Dobermans and Pit Bulls Star in Young Adult Books

Writers discuss how they use their books to advocate for maligned breeds.
By Jill Hedgecock, Christopher Locke, December 2020, Updated June 2021
jill hedgecock and christopher locke

In the original draft of her young adult novel, Between Shadow’s Eyes, Jill Hedgecock’s dog character was a fluffy Border Collie mix, modelled after her own rescue dog. But then fate intervened and suddenly, she was inspired to transform the Shadow character into a red zipper-nosed Doberman.

Christopher Locke knew from the beginning of his journey as a novelist that he wanted to advocate for animals, so he seized the opportunity to educate his readers on dogfighting in his second book, Vincent and The Dissidents.

Here, they discuss how they found themselves writing about maligned breeds.

What triggered you to write about breeds that are often misrepresented by the media?

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Jill Hedgecock: I started writing a dog rescue column in Fall 2017 for The Diablo Gazette, a Bay Area entertainment magazine. In discussions with the publisher about the mascot and title of my column, he suggested using Ruby, a red zipper-nosed Doberman with a large Instagram audience, as the avatar and “Ruby Dooby Do to the Rescue” as the column title. At the time, I didn’t know that much about the Doberman breed, but because Ruby had a large following, it sounded great to me. It wasn’t until September 2018, when my column featured an interview with Ruby’s owner, Charles Lindsey, that I realized how sweet Dobermans can be. The idea that I could educate people on the breed’s soft side was the impetus for switching the dog breed in my novel.

Christopher Locke: In each book of The Enlightenment Adventures, I mix entertainment with education to shed light on various animal-rights issues. In Vincent and The Dissidents, I decided to expose the cruel world of dogfighting, which is more prevalent than people think. What these poor dogs are put through in training and during dog fights is horrific. I not only wanted to inspire people to actively try to stop dogfighting, but also, to show that Pit Bulls are unfairly maligned as being vicious. If you’ve ever met a Pit Bull, they’re sweethearts.

What has surprised you most about writing about villainized breeds?

Jill: How many Doberman owners there are and how passionate they are about the breed! When seeking book endorsements, I met John Walter of Doberman Planet, who shared my vision of promoting information about the Doberman breed. And then there’s Ruby’s fanbase. Her owner, Charles Lindsey, is a photographer, and his pictures do an amazing job of capturing Ruby’s personality. This Dobie has some die-hard fans and many were excited to see her image on my novel. One woman had the front page of my novel stamped during a trek around Europe. I had the privilege of meeting Ruby during the filming of my book trailer, and seeing her deep devotion to Charles firsthand was perhaps the best surprise of all.

Christopher: It’s important to me that the books accurately depict the topic I’m covering, so I do a lot of research. There was so much I didn’t know about dogfighting before I wrote the book. As cruel as you think it must be, it’s even worse. For example, the humans obviously can’t take injured dogs to veterinarians, so they perform surgery on the dogs to sew wounds and such, and of course, these people don’t have medical training and they don’t use anesthesia. There’s big money in the dog fights, so when a dog loses a fight, the humans get furious and sometimes kill the dogs in the most heinous ways.

One of the reasons humans use Pit Bulls for dogfighting is because they’re really loyal dogs, so even though the humans are abusing them, the dogs still want to please their humans. It’s so sad that humans take advantage of such a noble trait. If you’re interested in adopting a dog, consider a Pit Bull. Shelters are often filled with American Pit Bull Terriers who need loving homes.

How do your books depict or debunk preconceived notions about your respective dog breeds?

Jill: In the first novel, Between Shadow’s Eyes, Shadow comes into Sarah’s life after the loss of her father. Sarah isn’t looking to adopt a dog, but as in real life, dogs tend to find us. Like most canines, Shadow senses her new owner’s vulnerable state and readers get to see the sweet, loving, loyal side of Dobermans. In From Shadow’s Perspective, Shadow is the foundation for her adjustment to her life as an orphan and transition to a new high school. In addition, in both books, I include an afterword that talks about the breed and how it has often been maligned by the media.

Christopher: The main character in the dogfighting section is a kind-hearted dog named Rasha. You follow her life as she’s forced to endure grueling training, and as she tries to survive multiple fights with other dogs. Throughout the whole experience, she’s horrified at what she’s being forced to do. She doesn’t want to hurt other dogs, and yet, in order to survive, she’s forced to go against her sweet nature and fight. My hope is that anyone who reads Rasha’s story will be moved to take action on behalf of all those dogs out there who are trapped in dogfighting rings. The greatest compliments I receive from people who’ve read my books are when they say that the books inspired them to be more compassionate toward animals, or that the books reinvigorated their activism.

Jill Hedgecock is the author of three novels and writes a monthly dog rescue column. 

Christopher Locke, who has been an animal activist for almost 15 years, works as the Member Liaison at Independent Book Publishers Association and is currently working on the third book in The Enlightenment Adventures series.

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