Kay: Quiz for Y’all—Should I Hurt the Dog?

Here’s Trouble! from mplsmutts.com

Ladies, I need your help. I’m at the end of my book. I have a big fight scene. My villain, Vlad the Assassin, has a tire iron, and he’s swinging it like a madman. He hits my hero with it, a blow that separates his shoulder and requires five stitches.

Then Vlad hits the dog, Trouble, breaking two of Trouble’s ribs. I need Trouble out of commission (that is, off the page), and I think the best way to do that is to have the villain hurt him, because then we’ll hate Vlad even more, right? If he hurts the dog, it’s abundantly clear that he’s No Good.

I did a little research on treatment for this kind of injury. Trouble’s lungs aren’t affected, so he doesn’t need surgery. He’ll recover much like a person would who cracked a couple of ribs. Trouble just has to take it easy, and in a few weeks he’ll be good to go again.

In the final chapter, my hero and heroine jet off for a few days to get married, leaving Trouble with his best friends, the neighbors, who will take excellent care of him and spoil him half to death. He’ll be fine. Better than fine.

But here’s my concern. I just recently read a blog somewhere where a commenter posted that she’d never read another book by a particular author because that writer had injured a dog in her pages. And then a bunch of other people chimed in and said the same.

Argh! Whatcha think? Would you read another book in the series if Trouble gets hurt, if the injury isn’t life-threatening, and if he makes a full recovery? Or is hurting a dog beyond the pale?


28 thoughts on “Kay: Quiz for Y’all—Should I Hurt the Dog?

  1. In Crusie’s Crazy For You, the bad guy kicks (or hits) the dog near the end and injures him. It made complete sense in the story (the heroine loved that dog) and it was clear from the follow up that the dog was just fine after. If I remember correctly, the dog had his revenge by peeing on the bad guy while he was on the ground under arrest.

    The dog recovered, the violence wasn’t gratuitous, and it didn’t make me think “I’ll never read THIS author again”. That’s my experience.

  2. For most of the readers I know, this would not be a deal breaker, myself included. But for one of my friends it absolutely would. It will probably throw some people out of the story, but I feel like that’s true of most creative choices.

    • Thanks for viewpoint, Cate. I don’t want to alienate potential readers, but I do want readers to understand that the stakes are high. And for a lot of people, injuries to pets are more serious than injuries to humans. I get that, since people are the actors and pets are innocent bystanders. Must cogitate.

  3. Hm. Everything Elizabeth says is true, but I think Jenny’s story is a little different. In Crazy for You, Bill (the bad guy) really is crazy. His view of the world is so distorted, he’s already hurt the heroine physically, then broken into her house and sabotaged it, putting her in serious danger. His kicking of the dog is the final escalation, and the heroine batters him bloody with a plank of wood for doing it. Then the dog pees on him. There’s a lot of anger in that book 🙂

    I don’t think your story promise to the reader is the kind of book where the bad guy would deliberately hit a dog (a human being is a different matter, obvs). I think it would be kind of shocking. If you want Vlad to be that kind of bad guy, he has to be that kind of mean person throughout the book. My choice would be to find a less direct way to put Trouble out of commission. Maybe Vlad is swinging out indiscriminately, and when he hits Trouble he’s horrified, drops the tire iron and gets himself arrested? Or Trouble puts himself into trouble. I dunno, he bites Vlad and hangs on, Vlad has to shake him off, and in the process he sprains a paw or cracks a tooth. So he sustains collateral damage rather than Vlad choosing to hit him. Also, while you know Trouble will recover, the reader won’t–a bash with a tire iron sounds really serious. So could you give Trouble a different injury, something more visible that any reader with a dog will know requires a little r&r but isn’t life-threatening?

    • Also, a little more about Crazy For You. The dog was the catalyst for Quinn (the heroine) leaving Bill (the bad guy). In the opening scene Quinn rescued the dog and wanted to keep her, Bill wanted her sent to the pound. So we knew from the beginning how he felt about dogs in general, but more than that, he saw that dog as a rival for Quinn’s affection and then the cause of all his troubles. The whole book built up to Bill resenting, hating and finally hurting that specific dog and getting beaten for it.

      Plus, anyone who knows Jenny knows that any character who tries to hurt a dog is going to pay for it, big-time.

      • Just wanted to plus one for Jilly’s theory about why JC’s Crazy for You dog injury was OK. The dog was more than just a dog — it was symbolic of the whole new life and loves that Our Heroine was looking for. We knew Bill was hurting Quinn; Quinn couldn’t act on behalf of herself, but she could act on behalf of an innocent dog who is protecting her.

        This is a central problem for modern womanhood (and possibly modern manhood). It’s easy to let things slide when you, yourself, are being abused. “It’s not that bad” and a million other excuses. But when it’s your dog, your child, your best friend? It’s easier to stand up and say, “That’s not right, and that behavior should stop.”

    • Well, Vlad hits Trouble because Trouble bites him in the leg and hangs on when Vlad is trying to get away, and the tire iron is the weapon Vlad has to hand. So it’s not just because Vlad thinks it would be fun to hurt the dog. And Vlad does sort of go crazy by book’s end. But I see your point. I could make the injury less serious.

    • Thinking about Jilly’s “finding a less direct way to put Trouble out of commission,” I could have him run another way, and one of the good guys could snatch him and stick him in the house. He needs to be in the scene, because he sniffs out the bad guy in the first place. But maybe I could have Vlad TRY to hit him, and he misses. Will cogitate.

  4. A hurt dog energizes a lot of situations, just like it energizes strong reactions from people. If it makes sense (in the story & to the characters)it should be fine. Killing a dog/pet even for good reason… that can be a killer..but an injury with treats while helping the hero….that is heroic!

    • Yeah, I’d never kill a dog in a book. That could mean death to an author’s career, too! I do make sure that all the characters call Trouble a hero for helping to thwart Vlad. Thanks, Penny. Glad to hear that the injury might be okay with most readers.

  5. I had a scene at the end of my Contemporary where the villain torches a dog rescue. All the dogs escape without injury, but Jilly made the same argument to me that she did to you–that the book’s promise did not include injured/killed animals (even though they weren’t and even though the very first scene sets up that one of the dogs is an escape artist). Then another critique partner pointed out it’s a huge jump from his previous white-collar crimes to felony arson.

    Still trying to figure out the ending to that thing.

    Since your book has chase scenes and slapstick, I think she may be right in your case. It’s almost certain you’re going to lose readers over hitting a dog with a tire iron, even though no actual dogs were injured in the making of this book!

    • Good luck with your ending! I know one thing now: I’m never writing in another dog. (Which I included in the first place because during McDaniel, I said to Jenny when I was stuck at one point, “Raymond Chandler always said when he was stuck, he wrote in a man with a gun,” and she said, “When I’m stuck, I write in a dog.” And at the time, I didn’t want to write in a man with a gun, so I wrote in a dog. And I’ve been stuck with it for three books. Lesson learned!)

      • (-: Dogs are very useful. But dogs are part and parcel of Jenny’s life. I don’t know if men with guns were part and parcel of RC’s life (I bet they were of his fantasy life!). What’s something you adore in your life? (-: Good restaurants?

        What’s something I adore in my life? Wand’ring minstrels? Hmm. I think it would be best if it’s something that kept popping up in my life and changing my world. A book would be too static for these purposes, I guess. Maybe a bookstore? Maybe a place where people gather to watch TV?

        I do a lot of water stuff. I think maybe I tend to go to a water feature when I’m kind of stuck. Not consciously; the thought just flitted across my mind right now. A lake, a river, an underground stream.

        Doesn’t have to be a dog.

        • Right, I didn’t need a dog. A man with a gun would have worked just as well! 🙂 At the time, I needed something that would reflect the hero and heroine’s conflict: the heroine wanted a dog because for her it signified stability; the hero didn’t want a dog for the same reason—he’d be too much work, and the hero didn’t want to be tied down. I could have used something else. But I wanted a Conflict Item. And Jenny said, “dog,” and that sure worked.

  6. I definitely wouldn’t read an author who kills a dog. But injury is different. How does the dog get injured? Does Vlad purposefully hit the dog, or does the dog get in the way of the wild swinging tire iron? In Nora Roberts’ Obsession, a dog gets shot. He’ll live, but he got shot because he was defending the heroine and the bad guy was bat shit crazy. Bottom line, I don’t have trouble with dog injuries if it fits the story.

    • That might be my saving element. My hero and the dog are trying to stop Vlad from Evil Doings. He’s getting away. The hero runs after him, but the dog runs faster and bites Vlad in the leg. (They already have History.) Vlad picks up the tire iron. Then the hero gets there. He’s bigger and more of a threat, so Vlad hits him and carries through on the downswing to hit the dog, too. And then while they’re down, Vlad gets away (only momentarily, though—this is the end of the book).

      And people sure do read Nora Roberts. Thank you for the info!

  7. A FB friend of mine who read your post said don’t hurt the dog. But I’m with the other girls. There are just plain crazies out there who would hurt a dog…it’s in line iwth their character, and so doing something to the dog makes sense. (Killing a dog is out of the question, IMHO. Don’t go there.) But I like Jilly’s suggestion that Trouble tries to be heroic and is injured in some way, form, or fashion as a result of his deeds.

    • I hope when the time comes that I can persuade your FB friend to try the book and see what she thinks, if I went too far, however I settle this. I wanted the stakes to be high, and I wanted everyone in the book to face a risk of some type and demonstrate a heroic aspect, so this is what I gave the dog. Trouble is definitely a hero, and the stakes were really high for him.

  8. EEP–shyly speaking up here… I’m a writer, a rescuer, a vet tech who saw these injuries, and also one of those readers who stopped my hardcover auto-buys of a NYT author (a writing duo, TBH) because each of the latest books in a huge series featured a dog dying or being gravely injured. The reason I’m writing is that the author (trying to defend himself to readers turned aggressively against him) actually used this defense: “Well, the villain IS a BAD guy. This shows how really bad he is! People died too!”

    So yeah, not a direct quote but our rants/discussions centered around his justification. We felt there were many more ways to show ‘this villain IS a BAD guy” and it was just lazy writing to attack a defenseless dog each time. It was a thriller; we expected people to die. We signed up for that when we bought that genre. We did not buy a dog-abuse book, as my sister-in-law stated heatedly.

    I know it happens in real life; I do not buy pleasure-reading books to read real life. I just nope-d out of a book where the abusive dad was teaching his sons to abuse their dog, too. Other people do read these easier than I can and I strongly support them–and the authors that struggle with writing about difficult issues. I have to sometimes live these issues for work so I refuse it for reading.

    My gut reaction is, if you are worried about it, you’re WORRIED about it. So is there another way you can accomplish the same thing without hurting the dog? This is very genre-dependent, I know, but there’s some of us out there that will be ever so grateful to not see the abuse continued on the page.

    ::steps off the dais now, hoping she hasn’t offended anyone::

    • Kate, that is a very compelling argument. Thank you. And you’re right—I WAS worried about it. You’ve settled it for me. I won’t hurt the dog. I’ll figure out something else to do with him. Thanks for chipping in!

  9. I’m going to answer before I read the comments so I’m not influenced, but . . . it depends. If it’s necessary, and it flows naturally from the narrative . . . . But in general, I don’t like it when I feel like the only reason the dog is hurt (or the human for that matter) is to get them out of the action. Trap ’em in a cage? Tie ’em up to bark uneffectively? Lock ’em in the supply closet? Maybe Our Villain is eating a bologna sandwich when the action starts, and sacrifices lunch to the dog’s entrapment, which makes Our Villain *very angry*.

    (-: Although, I think you’d lose some readers who hate melodrama to that kind of scenario.

    I would make a list of six other things that could happen to get Trouble out of the picture, and go with the injury if that winds up to be the best option.

    I wouldn’t be very happy about them abandoning a sick dog, either. I know the good friends will take care of him very well, but I just read some comments in a Captain Awkward column about an enraged lady who left her sick cat with a friend who failed to give the cat the meds. The cat relapsed, but then got better once Owner got home, but Owner was furious and ready to end a previously mutually beneficial friendship over the whole thing. But it just goes to show, even trusted friends shouldn’t be trusted with recovering animals. Maybe a kind vet who urges them to “Go, go! The dog will be in the hospital the whole time, anyway.” (I don’t know how long a dog will be hospitalized in the US(?) for a couple of broken ribs.)

      • (-: Yay! We saved Trouble from a major injury! (LOL, not sure if we should be proud of that or not, though.)

        I wanted to touch on something upthread: dogs are perfectly fine, and actually, they are on my “get out of a rut” list. Add a dog. Characters watch late-night TV (especially with commercials). Characters have tea/alcohol break. Throw a rock (this is from Lani, I think). Add a psychic. Have characters go to sleep and have a dream, and just roll with it. These scenes mostly get deleted, but they often do add that spark of insight into what I really need to get on with the story.

    • Ha! Thank you. I wrote him in, as I vaguely mentioned before, when I needed a point of conflict (or really, trouble) for my H/H. The dog had been abandoned, and my heroine found him and asked the hero to come pick them both up, since she couldn’t fit the dog in her bicycle basket. The hero said the dog looked like trouble. And the name was born.

  10. Getting to this thread late, but I have to admit the thought of the tire iron striking the dog made me cringe. I have to come clean, though, and admit that I have a dog who’s a somewhat central secondary character in my Women’s Fiction WIP who gets poisoned by the bad guy. The BG was sending a message, not trying to kill the dog, so is was just enough to make him. And the poisoning occurred ‘off screen’, so we just see a dog getting listless and sick, and getting quick treatment at the vet.

    It didn’t give me pause (no pun intended) when I wrote the scene, because the pursuant actions align with who each of the characters are and how they would react under this stressful situation, and Max (a mangy black mutt named after my Max the cat) comes through with true grit and dignity. If beta readers throw rotten tomatoes at me, I’ll have to rethink it.

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