Jilly: Calling All Dog-Lovers – Help Needed, Please!

Calling All Dog-LoversI have a problem, and I’d appreciate some brainstorming help.

I’ve never had a pet. I won a goldfish at the fair when I was four, and once I looked after the school gerbil for the holidays, but that’s my limit. As newlyweds, my parents had an English bull terrier who was essentially their first child, and who died horribly in a freak traffic accident. They adored him, and they were so devastated by his death that they flatly refused to consider getting another dog, no matter how my brother and I pleaded. At eighteen, I moved to London. After university we lived in a tiny attic flat and I got a job that required me to work ridiculous hours. It was a challenge to make time to eat, sleep and occasionally catch up with my husband. A pet would have been out of the question.

Fast-forward to 2015. I’m working on Cam and Mary’s story, and I’m in the first draft discovery phase. I’m letting the story unfold as it will and as I left for RWA, out of the blue my Girls (mustn’t call them Muses!) sent up a new, important secondary character. Let’s call him Starman, because that’s the placeholder name I gave him to begin with. Starman is English, in his late 20s, a fashion designer who’s been living and working in Switzerland with his older, richer (male) lover for the past six years. They have a terrible falling-out, and Starman finds himself back in London with no job, no money, nowhere to live and worst of all, he has to leave his dog behind.

Starman is shell-shocked at the break-up of his relationship and white-hot furious at being cut out of a business built on his talent and hard work, but he’s heart-broken about losing his dog.

I may have mentioned that I know nothing about dogs, but I’m sure some doggy love is what the story needs, and I want what I write to be credible to the many people who do have dogs. Here’s what I’m wrestling with right now:

What breed is Starman’s dog?

Starman is in the fashion business, and his lover is older, aristocratic and reserved. I don’t want the dog to be an uber-stylish fashionista dog like a Chihuahua or a poodle. I don’t want it to be a snobbish pedigree pooch either. I’d like it to be small(ish) and full of energy, a squirming, bouncing bundle of love and an emotional outlet for Starman. A dog that would launch itself at him, furry-missile style, if he’d been away for a few days.

I picked Kat’s brains briefly in NY, and she said (I think) maybe a Jack Russell? And Justine has a mini-Schnauzer puppy (check out Chewy here) who’s a total bundle of energy. Would he be right when he’s grown to about four or five years old?

Is it a dog or a bitch?

Apart from the obvious difference, is it important?

Why did Starman have to leave his dog behind?

Starman adores his dog, and there’s no way he’d have left without his dog if he had a choice about it. So what happened? I know dogs can travel with their owners, provided they have a passport, microchip, and vaccinations. Would it work if Starman isn’t the legal owner of the dog? If the dog was originally a gift from the lover, perhaps the lover would be listed on the paperwork as the owner? Then Starman would have assumed he could take his dog with him, only to discover at the last minute that he didn’t have the right to do so?

What does he especially miss?

Would his dog have sat on his feet while he worked?

Would the dog have chewed Starman’s shoes given half a chance, or shed hairs on all his clothes?

Would Starman have allowed the dog on his bed, or is that not a good thing to do?

Starman misses his dog terribly. How would he behave?

I think he’d carry a photo of his dog with him in his wallet. Maybe keep the name-tag from the dog’s collar on his key-ring?

I don’t think he’d bottle it up. I think he’d talk about his dog to any and all other dog-lovers.

I wonder if he’d go for a walk in the park every morning, just to be around other dogs and their owners?

How would he feel if he sees an owner with the same breed as his missing dog? Would he talk to the owner and ask if he could pet the dog, or would that be too painful?

I can find plenty of dog training books and videos, but they don’t give the insights I’m looking for – the many tiny emotional details that demonstrate a strong, loving bond between owner and pet.

If you have any comments or insights, on the questions I’ve raised above or on the ones I should have raised, I’d appreciate your help.

Thank you!

22 thoughts on “Jilly: Calling All Dog-Lovers – Help Needed, Please!

  1. LOL, why must we not call them muses? I missed this . . . .

    OK, dogs. My thought was Jack Russell terrier, too, but a friend of mine had a Shih Tzu that she bought when she got super-lonely. It was like an animated mop, and when she came home, it’d swirl around her feet like a Roomba gone mad. They need a lot of grooming.

    A single dog will be needier than a dog with a doggy friend, so bitch/dog may not be so important. It has been my experience that female animals are more cautious with people and more independent. But both kinds of animals can be very loving toward their primary caregivers.

    Is Starman the type who might forget to get vaccinations? Or misplace the certificate? Or forget to notify the airline that he’s bringing a dog on board, so the dog must stay? No rabies certificate, I bet the dog has to stay in the other country. This is kind of easy to verify — you will see stories online. I used something similar with my NaNo set in Tokyo. Our heroine had forgotten to get her dog’s certification, and the airline refused to let the dog get on the plane. She was stranded in Tokyo. I believe the problem was on the Canadian end, not with Japanese quarantine.

    Next question: I have outdoor dogs, so a lot of that doesn’t apply. But I love their goofy grins when they see me. Kenny-chan has picked up a habit in his old age of “singing” to me when I come home. It’s a weird kind of “ow-ooo-oooo” — because he knows I’ll scold him if he does a full-blown bark of joy.

    As far as little reactions — depends on the dog owner. When we were on vacation, we’d pet friendly dogs (after asking the owners), and felt a bittersweet tug when we saw dogs that were like ours. We had photos in the phone that we could show people . . . .

    I look forward to seeing what other people say. I imagine there are as many answers as there are dog owners.

    Oh, and I wouldn’t discount a mutt. They can be very intelligent and loving, and attractive to misfits (-:.

    • I would definitely not discount a mutt – Starman is a bit of a mutt himself, though his lover is super-pedigree, so that might work. I like the idea of an animated mop, too, and I don’t think he’d mind the grooming.

      Starman wouldn’t have much experience of paperwork (Lover would have people to deal with that) so he could easily slip up. I went with the idea of Lover owning the dog and being mean, because if it works that’s emotionally charged and permanent (paperwork slips and missed jabs can be fixed) and it’s another black mark against Lover as part of the break-up. Hmm.

      I especially love the idea of your “singing” Kenny-chan. That would work perfectly, because while Starman wouldn’t care if his dog barked the place down, Lover would scold. Love this. It’s exactly what I need. Thanks you, Micki!

    • Oh – the muses thing. Check out Jeanne’s post from Friday about Jenny and Nora at opposite ends of the spectrum. Jenny says Don’t Mess With the Girls In the Basement. Nora’s most quotable quote from her Q&A at RWA was “there is no f***ing Muse.”

  2. I’ve had dogs my entire adult life and they’ve (almost) always been indoor dogs (despite my allergies, because that’s what allergy shots are for). In recent years, they’ve always been bigger dogs (50 lbs and up).

    Jack Russell’s are insanely high energy, especially when they’re young (less than 5 or so) so if he knew he was moving into an apartment, he might have chosen to leave the dog because he knew it was better off in a place where it could do the non-stop running they require. I like the idea of a Jack because, in my mind, those fluffy little dogs are such a stereotype for a gay owner.

    If it were a bigger dog, he might have trouble finding an apartment where he could keep it. When I moved to Minnesota with my 65 lb. German Shepherd/Australian shepherd mix (My favorite dog, ever. She had the coloring and markings of a German Shepherd, with long, silky fur like a collie. She made friends in Minnesota before I did. The neighborhood kids would leave dog treats on the stoop while I was at work, and when I got home they’d knock on the door and ask to play with her.) Anyway, when I moved to St. Paul I had a heck of a time finding an apartment. Most places limited dogs to 20 pounds or less. Finally, after being rejected yet again, I talked the complex manager into meeting her. I opened the car door and Esme got out of the back seat and sat at her feet, smiling up in her friendly way. And the woman said, “She won’t be a problem. You can bring her.” Esme was the hit of the complex.

    Going places where there are lots of dogs–depends on your character. How he deals will definitely be a sign of how he deals in general–head on, or by avoidance.

    (Probably a mistake to get me talking about dogs.)

  3. Perfect to get you talking about dogs – don’t stop!

    Google says Jack Russells are vocal, athletic, energetic, stubborn, fearless and intelligent. That’s exactly what I want. Insanely high energy, and probably one with a rough coat rather than a smoothie. Starman happens to love men, but he’s not a stereotypically gay guy, and I don’t want him to have a cliche fluffy dog.

    Interesting thoughts about his reasons for leaving the dog behind. In Switzerland the dog would have room to run, and it would be very well cared-for, but it would not be loved. It would be exercised, not played with. Mr. Google says Jack Russells can also get frustrated and destructive if they aren’t given a sufficient outlet for their energy. Food for thought there.

    Of course how Starman deals depends on his character. *Smacks self on forehead.* In other matters, like the business, he deals head-on. I need to think more about whether he’d deal differently where his dog is concerned. This is good. It’s the great challenge of getting to know new characters on a deeper level.

  4. I still like the Jack Russell because it fits your stated wants, but you may want to think more deeply about Starman’s character as you research dog breeds. The type of dog people choose (size, breed, temperament, maintenance-level, and yes, cuteness factor), can tell you a lot about them, as well as what’s happening in their lives at that point in time.

    For instance, I gave Cheyenne a Rottweiler because that breed is big, strong, imposing and needs an alpha owner. Right off the bat that says Cheyenne is strong and tough and doesn’t put up with nonsense. She can handle a 90+ pound dog. Rotties are also loyal and protective as hell with the people they consider theirs, but wary of people they don’t know. A Labrador can be loyal and protective, but for the most part they’re a friendly, outgoing dog even with people they don’t know. So the fact that Cheyenne chooses a Rottie says a lot about her and her life at that point in time.

    As the romance between Cheyenne and Reed heats up and she begins to trust him, she begins to let go of her need to a) have absolute control over Boon (she gives him over to River), and b) doesn’t need him in the same way anymore. The way her feelings and needs change as they relate to Boon become a reflection of her character arc.

    You could use the breed Starman has in a similar fashion.

    What characteristics are you trying to convey about Starman? I like the fact that he needs an emotional outlet, but a big dog can provide that as well (my yellow lab was typically child-like his whole life–each time I came home (even after a few hours) he responded as though he hadn’t seen me in years and missed me terribly).

    Is Starman looking for a buddy? An ally against his lover? A dog that is highly tuned to the emotional needs of his owner? Does he need absolute loyalty in a pet? Does he choose a breed that’s notorious for being a one person dog? Does Starman have control issues? If so, he’s probably not going to pick a Jack. Does he have time to devote to a high maintenance dog like a Jack? If not, he’s going to have problems with the breed (they need an outlet for all that energy).

    So ask yourself: Why does he want a high-energy dog and what will be required of him if he owns one. A dog can be emotionally tuned in to their owner, as well as an emotional outlet without being high-energy). Since Starman’s lover is older, maybe you can use the breed he chooses to convey a certain dissatisfaction with his relationship. He picks a Jack because he’s longing for some unrestrained fun in his life. Maybe he can let loose and be a bit crazy with a Jack.

    As for the grief Starman feels over the loss of his dog: If he’s made a deep emotional connection with the dog the grief can equal the grief over losing a family member. Most non-pet owners don’t understand this, but the loss of a pet can be devastating. If Starman is the type of person to wear his emotions on his sleeve, he’s going to have physical signs of grief and depression–not eating, crying, sleeping more, maybe. If he’s not, he may withdraw. He may go to a dog park but pet owners don’t see dogs/cats as interchangeable. If a mother lost a child, I would imagine the last thing she’d do is go to a daycare full of kids. Really, how he reacts (as you already know) depends on his characteristics.

    Hope this helps (and is not too long 🙂

    • This is brilliant, Kat, and definitely not too long. I hadn’t thought this through when I imagined the dog, just went with what felt right, but Lover is controlling, and Starman’s success has come in Lover’s world and on Lover’s terms. Starman is a younger man, very passionate and high energy, could be exuberant and demonstrative in the right circumstances. You hit the nail on the head when you said he needs some unrestrained fun in his life.

      Re the dog park, I wasn’t imagining him as seeing dogs as interchangeable, I think it would be more about getting an emotional charge (good or bad) from seeing dogs and their owners playing together. Hmm. As Jenny would say, must cogitate.

      Lots of great stuff to chew on here. You know I’m going to hassle you to beta read when the time comes, right??

      • Beta Reading: God, I hope so!

        Re: Dog Park: If he sees his lost dog as a child, he’s definitely going to get a negative (or at minimum a wistful) charge from seeing people with their dogs. If he sees his dog as a buddy, a partner in crime (fun), then he may have a more positive feeling.

        Does he try to do anything to get the dog back or is that beside the point?

        • Yes, you bet he tries to get his dog back, Kat!

          I need to do some major thinking about everything else you’ve said. I’ll probably be bombarding you with questions at some stage. Lucky me to have you as a safety net 😉 .

  5. Jilly, here’s something else that hit me:

    I think you said that Starman and Lover eventually get back together–if true, then I would stay away from Lover keeping the dog out of meanness.

    However, if you want Lover to be the reason Starman can’t take the dog with him, then perhaps it comes out later that Lover kept the dog, not for meanness (as we thought) but because the dog represents one of the things he loves most about Starman (his unbridled sense of fun…or something).

    Tell me to shut it if this is not helpful.

    • Starman and Lover eventually come to an understanding, but it’s not a return to the status quo. Lover does not keep the dog out of meanness – he’s a complicated character but he’s not a meanie. Your other suggestions are pretty close to the mark.

      I’ve got so much great food for thought from this post, it’s going to keep me busy for weeks to come 🙂

  6. Oh, here’s another thing — the dog is going to reflect the dynamics of the household and the owners. It’s almost like a two-year-old. If it feels insecure, it might have tantrums. Or peeing on the floor. I’ve watched a few episodes of The Dog Whisperer, and it’s fascinating TV.

    For some reason, I’m prompted to ask: what about a beagle? My friend had one; beagles have a definite look. They bought the dog because they thought shedding would be minimized, but it turned out that no, it’s not. Or at least, they still shed a lot.

    Be sure and find out a little bit about the seasonal aspect of the dog — what kind of coat and grooming requirements.

    What kind of time commitment is a dog? Two nice walks a day. Brushing. A little quiet play. Training for tricks. Cleaning up after feeding and just general cleaning.

    • When I was a kid we had a Beagle–Trixie. She was the sweetest dog and the perfect breed with kids. She was one of us, doing whatever she could get away with (She’d break free of the back yard and run like she’d just escaped from Alcatraz). She belonged to the whole family (she did not play favorites), and when she couldn’t take steps anymore, my mother would carry her to the second floor of the house so she could lay in the sunspot there.

      God, she was an awesome dog.

      • My friend was heart-broken when his beagle died. She was a very good dog, too.

        I was bitten on the lip by a dog as a child, so for the longest time, I was paranoid about dogs. I’m still often nervous around them if they are noisy, but his beagle was a sweetheart, too. (-: Lots of drooling and licking, though.

        Dog people do crazy things, though, for their dogs. Even when it’s totally impractical, they’ll often find a way to get a dog. A lot like romance, in a way (-:.

  7. A beagle – now there’s a possibility. One of my friends has a beagle, and he’s gorgeous and such a charmer. Jeanne alerted me to The Dog Whisperer – definitely on my research list 🙂

  8. My family’s had dogs for generations. The only time I haven’t lived with a dog was in college dorms. The emotional bond with a pet can be like having a best friend and room mate. I currently use a service dog, and they’re more like an extension of myself and are how I get out and live my life, so my answers will skew to the ‘over-bonded’ end of things.

    What breed is Starman’s dog?
    If you want small, I’d say a Terrier over a Toy breed. Have you looked at Border Terriers? Awesome, scruffy little dogs with a lot of heart. I’d also suggest a Wire Fox Terrier, like Asta in The Thin Man movies, for a fashion conscious character. A bit of that old Hollywood Glam, with a sense of mischief. Or, maybe a Miniature Pinscher or a Manchester Terrier for a tiny Dobermann look-alike. A lot of it will depend on the character.

    Jack Russells are the more working terrier, the Russell Terrier and the Parson Russell terrier are the show type here in the USA (American Kennel Club), you may want to double check breed names with the FCI (international breed organization.) JRTs can be very loyal, but are very much a “see ya, I’m going to be over there, digging a hole and hunting a squirrel and off doing doggy things!” breed. They can be very loyal, but they’re often cussedly independent.

    Is it a dog or a bitch?
    Do you need it to pee on someone’s leg or couch? Then it should be a dog. Otherwise, not too important.

    Why did Starman have to leave his dog behind?
    Not being the legal owner is an easy one. Not having the paperwork is also huge. The UK import laws are very strict. Dog must have a microchip, the microchip must be verified by a vet (and be compliant with UK microchip readers), then the dog must have a rabies vaccine, and if it’s been to a high-rabies area, needs to have a titer check done- also with the microchip verified- then wait three months. If the chip broke or malfunctioned (or traveled from the shoulder blades down to an elbow or foot where it’s not likely to be read), go to step 1, get new chip. If the dog had a bad reaction to the vaccine, Starman may not want to risk doubling up on vaccines. https://www.gov.uk/take-pet-abroad I’m not sure if it’s still a 6 month quarantine if the paperwork SNAFUs, but it used to be. I know people who moved to England before the law changed, and they made weekly visits to the quarantine kennels for the full 6 months.

    What does he especially miss?
    For me, it’s the constant, non-judgmental presence. My dogs are a huge part of my life, my service dogs more a part of my independence and self than I can really express. The warm weight against my hip as we share a couch, the chin on my foot when I’m reading a book (for a little dog, the weight as they spring up and curl in a lap). The walks I wouldn’t take without a reason to go outside. There’s studies that if you smile, you become happier, so not having the dog could mean Starman’s mildly depressed because there’s no furry tornado to make him smile all the time.

    Would his dog have sat on his feet while he worked?
    Some would. Some would sit on the desk, or try to cram between his back and the chair, or lay on the crease between Starman’s thigh and the arm of the chair, or try to distract him with toys. I have dogs that will let me work unmolested for hours, then shove a toy at me because they’re bored.

    Would the dog have chewed Starman’s shoes given half a chance, or shed hairs on all his clothes?
    Depends on the dog, but I’m guessing it’s more likely to have enough toys to keep the shoes safe. My younger service dog and my dad’s younger bitch carry shoes, but do not chew. Shedding depends on the dog. Some go a little all year and then blow coat, some only blow coat twice a year. (My retired service dog used to have a twice a year shed pattern, he’s about 9 now and is developing a rolling shed with 3 major blowouts in the past 12 months.)

    Would Starman have allowed the dog on his bed, or is that not a good thing to do?
    I absolutely allow my dogs on the bed. There’s a lot of old myths about “alphas” (and Cesar Millan is usually wrong about things, that’s why he gets bitten.) If a dog resource guards the bed, don’t let them on the bed. If the dog is polite and shares the bed without rancor, there’s no need to deny both of you the pleasure of sharing space. Most the dogs in my life will bail out to a dog bed or other furniture because shared body heat is too much for them. Smaller dogs, especially Min Pins, may crave contact to stay warmer.

    Starman misses his dog terribly. How would he behave?
    Depends on Starman. When I had to career change a service dog in training I’d had from a pup to a year old, he returned to the breeder per contract while she sought a new home for him. The first two weeks I got daily or every other day progress reports, then things became more normal and there was less to report. I emailed the breeder about once a week (I made myself wait that week, and had a nightmares that he’d somehow lost 20 pounds or run away from her home for the first month). I stalked his new owner’s Facebook page for pictures and updates. He adjusted much quicker than I did. It’s going on two years now, and I’m still FB friends so I can see him flourish, but at first it was an obsession-level need to see how he was doing.

    I wonder if he’d go for a walk in the park every morning, just to be around other dogs and their owners?
    Probably not. It would hurt to see other people happy when you’re sad. It’s a bit like a breakup, or a death. You can’t call, or write, or communicate, even though you know the dog is safe, which adds a layer of “I’m crazy to care so much, I know he’s safe and loved… I still miss him terribly.”

    How would he feel if he sees an owner with the same breed as his missing dog? Would he talk to the owner and ask if he could pet the dog, or would that be too painful?
    I do rescue transports when I’m able for the breed we had when I was a kid. I burst into tears when one of the rescue dogs hopped out of the other person’s car looking and acting like my first childhood dog. It had been a decade and a half, and it took me completely by surprise. I was done grieving… until I saw “her” again. I would not seek out other dogs like the one I’d lost until I was done grieving. In a very rubber stamp standard breed like a Maltese or a Manchester Terrier, it could be very difficult to see “his dog” but not have it be his dog.

    • Flo, this is absolutely brilliant. Thank you SO much. I wouldn’t call this over-bonded, especially as your dog plays such an important role in your life. I had imagined that Starman would have felt this deep, loving closeness, and that he’d find it a traumatic loss. It’s incredibly helpful to have that confirmed. I feel sure I’m on the right track now, that I can find my way into Starman’s heart and soul. This is a part of the story I really want to write. I feel confident enough to go for it and know that I have some great resources to fall back on if I run into trouble.

      Thank you again, and thank you to everyone who took the time to share their knowledge and memories.

        • Yep, that’s my current SD Keeper, a Bernese Mountain Dog, enjoying fresh spring grass I’d plucked for her.

          I’ve been called “the girl with the dog” often enough, I expect people to recognize my SD before they remember my face. It’s extended to my choice of avatar most places.

  9. Pingback: Nancy: When Life Just Doesn’t Cooperate | Eight Ladies Writing

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