I first set my eyes on my dog Clancy ten years ago when I was teaching English at a suburban Philadelphia high school and would stop every morning to buy lunch at a grocery store. We had been thinking of adding a dog to our family and so one morning I wandered over to the Puppy Palace, which was located next to the grocery store. I looked in the darkened window and my gaze was met by a floppy eared puppy leaning her chin on the edge of her pen. It was love at first sight.
When I rushed back to the pet store that afternoon her pen was empty. I inquired inside about what I thought was a yellow lab—Old Yeller was my favorite Disney movie as a child—and was told that my puppy had been taken for a walk behind the store.
A few minutes later a little red dog came bounding up to me with her tail rotating like a helicopter propeller. Old Yeller had turned into Big Red, a three month old Irish setter. The store clerk informed me that they had had a hard time selling her as the breed had a reputation for being high energy and willful. Hmm. That sounded familiar. Where had I heard that before?
Clancy and I do share many common traits. We’re both stubborn, mischievous and have a tendency to chase our own tails. We also love books. I swear that whenever I purchase a new book she comes right over and has to put her nose inside. She is a real literary dog.
Dog characters play a prominent role in literature:
- White Fang and The Call of the Wild by Jack London
- Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck
- The Plague Dogs by Richard Adams
- The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
Non-fiction books featuring dogs are also popular:
- Marley and Me by John Grogan
- War Dogs by Damien Lewis
- The Genius of Dogs by Brian Hare
Many distinguished writers including London and Steinbeck have had dog companions while a few like Ernest Hemingway favored cats. (Sorry, Clancy.) I visualize these legendary writers sitting at their desks with their literary dogs lying by their feet. As they compose their brilliant novels they pause to pet their doggies when stuck for a word or phrase and perhaps even find inspiration from their furry friends.
Stephen King’s corgi, Molly, is depicted on the cover of his great and useful craft memoir On Writing. Molly is standing underneath the writer’s outstretched legs while his feet rest on top of his writing desk. I think of King whenever my dog comes rollicking into my office while I am writing. She barks at me and I tell her to be a good Stephen King writing dog. Clancy usually settles down at my feet after my reproof and waits until I am finished with that last sentence before we go out for our afternoon walk.
I am often inspired with new story ideas during our walks together down the park. I even carry a digital tape recorder so I won’t forget them. I have recently begun to work on some short stories, which I plan to submit to some magazines. I am told that a lot of novelists have been discovered by literary agents this way. Among the ideas I’ve noted for a future story is one concerning a certain Irish setter. I don’t want to spoil the surprise here by going into details, but if I can manage to channel my beloved sidekick’s spirit and sense of humor into this story then I’m confident that we will both receive a reward someday.