Claudia Kawczynska is The Bark's co-founder and Editor-in-Chief.
These delectable cookies are simple to make, and can be broken into smaller pieces perfect for training bits.
December 13 2015
Mix the flour, oats, whole grains, parsley, dried milk and salt.
Add the eggs, peanut butter and honey and stir into dry ingredients to combine; the mixture will be crumbly.
Add enough water to bring the dough together. Mix with a spoon, or if using a stand mixer, use a dough hook.
Drop (or form by hand) the dough into walnutsized balls onto the prepared baking sheets. Flatten them to about 1/4".
Bake for about 45 minutes. When finished, the cookies will be dark golden brown, and will be dry and crisp all the way through.
Cool right on the pans.
Yield: 60 small (round) cookies.
November 20 2015
Each issue of The Bark is like a glorious mixed-breed, the result of contributions from multiple sources and with its own unique personality and quirks. I especially enjoyed assembling this one, which, as always, covers many facets of life with dogs. We take an insider’s tour of a training school unlike any other—the Canine Circus School, where tricks and balancing acts abound. The classes keep dogs spinning, and their handlers on their toes. From the world of science, Jane Brackman covers a large-scale study of cancer in Golden Retrievers that has implications for all dogs. Marsha Rabe introduces us to the Mutt-i-grees program that is redefining humane education across the country, and we profile Trevor Thomas, a hiker who is blind, and Tennille, the Lab who truly is his guide. We love stories about shelters who come up with novel approaches to two basic problems shared by all: how to enrich the lives of the dogs who are in their charge, and how to prepare them for and find them forever homes. In this issue, we salute the Maui Humane Society, for both their Beach Buddies program that makes dogs available to visitors who take them on outings, and their Wings of Aloha partnership with airlines and vacationers that enables dogs to be flown to shelters on the mainland and new homes. Then dog trainer Barbara Tran takes us to an ancient town in Viet Nam, where she observes the ways its dogs grow up with an understanding of communal space, how that is learned and how they express it. This topic neatly dovetails with one explored by Jessica Hekman, DVM, who reflects on the complexities of canine societies and how, at long last, researchers are starting to study group behavior and social hierarchies. Our cover dog is the impish, itsy Coffee Bean who was captured in a winning shot taken by Sophie Gamand; we also have a feature about the amazing oeuvre she is creating for international humane causes.
We know this is often the busiest of seasons for all of you, but we hope that you find the time to give your dogs the quality attention they deserve, as well as to share some time with a shelter dog. Visit them, take them for a walk, perhaps even volunteer to foster one. And of course, a contribution is always welcomed. Finally, we’d be thrilled to meet your dog-loving friends—wrap up your shopping by giving the gift of Bark. Your friends will thank you at least four times next year!
Canine Circus School: Learning how to do life better, one trick at a time. By Natalia Martinez
On the Trail of Canine Cancer: Large-scale study of Golden Retrievers holds hope for all dogs. By Jane Brackman, PhD
Value-Added Vacations: Maui Humane Society’s popular outreach programs attract vacationers and aids dogs. By Rebecca Wallick
Songmaster: JD Souther gets down with the dogs. Q&A with Cameron Woo.
Picture This: Featuring the photography of Sophie Gamand, author of a charming new book, Wet Dogs.
Redefining Humane Education: Mutt-i-grees program focuses on empathy, helps children learn. By Marsha Rabe
Blind Ambition: A guide dog goes the distance with her blind hiking partner. By Jennifer Dziuvenis
Shelter: Picking up the pieces, learning the meaning of shelter. By Carrie Brownstein
It’s a Dog’s Life
DISPATCH: from Vietnam: Free-ranging village dogs understand communal space. By Barbara Tran
BEHAVIOR: Entertainment options for the home-alone dog. By Karen B. London, PhD
HOWL: The McBickly Accord Beagles come to the table, humans try their best. By Jeff Steinbrink
WELLNESS: Dishing the Dirt Exploring the human and canine microbiome. Q&A with Dr. Robynne Chutkan
COMIC: Happy 60th Birthday, KryptoEven Superman had a co-pilot.By Mark Peters
RESEARCH: What we don’t know about dog societies.By Jessica Hekman, DVM, MS
ART: Essence of Dog Fabric Sculpture by Holy Smoke By Susan Tasaki
ESSAY: Lily—Life with an angel of a dog. By Eliza Thomas
REVIEWS: The Drifter; Sit! Stay! Speak!; Considerations for the City Dog; Sire and Damn; Two Dogs and a Parrot; Zen and the Art of Walking a Dog
SPOTLIGHT: Assistance Dogs of the West Celebrating 20 Years By Linda Milanesi
Here’s Looking at You—Oxytocin’s bond.
Downtown Avant-Gardists: Joan Jonas and Laurie Anderson
Skijoring; Hilary Swank Rescue Special; New Order’s “Stray Dog”
Art Book Picks and Holiday Gift Guide
Recipe: Mackerel Makes Great Toppers By Rick Woodford
Smiling Dogs Light up
Calorie Count: Popcorn and Tiny Treats; William Wegman Exhibit
From Grants and Partnerships to Innovative Revenue Streams
November 20 2015
Dog parks or Off-Leash Areas (OLAs) area a great benefit to any community. The ability to exercise off-leash, in a designated and safe environment can contribute to the health and well-being of dogs in significant ways. Most dogs require the kind of exercise and movement that they just can’t get at the end of a leash. Off-leash, they are able to run, fetch and play to their heart’s content. When properly monitored, dog parks can act as a way for dogs to socialize in neutral territory. Whether learning to engage one-on-one, meet new dogs and people, share or play—well supervised interaction is invaluable to a dog’s socialization. Dog parks can be equally beneficial to the dog guardians and the community as a whole, acting as a social center for people who share common interests and concerns. People swap training and health advice, and compare tips on everything from dog-friendly destinations to vet recommendations. Dog parks are a hub of social and physical activity for both dogs and people.
Today, communities large and small are recognizing the value of a well-run dog park. Off-leash areas are springing up all over the country and are proving to be one of the most sought after park developments for city municipalities. The idea for The Bark was born in a dog park back in 1997, as a group of dog people worked with the city of Berkeley, CA to develop a 17-acre off-leash area at the site of a reclaimed garbage dump alongside the bay. Bark knows firsthand the many obstacles to securing an official off-leash area. We often hear from readers who are interested in starting their own OLA or working towards renovating/expanding existing facilities. Funding such projects is one of the biggest challenges but with an organized effort and imagination, there are some creative ways to raise the capital required. Here are some of our favorites:
Grants and Awards
Memorials and Dedications
Wellness: Healthy Living
October 21 2015
Online courses are all the rage. Here’s one from Udemy that caught our interest: Dog CPR, First Aid & Safety. Taught by Melanie Monteiro, author of The Safe Dog Handbook and a canine CPR and first-aid expert. Monteiro offers workshops and private consults in California and Oregon, and now, you can learn from her in the comfort of your own home. There are 36 lectures (three hours of video), covering pet CPR, canine Heimlich, how to stock a first-aid kit, how to take and read vital signs and more. Important techniques like how best to approach and capture an injured dog and restrain her for treatment, and how, why and when to use a muzzle (or not) are covered, using real dogs as subjects. Also included are tips on puppy-proofing your home as well as special pointers for dog walkers, sitters and pet-care providers. At only $60, it’s a great value. Learn more at udemy.com.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
October 12 2015
The training app iClicker (iOS) is easy and free, and it’s particularly handy if you can’t find your clicker, or want to do a quickie lesson while out at the park. The noise-box feature also works as a “say cheez” prompt for photo ops. (App Store)
WoofTrax’s Walk for a Dog app (iOS, Android) makes fundraising easy and healthy for you both of you. When you and your dog start out on your walk, press “Start Walking for —” for a prompt to choose an organization. (More than 4,000 organizations are registered; if your favorite rescue or shelter isn’t in their network, you can request that it be added.) After your walk is finished, hit “stop” and the walk is credited to the org. The app also tracks walk distance, duration and route, making this a good way to record your rambles. Just think of the miles pro dog walkers can rack up!
Tracey Stewart, author of the new book, in conversation with The Bark
October 8 2015
Tracey Stewart has had a constellation of careers (some simultaneously): animal advocate, creator/editor-in-chief of the digital parenting magazine Moomah, writer for Huffington Post, vet tech, graphic designer. She and husband Jon—yes, that Jon Stewart—live in New Jersey with their two children, four dogs, two horses, two pigs, three rabbits, two guinea pigs, two hamsters, one parrot and two fish. As she notes, “all rescues, except for the children.” With the forthcoming publication of Do Unto Animals (Artisan), beautifully illustrated by Lisel Ashlock, she’s now added author to her portfolio.
In your book, you mention that raising children, at least during their younger years, is a lot like your work in the vet field. Are there other similarities that make raising your human family a little easier?
Nothing prepares you for raising a human family. That first day you wake up with a baby, you just have to keep running to stay ahead. When I was pregnant, people would say, “Don’t worry, you’ll know what to do once the baby arrives.” That’s a bunch of hooey! You’ve got to educate yourself and change your technique as your child develops.
I believe this is true of “parenting” an animal as well. My family is constantly trying to learn how to do better for our animals. We’re always looking for ways to enrich their lives and take the best care of them that we can. Every day, we learn something new. It’s a family passion.
Shelter-based projects are one of the ways you and your family express that passion. How can children—and adults, for that matter—become active in this type of volunteerism?
Sometimes, the best way is to start with the closest shelter that shares your values. The easier it is to get there, the more likely you are to visit. We were lucky that our local shelter had aligned itself with a humane education program that invited children in for activities and education.
Even if your local shelter doesn’t offer something specific, be creative. Most shelters are hard at work taking care of their animals. They can use all the generosity you have to give. Offer whatever skills you have to help. Come up with your own idea and reach out. It’s really wonderful to have a personal relationship with a shelter.
And you don’t have to wait for a program to exist. When we’ve been on vacation, my daughter has gone to local shelters and offered to read to their animals.
How do you explain to young children that not all animals in shelters will be rehomed?
Honesty is always the best approach. The older the child, the more details I’m comfortable sharing. I usually know how much or how little information to give each child. Not that I haven’t made the mistake of answering big life questions with more information than my kids want. At that point, they give me a puzzled look and interrupt me with, “Okay, Mommy, is that it?”
As with any topic that is frustrating and sad, I find it helps to look at the positive and to focus on what we can actually do to help. Helping animals has shown my kids the strength of their voices and actions.
You point out that “an animal’s presence in a shelter often says a lot more about the person who surrendered them than about the animal.” Unfortunately, people seem to equate shelters with behavior problems. How do you counteract that perception?
I think we need to tell people to take a moment to ponder the many failings of members of the human race, and then imagine the gold that must get left at shelters every day. Having spent so much time in shelters, I can personally attest to the fact that fantastic animals are just waiting to be given a chance with a reasonable and kind human being. Shelter animals with the most daunting behavioral issues, such as extreme fear or aggression, are usually euthanized, especially if there is a history of biting. Sadly, however, animals with absolutely no serious behavioral problems are euthanized as well, due to lack of space and resources and because no one came to take a look at them.
You also mention virtual adoption. How does that work?
Virtual adoption is a way to help shelter animals without bringing them into your house. Let’s face it, we can only bring so many animals home before we have to worry about accusations of hoarding. Even if your home is already full, you have allergies or a hectic work schedule, you travel or any other of a host of obstacles, there is still so much you can do to help animals find their forever homes. When our family reached maximum capacity, my kids chose a shelter dog or cat to champion. They’d make posters, decorate cages with lovely messages, and make videos and buttons. They’d drop off enrichment toys for their surrogate animal to play with. Social media offers endless opportunities to get the word out as well.
Why is fostering a pet such a good idea for the whole family?
I know that my kids feel really proud when we’re part of finding an animal a loving home. And my husband is relieved when we’re successful because it means we won’t be adding another member to the household. For me, it’s therapy. I lean toward generalized anxiety and am always worried about one thing or the other, except when I’m fostering an animal. There is something soothing and peaceful about taking care of and creating peace for an animal who has been through so much. I’m able to put all my petty concerns aside and just be.
Tell us more about your wildlife rehab center as well as your sanctuary to rescue farm animals.
Our “wildlife rehab center” is nothing official. Mostly, we make sure our home is well prepared to help an animal until we can get it to a licensed wildlife rehabber. (People can sometimes unintentionally harm an animal when they don’t know what they’re doing.) We have all the emergency numbers at the ready. We also make sure that we don’t unintentionally harm the wildlife in the back yard with harmful chemicals. We give a loud holler before we let the dogs into the yard, and we provide lots of food and shelter. My car is always equipped with a container with air holes, dog treats, a leash and protective gloves.
The animal sanctuary is on its way to becoming official, but doing it right requires time. Last year, I took a course at the Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, N.Y. Their national shelter director, Susie Coston, taught it and it was a real eye-opener. I remember thinking that by the end of the conference, some of the attendees would have been discouraged from starting their own sanctuary.
Doing right by animals is no small task, and many well-meaning people get in over their heads. Then people and animals suffer. If you’re thinking of starting a sanctuary yourself, I would encourage taking this class. If you still think you’re capable of doing a great job when you complete it, then march on. If you don’t, give your passion to the animals at an already-existing sanctuary.
Sanctuaries need to be able to provide quality individual care to their rescues. They need to educate, educate and then educate some more. We are so out of touch with the animals we call food. We need to meet them.
The number of animals a sanctuary can save will never be enough. In the U.S., about 25 million land animals are killed for food daily.
What role do your husband and kids play in all this?
Fortunately for me, my entire family has an intense love for animals. I get away with a lot because Jon is such a softie. He has his own projects, but enjoys mine immensely. He’ll sometimes pretend to be exasperated when I tell him things like, “Honey, there are five goats sleeping in our garage tonight. The rescue will—I hope—come for them in the morning,” but I know he loves it. (Right, honey?? Right?!) My kids are essential in all of this craziness. They have feeding, enrichment and training duties. They are constantly teaching me new things about animals.
Among other things, you comment on dog tail- and ear-cropping and cat declawing. In other countries, these practices are thought to be inhumane and oftentimes are illegal. Why are we still doing it here?
My understanding is that one of the reasons this practice still goes on in the U.S. is due to some no-good politics. Other folks speak to that more articulately than I can, but what I do know is dogs’ ears and tails are important to their ability to communicate, and that declawing cats is painful and deforming. Lots of people think that because it’s been done for so long, it must be all right. It’s not!
You also take on the demonization of the Pit Bull. You’ve lived with Pit Bulls; why do you think they’ve gotten such a “bad rap”?
Myths abound. Lazy reporting and a desire to grab people’s attention with sensationalized stories have been implicit in the destruction and abuse of too many innocent creatures.
The reality is that Pit Bulls are smart, loyal and strong, qualities that unfortunately attracted the attention of unsavory types in the ’80s and ’90s. Criminals exploited Pit Bulls’ natural tendencies for the purpose of profit. Because they are usually so devoted to their owners, Pit Bulls could be trusted not to bite them while concurrently obeying their commands to fight.
Pit Bulls are being overbred, are not being spayed or neutered, and are treated as disposable. Couple that with the backlash against them and you can understand why our shelters are filled with Pit Bulls. It is estimated that 2,800 Pit Bulls are euthanized in the U.S. every day.
If BSL laws are in place to protect the communities, communities should be up in arms about the money being wasted. These laws don’t make communities safer. Education does! Pit Bulls do not bite more than other breeds. However, the media often labels dogs who have bitten people as Pit Bulls; their mantra is, “If it bit, it must be a Pit.”
Breed doesn’t appear among the factors relevant to dog-bite fatalities. According to a study done by the CDC, of the 256 dog-bite fatalities between 2000 and 2009, 84 percent were intact males, 76 percent were kept as guard or yard dogs rather than family pets, and 28 percent involved owners with a history of reported pet abuse. History, not breed, determines a dog's behavior. Humans, not dogs, are the variable.
By and large, dogs are at the mercy of human decisions, and when humans make poor decisions, dogs suffer and communities become less safe. Let’s put money now being spent on enforcing BSL laws toward educating communities about dog behavior and safety rather than blaming dogs—put it behind teaching people the importance of spay and neuter, dog behavior, and positive training methods.
Acts of animal cruelty are linked to violence against people. Communities would be safer if animal cruelty cases were enforced.
On a less weighty note, as an avid DIYer, I really love the simple projects you include in the book. But why did you include them?
The thing I like about hand-made projects is that they force people to drop everything else and ponder for a bit. And, if you want to engage people and keep them motivated to keep doing for others, you have to make it fun! DIY projects are a great way to get kids involved. Sitting together working on these projects provides time for conversation, and taking these projects to the animals is incredibly satisfying.
When their efforts feed their souls, people are less likely to burn out and more likely to continue helping. Animals do that for me. Whether it’s animals or something else, I would encourage readers to take some time to figure out what really makes them feel great about helping.
Your book’s theme of bettering the lives of animals should be popular with readers of all ages. What do you hope to achieve?
If nothing else, I hope Do Unto Animals inspires people to do just a little more. If we all did a little more, a lot of good could come from it. Lives are busy and tons of things are going wrong in the world. It can be overwhelming and depressing, but it helps to feel like you’re pushing back with positive action. What’s wonderful about animals is that they’re all around us. Opportunities to make a difference abound.
I’d love to inspire all animal lovers to constantly learn and seek out new information. Don’t take information at face value. Do your homework. Raise questions. If something doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t. Learning about suffering and wrongdoing isn’t as devastating to your soul when you’re working on the solution. The more I learn, the better I do, and each day I’m doing better than the last.
What’s next for the Stewart family?
I know Jon is looking forward to going to the carwash (he loves that!), stopping by his favorite smoothie place, being with our kids a glorious amount of time and keeping an eye on me. I’m guessing that I’m not going to be able to get away with sneaking so many animals into the house once he’s not at the show every day.
This interview has been edited.
Meet Kumbali, the cheetah cub, and his new bro, Kago, a rescue Lab mix. You have to see this charming video from the Metro Richmond (VA) zoo about their story. Kumbali was removed from his mother to be hand-raised when he wasn’t showing any weight gain in his first couple of weeks of life.
He was thriving living with his keeper, but missed companionship, so they got him a pup from a local rescue group. The two young animals bonded almost instantly. And now are, according to their handlers, like devoted brothers. It seems that cheetahs in the wild have a more “flight” than a fight response, but they are also very social animals. As the video says, “in the wild they form coalitions with their brothers.”
So it makes the cross-species friendships with dogs, much easier than it would be with other wild cats. These cheetah-dog pairings in captivity has been happening for over 30 years.
Kumbali and Kago are perfect examples of how well this has worked. Kago provides a calming influence on the young cheetah, because dogs are less fearful than cats and “embrace” the new with more confidence, something that Kumbali picks up on too. You can see why the two have become inseparable.
Wellness: Food & Nutrition
Q&A with Susan Thixton, authors of Dinner PAWsible.
Whole food, real food, clean eating: however it’s described, many of us are turning—or returning—to minimally processed, additive-free food made by nature rather than machines. In their newly revised cookbook, Dinner PAWsible, holistic veterinarian Cathy Alinovi and pet food safety advocate Susan Thixton apply that concept to the world of companion animals. They suggest that home-prepared meals incorporating healthy ingredients are eminently do-able alternatives that not only improve our animals’ health but also, are easier on our budgets. Bark recently spoke with the authors.
For years, we’ve been told that variety in a dog’s diet is a bad thing, yet in your cookbook, you encourage it. Why?
We promote variety for pets for the same reason it’s recommended for humans: to provide a balance of vitamins and minerals. Eating different foods from meal to meal helps achieve this.
How should we go about switching our dogs from commercial foods to a diet that incorporates the recipes from your book?
Changing brands of commercial pet food quickly (from one meal to the next) can cause some dogs to have “tummy issues,” aka diarrhea. So, to be safe when making the transition, we recommend switching slowly: for example, one-quarter new (home-prepared) food to three-quarters old (commercial) food for two or three days, half-and-half for another two or three days, and so on. Dogs who’ve been eating real food all along can be switched right over to the recipes we provide.
When preparing meals for our dogs, how can we be sure that the nutrients are bio-available? And, related to this, why is “lightly cooked” better than “thoroughly cooked”?
Remember when commercial cat food was introduced and researchers discovered that taurine had to be added, even though it was made with meat? Taurine, an amino acid [protein’s building blocks] cats require, occurs naturally in meat; however, in the manufacturing process, the meat was overcooked to the point that the taurine broke down and was no longer available as a nutrient.
It’s the same thing with cooking for dogs—if you cook the ever-living daylights out of meat, the nutrients will be degraded, while cooking it lightly leaves more nutrients accessible to the body. Feeding raw meat is also acceptable, but we recommend that people avoid feeding their dogs raw ground meat from the grocery store, as it is often contaminated with bacteria that can be harmful. Vegetables are a bit harder for a dog to digest, which is why we recommend lightly cooking them; if you feel you need to boil veggies, add the cooking water to your dog’s food, as boiling tends to leach the vitamins into the water.
You advise boiling a whole chicken and then using the bones to make a broth that incorporates apple cider vinegar. What’s the advantage of adding vinegar?
Chicken can really be prepared by any method; broiling or baking works great too, and still leaves you with bones you can use to make broth. (Regardless of how you prep your chicken, don’t overcook it. We recommend using a meat thermometer to make certain the meat is cooked to the proper temperature of 165 degrees.) Apple cider vinegar helps leach the minerals from the bones, which gives you bone broth, a powerhouse food source.
Most of your recipes have around 10 to 15 percent fat. Why is fat important for dogs, and do highly active dogs need more?
For dogs—for all mammals, actually—fat is an energy source and provides nutrients necessary for an efficiently functioning nervous system. Some, like working sled dogs, need an amazing number of calories, on the order of 10,000 kcal a day when they’re running at top speed (10 times the amount comparably sized pet dogs require), and fat helps them meet these requirements. While our recipes are designed for pet dogs who are moderately active, they can be modified for higher energetic needs, which also come into play during pregnancy, puppyhood and agility work. We discuss these modifications at the beginning of the book, and we’re available to help individuals with specialized requirements.
Is there such a thing as too much of a good thing when it comes to some ingredients, for example, nuts and seeds? I use a NutriBullet to make drinks for myself and my dogs that include ground hemp, goji, flax and other seeds and nuts. It seems our dogs would also benefit from high-value “smoothies” made with raw leafy veggies, fruits and seeds, moistened with broth or whey. What do you think?
Just like humans, dogs can get too much of a good thing, although it takes repeated daily overeating of one item to cause a problem. Fresh grinding makes rich foods like seeds and nuts—wonderful sources of protein and trace nutrients—more digestible, as well as helps the body access their wonderful omega fatty-acid oils. You can make great pet food add-ins by using a NutriBullet, Vitamix or even a coffee grinder.
Why don’t you advocate a raw diet?
We promote minimally processed food, raw or cooked. Our original concept was to help pet owners new to real food get started, and some are grossed out by the idea of raw meat. We’ve found that as people become more experienced, many do switch to raw foods. On the other hand, some dogs—those who are older or who have particular health problems—cannot comfortably digest raw meat, so cooking it lightly makes sense for them.
You point out that not every meal needs to be complete and balanced. In the overall scheme of things, how important is balance, and how can we be assured that our dogs get all the nutrients they require?
Consider human diets: every meal, every bite, is not 100 percent balanced and complete. But over the course of a few meals with a variety of ingredients, balance is achieved. The same thing works for our dogs: variety fills in any “holes” that may exist in individual recipes. We like the concept of providing balanced nutrition through whole-food ingredients instead of via synthetic supplements (which is what most commercial pet foods use).
UK trainer Tony Cruse’s book is a good guide to a better understanding of dogs. Addressing behavioral questions such as, “Why does my dog get on the chair the minute I get off it?” Cruse presents the reasons in a charming and straightforward manner, with a nod to the dog’s point of view. In this case, he points out that it doesn’t mean a dog is trying to dominate; more likely, it’s that we’ve warmed the comfy chair and it “clearly is a good place” to be. He also offers training tips such as offering the dog a well-stuffed Kong in another spot in the house, away from the chair. So, if you’ve ever wondered just why your dog does what she does, this delightful read is for you.
Alex Kava talks with The Bark about her newest character, Ryder Creed, and his dogs.
October 6 2015
Alex Kava has been crafting intense murder-and-mayhem-fueled novels for at least 15 years. Fortunately, her heroes—FBI profiler Maggie O’Dell and, most recently, former U.S. Marine and K9 handler Ryder Creed—are up to the task of bringing down the villains. Like many of the authors whose books catch our eye, she writes dogs into the plot, not as afterthoughts but as fully realized characters. Want proof? See her two new books, Breaking Creed and Silent Creed. Bark editor in chief Claudia Kawczynska gets the backstory.
Bark: What inspired your new dog-handler character, Ryder Creed?
Alex Kava: Creed came out of my lifelong fascination with dogs and their capabilities. I’ve loved dogs and followed them around since I was old enough to walk. I wanted to create someone who not only shared my passion but who would be comfortable living in the company of dogs.
B: I confess I was concerned that something bad was going to happen to the dogs, and was relieved that it didn’t. Did you make a conscious decision about this?
AK: I simply can’t read books or watch movies in which animals are hurt or killed, so that was an easy decision. Though Creed’s dogs face dangerous situations, including environmental threats (spiders, snakes, mudslides), the reader can be assured that they will always be okay. I can’t, however, make that promise about their human counterparts.
B: What kind of technical advice or assistance did you get when writing about the dogs’ training and the method Creed uses?
AK: I do a tremendous amount of research for all my novels. For the “Creed” series, it’s been a combination of articles, videos and books (The Cadaver Dog Handbook by Andrew Rebmann is my bible), along with talking to experts. Over the years, I’ve developed a long list of people I can call upon, from homicide detectives and CSI techs to K9 handlers. Their experiences breathe life into my novels. And my veterinarian has helped tremendously; she’s become my go-to source for anything and everything about dogs.
B: It’s refreshing to see an action character like Creed have such concern for his dogs, to the extent of sometimes sleeping with them in their kennel and preparing homemade food for them.
AK: Scout, my 16-year-old dog who sat beside me while I wrote every one of my novels, was dying from kidney disease as I worked on the first “Creed” book. It was a daily ritual to prepare his homemade meals and administer his subcutaneous fluids. For me, it was no different than taking care of a sick child. It’s that way for Creed, too. These dogs aren’t just part of his family—they are his family.
B: Why was it important that the dogs have rescue backgrounds? (Let’s hope that will inspire your readers to adopt shelter/rescue dogs!)
AK: Two reasons: First, I wanted it to be an ongoing theme—Creed rescues dogs, and in return, the dogs rescue Creed, both literally and figuratively. Second, I wanted to highlight that all dogs have amazing capabilities and value, even those who have been abandoned or discarded.
B: As a fan of terriers, I was pleased to see that a JRT, Grace, is one of the featured working-dog characters. What made you decide to use a smaller dog in this role?
AK: I have three West Highland White Terriers, so I love terriers, too. Most people don’t know that smaller dogs can and are trained as working dogs. There are situations where they can get in and out more easily than larger dogs, and in some contexts, they attract less attention. Terriers, in particular, have a lot of energy. Most of them have that all-important intense drive—what Ryder Creed describes as “ball crazy.”
B: Dog-loving readers will be treated to a “two-fer” in these books, since the other protagonist, Maggie O’Dell, who has her own series, is also a dog person. Has she always had dogs? And why did you think of adding dogs to your work?
AK: Maggie did not have dogs in the beginning of the series. As an FBI agent who tracks killers for a living, she deals with evil on a weekly basis, so I wanted to give her something good to bring balance to her life. She rescues a dog—a white Labrador named Harvey—in book number two (Split Second). Later in the series, in Hotwire, a stray German Shepherd, saves Maggie’s life and she ends up adopting him, too. I guess I was creating dogs as heroes even before I meant to.
The third in the “Ryder Creed” series, Reckless Creed, is slated for release in spring 2016, and Before Evil, a new “Maggie O’Dell,” will be out in early 2016.
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