I’ve been deep in edits with a shapeshifter story, but hadn’t realized how frequently I feature animals in my other stories until I attended the World of Pets Expo this weekend.
Our guinea pig rescue group—yes, MGPR, a guinea pig rescue, as I had to confirm many times during my shift—sets up a booth alongside other small pet rescues, such as House Rabbit Society, Luna’s House, and a rat rescue I didn’t get the name of. I visited with a chinchilla. The bird fanciers are across the way. That’s our usual corner, but unusual for Pet Expo. At Pet Expo, small pets are in the minority: dogs rule!
People can more easily bring their dogs out in January’s weather, and they are less skittish in the busy setting. I’d only taken one photo of this little cutie, an Italian Greyhound, and frankly hadn’t thought a whole lot about the dogs.
But then an Irish Wolfhound walked by.
I knew what it was immediately—from photos…and my research for a story. Yes, I have featured an Irish Wolfhound in a science fiction romance, BUT…I had never seen one IRL!
I stopped them. “This is an Irish Wolfhound, right?”
“Yes.” (Actually she was quite pleased I recognized the breed.)
“May I take a picture?”
This lady was my height – 5’4”…The dog is huge, just as I wanted him to be. In my novel Passages, the wolfhound knocks over a guard, just by leaping his paws to the man’s shoulders.
His face was just as square, his hair just as wiry, and his temperament just as calm as I had learned through reading. Meeting him made me feel very good about my selection of a wolfhound for my novel. I was so pleased, I can’t remember the dog’s name, and I know I asked.
About an hour later, a man passed with a small black dog. OMG! “Is that a Schipperke?” I asked my rescue friends. They had no idea what I was talking about, and that man-dog pair was moving quickly into the crowd. I chased them halfway to the other side of the building before I could ask the person who knew. And the answer was yes.
‘Bosun’—the ship’s officer in charge of equipment and the crew—was this sailor’s second Schipperke. The first spent nine years living on his sailboat. Wow… I asked a few questions about the dog liking it, did he have good balance, and so forth, again confirming that’s exactly why I chose this species nicknamed the Belgium Barge Dog to live with Coral’s schooner-dwelling family in my YA Seaside Sorcery.
I had never thought of the Pet Expo as a place for writing research, but I’ll use it the next time I need to select a species I’ve never met. I was lucky in my research for my first choices of dogs I didn’t really know, but it’s smarter to actually touch the dog and talk to the person who lives with it. Now I have the feel of the coat under my fingers, the sense of size, the motion of the ears and tail…the real dog to work into my writing.
And in case you think I rescue guinea pigs and have ignored them in my writing, meet Hilda, one of a pair of the first shelter pigs I adopted. She is Gran’s pet in my YA Meadow Magic.
Here’s her entrance:
Fern strode through her grandmother’s cottage, late, today of all days. “Gran?” she yelled. Late because, like usual, Mom hadn’t left when she was supposed to and now Gran—
“Wheek, wheek, wheeeeek!” came a shriek from the front room and seconds later Gran’s guinea pig barreled around the comfortable old couch, her long grey and white hair brushing the polished floor like a dust mop. She ran straight to Fern, who caught her up and hugged her.
“Hilda, at least you’re home. How have you been?” Hilda licked Fern’s cheek, her little face barely visible under a shock of white hair. “Aw, thanks. I’ve missed you, too.” Fern streamed her fingers through the chubby animal’s soft fur. “I promise, when we finish our projects there’ll be plenty of time to pet you. But right now I’ve got to find Gran.”
Hilda burbled a string of chirps, her gaze locked on Fern’s face.
Weird. The pig had that look just like when Gran talked to her. Fern sighed. May as well give it a go, though she didn’t have time to waste. “Do you have a message for me?”
Hilda threw back her head and shrilled, her pink mouth stretching to reveal four sharp incisors. When Fern set her down, the pig scurried across the room to her den basket under the kitchen counter. She rooted around and in short order returned carrying a folded piece of stationary, a bit gnawed at the edges. The note inside read:
A few issues for our inspection have arisen, so I am off to a meeting. It might run into Saturday as well. It’s time for you to take charge. I know a seventeen year old can handle the remaining projects, but to ease your burden I have arranged some help for you.
“Leaving now—Gran!” Fern slapped her forehead. “Ohmigod, me in charge? And help? Sheesh. As if you could dig up help on this island, thank you very much.” Fern read the note again. What issues? Did this mean in spite of all their work on the Meadows, the Council still might take Gran’s land and give it to another family? With her home at risk, Gran had left Fern in charge?
“Oh.” How had she forgotten Hilda? Hilda giving her the… Fern eyed the guinea pig. No. No way.
Hilda took a few steps toward the refrigerator. “Wheek!”
Fern blinked. “Uh, sorry? You want a treat?” She dropped the note on the counter and found a carrot. Hilda took it and trotted off to her basket. Huh. Guess that was—Fern shook her head. She had work to do, whether the guinea pig could… uh, whether Gran… Hmm. “See you later, Hilda. Even with Gran gone, I’ve got to cut those trees on our list.” The List. Yeah.
Isn’t she smarter than the average pig? She’s owned by a witch. 🙂 Thanks for reading!
P.S.: I belatedly realize I should have included an excerpt of one of the dogs. *eye roll at myself* I was at Pet Expo as a guinea pig volunteer – so my head was still there. Dog excerpt coming soon!