of her portfolio’s most introspective and highly regarded—focus on the Native performers as individuals rather than cultural objects. Charging Thunder and his dog (shown here) were among her subjects. A few years after Käsebier took his photo, Charging Thunder went to England as part of Cody’s Wild West show and remained there after the show returned to the U.S. He died in 1929.

Culture: Reviews
Book Review: Dogtripping
Published by St. Martins
 dogtripping

Best known for his “Andy Carpenter” mystery series, Rosenfelt recounts a real-life adventure in this book, something those of us who fret over preparing for a weekend in the country with our dog will find truly daunting: moving 25 dogs across country, from California to Maine, in a caravan of RVs. With typical self-deprecating humor, Rosenfelt not only journals the move, he also shares how he and his wife got involved in rescue work, and the stories of some of the dogs they saved.

See our interview with author David Rosenfelt.

Culture: Reviews
Book Review: Weekends with Daisy
Published by Gallery Books/S&S

Suffering from canine deficit disorder, Sharron Luttrell signed up to be a NEADS/ Prison Pup Partnership co-caretaker, the person who familiarizes an assistance-dog-in-training with daily life on the “outside.” In doing so, she learns to let go and to plumb the depths of her own compassion for the benefit of others.

Culture: Reviews
Book Review: Following Atticus
Published by William Morrow

We review Tom Ryan's Following Atticus. Start with New Hampshire’s White Mountains, add a small dog and an overweight and out-of-shape reporter on a mission, and what do you get? A truly uplifting account of the adventure of a lifetime and a partnership built on mutual trust. A book of “life, growth and redemption.”

Culture: Reviews
Book Review: Short Leash
Published by Michigan State U Press
Short Leash Book Review

In Short Leash: A Memoir of Dog Walking and Deliverance, Pema Chodron has said that the best way to deal with fear is to lean into it, diffusing its effect by letting it inform you and staying present. Suffering the aftereffects of traumatizing attacks, Gary and her dog Barney leaned into their fears and in doing so, freed themselves from them. An inspiring and uncompromisingly honest story.

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