Monday, February 20, 2012

Novel excerpt 02-20-2012

In which Hope and Proper get to run off for Best of Breed.

photo credit: Steve Surfman, taken around 1998

     The crowd, the field, the world hushed. Everyone focused on the two whippets. Even the hounds in their vans were unusually silent.
     “Judges, ready?”
     They waved from the middle of the field.
     “Lure Operator, ready?”
     “Handlers, are you ready?”
     The Huntmaster motioned to the Lure Operator, and the bunnies zipped away.
     “Tally ho!”
     It was a long course, 960 yards, with some formidable straight-aways paired with quick sharp turns, and five changes of direction. The two whippets took off in unison, looking like two miniature winged horses pulling the same celestial chariot. They raced down the first long, straight run. After eighty yards, Proper was a half a length in front of his little sister. The lures whipped around a pulley, making a sharp left. Hope was on it like the smile on her woman, not losing any momentum and flying out of the turn. Proper turned better than the lure operator (or anyone else watching) thought a dog his size could. After all he’d been chasing his sister in the yard and the back fields for his whole life; he had plenty of practice.  But she had gained a length on him, which he made up on the straight, edging past her again. The lure whipped to the right, making nearly a ninety-degree turn, and Hope was there with it, overtaking her brother. She was pure athletic poetry. Not a wasted drop of energy. Proper pulled up even with her just as the lure turned, less sharply this time, and once again the two were stride for stride.
     The collected dog lovers started to shout. They weren’t even aware of their yelling; they just couldn’t contain all that admiration. This is what they each hoped for every time they started with a new pup. This was beauty. Sheer perfection. What people felt when they watched Man O’War run. What the millions of people felt who watched Secretariat win the Belmont by thirty-one lengths. It didn't matter that this wasn't millions of people. It didn't matter that there were no television cameras or foreign press. They were watching perfection in action, and they felt the hairs on their arms stand prickly. They grabbed the person standing next to them and they heard themselves crying out, “Look at that! Look!
     The two whippets chasing the lure didn’t know anything but the joy from the running.
    The lure made another turn, the next to the last turn, and the two were even; nose for nose, pulling and digging, stretching for more in each stride, flying. Their muscles straining. Lungs on fire. The humans screamed.
   The last turn was a stinker. A hairpin turn to the right, which would bring them back to the crowd. Proper’s greater weight and longer stride carried him wider than his sister, who felt her advantage and sailed on home, three lengths ahead of her brother. The entire gathering of hound-loving humans exploded in whoops, cheers, and old-fashioned applause. The two dogs wagged, breathless, feeding on the wonderful happiness emanating from the crowd. Neither of the two could understand why their own Emily and their friend Laura had the leaky eyes that humans get when their souls hurt. But they did their best to lick up the tears with their smiling tongues.
     “Woo-hoo! That was fun!” they said together.
     Emily walked Hope and Proper to cool them down and let them catch their breath, letting them drink sips of water every so often.
     “I am so very proud of you two,” she said. “I don’t know when I’ve felt this happy. Never. That’s when.”

hug your hounds

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Novel Excerpt 02-16-12

image (C) Bill Renzulli, used with permission :-)

When Emily got the two whippets out of the van, Zeke was a little excited, too, though he was staid compared to Hope. She was zig-zagging around on her lead, wagging her tail, and grinning at her Emily. Fun! This looks like fun! They walked on the grass outside a large building, and Hope could smell all sorts of different dogs.

“Holy schmoly what the heck is that hairy monster?”

Little Hope felt every hair along her back prickle to full attention, and she heard herself sound the alarm. “Danger! Danger! Hairy MONSTER!” She had never in her young life seen such a big, hairy dog.

“Hope!” cried Emily. “I don’t believe I’ve ever heard you bark before! You actually do have a voice. It’s alright, sweetie, it’s just a Malamute.”

“Oh it’s just a Malamute,” barked Hope. “Whatever the heck that is, but good grief, what do you know about danger? You’re only a human. Oh my stars!”

Hope raised herself to her tallest, by standing on her tippy-toes. “Get back! Get away from us! I’m a very important protector of my human, who doesn’t have the sense to let us put her safely in the van, obviously. Hey, Uncle, a little help here?”

The terrified puppy glanced sideways at Zeke, who was unfazed by the Hairy Monster. Maybe he hadn’t heard her.

“Look Out. Warning. Danger. Back off, Hairy Monster, you don’t want me to use the power of my teeth! They are sharp and strong, let me tell you.”

Her little body bounced with each bark, legs stick straight, tail up, neck stretched tight as a tug o’war toy to make herself look as big and imposing as a nine month old, skinny little Whippet puppy could look. The Malamute waved his huge tail over his back and acted friendly and non-threatening. Hope could not believe what she heard her Emily say next.

“Could my puppy meet your dog? She’s never seen a Malamute.”

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Dog Breeders: Devils or Angels?

One of my Facebook friends (who actually is a friend in real life) posted a photo of a Cane Corso bitch who had been owner-surrendered to a local shelter.

The listing stated, "The owners were breeding her and selling her puppies. Now, she's been cast off and left in a shelter. She has 2 cherry eyes but that's just cosmetic. She seemed like a sweet happy girl."

The first comment under the photo was, "poor baby, breeders suck".

And that got my goat, because I'm a breeder. And while I suck at a lot of things - time management, posture, cleaning my closet, and ironing, to name but a few - I don't suck when it comes to my dogs.

I understand. I understand if you volunteer at a shelter and see dog after dog after heartbreaking dog come in. Dumped like yesterday's cold oatmeal. Brought into the world by human carelessness, ignorance, or greed and dropped off to be your problem when it wasn't your fault. I truly understand. Believe me, it makes me sick.

But let's think for just a moment.

What if there were no more Labrador Retrievers? "Oh that would be fine, because then everyone would rescue a dog in a shelter," says the Breeders Suck Person. Then who would be the seeing eye dogs? Who would get up at oh-dark-thirty with a big smile on their face and sit in a blind with their owner for hours and jump into the icy pond and get the duck and have so much fun doing it that their heart practically explodes? What if my son hadn't had the best outfielder in the world, even if Opie did give a whole new meaning to the term 'spitball'?

What if there were no more Bloodhounds? What if your grandmother with Alzheimer's disease had wandered off into the woods and there was no search and rescue dog to call?

What if there were no more Pugs? No more Sphinx-like ancient Ibizans or Pharaoh Hounds? No more German Shepherds or Malinois to help police and soldiers? No more Beagles to sniff for airport contraband or to curl up on your couch? No more Border Collies to fly through an Agility course or to bring the sheep to the fold?

These dogs are living history. They are our treasure. And without breeders every breed of dog is an endangered one. Every single breed.

Here's where breeders do suck, in my opinion. We suck at public education. We suck at telling people what is involved in being a good breeder.

A good breeder does expensive testing on any dog they plan to breed. They test for eye abnormalities, joint problems, heart disease, thyroid disease, and more depending on the breed. They have the results of the testing available for you to see.

A good breeder won't sell you a puppy before it is eight weeks old.

A good breeder's clothes might be a bit frumpy and out of style, but their dogs' coats will gleam.

A good breeder will make you sign a contract saying that if for any reason whatsoever you can't keep the dog you are purchasing, you will return it to that good breeder. Period.

A good breeder will have someone check you out before they sell you one of their precious puppies. You'll need a vet referral, and quite possibly you'll have to submit to a home visit. A good breeder will want to know that if you said your yard is fenced, it actually is fenced, and they won't just take your word for it. If instead, they see three dogs chained to barrels, you won't be getting their precious puppy.

A good breeder will have some Very Old Dogs in their home. These dogs will occupy the Best Beds, and will often be found on their breeder's lap, regardless of the size of the dog. When a good breeder strokes her Very Old Dog's ears, she may lose her train of thought, and she might blink hard a couple of times.

A good breeder won't always have puppies available. This is important. Please pay attention. A good breeder won't always have puppies available. A good breeder will refer you to another good breeder who does, or who will soon.

A good breeder might tell you that, in his opinion, his breed isn't the right breed for your lifestyle, or that perhaps an adult from rescue would be a better fit. A good breeder might not be willing to sell you a puppy.

A good breeder will know the history of their breed inside and out, backwards and forwards.

A good breeder will do something with their dogs. They will have ribbons and rosettes, or certificates in frames, or trophies and win photos everywhere.

A good breeder will tell you all of the problems of their breed and will go on and on until your ears want to jump off of your head. Their walls will be covered with photos of their dogs and paintings of their breed. They will have knickknacks and dishtowels featuring their breed.

If the worst thing happens and a dog that a good breeder sold ends up in a shelter, that good breeder will go to Hell and back to get that dog out.

Good breeders live for their dogs.

hug your hounds

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Novel in progress excerpt. 2-11-12

         in which Emily is a young adult.  She is an employee at a thoroughbred training/breeding farm and is checking in guests at a charity event at her employer's estate.

           Emily checked the fancy folks in, as they arrived in their finery. Everyone was in a cheerful mood; what was not to celebrate? A great party, delicious food, music and a dance floor, plenty to drink, art, and the noble feeling that it was all for the horses. There was a gap in the stream of arriving guests, so Emily leaned down to retrieve her Chapstick from her ever so inappropriate purse, which she’d stuffed under the chair. She buttered her dry lips – a leftover from her childhood, when her lips were always so chapped that they would bleed – still leaning over her bag, replaced the Chapstick and closed her scruffy purse. When she sat upright, a man stood smiling at her, waiting on the other side of her table. She thought for a moment that she had forgotten how to speak.
“Could I have your name, please?” she finally sputtered.
She thought he must be from Hollywood. She rarely watched TV and almost never went to the movies, but this guy… She felt herself blush, something she hadn’t done since the eighth grade when that stupid Tommy Boyle had snapped her bra strap through her shirt and she had punched him and split his lip. The blushing part didn’t come until the principal said he had to call in her foster mom. She had never caused trouble before and dreaded the notion of her foster mom having to come to school.
“Emerson Hunt.”
She blushed even hotter. What was she thinking about stupid Tommy Boyle for? She scanned the list, which was in Mrs. Trent’s neat, but unfamiliar handwriting, looking for ‘Emerson’ without finding it.
“Have you paid?” she asked, not daring to look up.
There were four couples waiting behind Mr. Hunk, er Hunt. Where the heck was his stupid name on this list? And why the heck was she blushing, and when did it get so hot and stuffy in the dumb tent?
“May I look?”
He leaned over the list, and she turned it partially sideways so he could see better. His arm brushed hers, and electrical sparks jumped back and forth, creating what Emily was sure was an audible hum. She started to sweat. Oh for the love of God.
“Here I am. Lucy wrote me down as ‘Edgar.’ That’s my real first name, only no one uses it. No one but Lucy. In addition to being my aunt she’s my godmother, and feels it’s her duty.”
He wondered why on earth he was telling this beautiful young woman about his family history.
“It is my duty and my privilege,” said Lucy Trent walking up behind Emily.
Lucy's blond hair was streaked with natural silver, and she had a warm, open smile. Emily felt strangely safe around her. Even though she could feel the woman sizing her up, assessing her, this Lucy Trent felt comfortable, familiar. Normally Emily would feel threatened by Lucy’s interested and penetrating stare, but she surprised herself by basking in it.
“You were named after your father, who was named after his father - who just so happened to be my father, and they were both excellent men.”
She had a drink in one hand, and a leash in the other. At the end of the leash, was the most charming, enchanting little dog Emily had ever seen. It was a female, black with a white neck, legs and blaze, and big brown sparkling eyes. She looked like she had worn her own little black formal dress to the party. As soon as Emily smiled at the dog, it launched itself into her lap, sticking its pointy nose in her ears and licking her face.