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Blogging By the Sea
Saturday, July 25 2015
Animals can be characters in books, too!


Animals add a richness to life, whether they are pets who share our homes, or wildlife we put feeders out for and enjoy seeing in the wild. There are animals who have been trained to become an indispensible aide for those living with disabilities. Animals have also become enormously important in the fields of law enforcement and the military. It’s rare that a human will go through life without having been touched in some way by an animal, so why shouldn’t we expect to find them within the pages of a book.


Anyone who reads historicals or westerns has probably met some unforgettable horses, like Black Beauty or the Lone Ranger’s Silver. We’ve held our breaths while the hero or heroine outran a death-dealing animal in the wild as in the movie JAWS! Rin Tin Tin and Lassie are just two of the many well-known canines from both books and television. Sometimes these fictitious pets bring us to tears, as in Old Yeller or make us laugh like Beethoven and Marley, sometimes they are just cute, cuddly and fun to have around.

Just as having a convincing villain in our stories makes them more complex and interesting, so can a well-written animal character. I’ve had an animal in all of my books in print. Most of them have simply been pets, as the elderly golden retriever in Whatever It Takes, or the adopted cat Bruce in Trusting Will. In the first book in my Camerons of Tide’s Way series, Falling for Zoe, my heroine had a cat, two fish, a parrot and three dogs. Her menagerie was a collection of pets, her own and those left behind by siblings who grew up and went off to college leaving Zoe in charge. It was one of the things her ex-boyfriend couldn’t abide, and the hero of the story admired.


In the second book in the Tide’s Way series, Loving Meg, I featured service dogs. My hero trains German Shepherds for police work as a career and as the book begins he has become interested in training dogs for service work with returning soldiers suffering from PTSD. The conflict, at least part of it, is that his wife Meg is a Marine lieutenant, just returned from a tour in Iraq where she witnessed the death of a military dog trained to find IEDs. Torn by guilt, thinking she might have been partly to blame, the dogs in her husband’s kennels bring on nightmares and flashbacks.


But there’s another dog in this story. Kip is a police canine suffering the after effects of violence that took the life of his handler. It’s far easier for Ben to understand the loss that Kip is suffering  - he’s spent his whole life with dogs and he knows what makes them tick. He desperately wishes he understood Meg’s nightmares better, too. If only she could open up and tell him why the dogs in his kennel make her cringe when they bark or why Kip shadowing her everywhere about the house makes her uneasy.

Loving Meg is a love story between a man who fell in love with his soul mate when she was still a teenager and the woman who has loved him ever since they first met. They have a good marriage and two young sons, but Kip and the deceased Scout make the story interesting. They add richness to the relationship and urgency to the conflict.


I love reading books that have animals in them as well, from the kitten that tangles the knitting yarn, to the horse that carries his master into battle, to the dog that chases a tennis ball until his young boy’s arm can’t throw it even one more time. I was touched by the book, Until Tuesday, which is a non-fiction account of how a dedicated service dog brought a broken and hurting soldier back from the brink to a life full of purpose and joy. The story of Capt. Monteban and Tuesday inspired me to write Loving Meg and to dedicate half of my proceeds from the sale of the book to the non-profit group, K9s for Warriors in Ponte Verdra, Florida.

If you'd like to know more about K9s for Warriors click here>    

To see how other authors have used animals in their books, check out the links to other blogs in this series:

Beverley Bateman
Victoria Chatham
Connie Vines
Margaret Fieland
Rachael Kosinski
Kay Sisk
Judith Copek
Marci Baun
Diane Bator
Anne Stenhouse
Rhobin Courtright

Posted by: Skye AT 08:00 am   |  Permalink   |  3 Comments  |  Email
A very interesting post. I'm reading more and more how dogs and horses are being used to help people suffering with Ptsd.
Posted by Victoria Chatham on 07/25/2015 - 08:52 PM
I already love the animals in your stories, especially Kip. Enjoyed your post, enjoy your trip.
Posted by Rhobin on 07/26/2015 - 08:16 AM
Skye, I just found your blog: animals can indeed be characters in books WITHOUT the book being sappy or sentimental. In the best-loved animal books, of which you gave great examples, the animals are neither. In my recent book, which is a true story, the dog, a chocolate Labrador Retriever, IS the protagonist and he has quite a lot of character, and that is what pushes the narrative events. That is also what the human characters then have to deal with, respond to, and that is what challenges them as people. The dog can be a hero-type or a healer, but doesn't have to be: he can propel an unpredictable series of events and emotions forward simply by force of his own strong, determined, dignified and inquisitive personality.
Posted by Jane Hanser on 08/04/2015 - 12:15 PM

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