My fellow bloggers know I recently became a grandparent to a dog. I’ve always enjoyed pets in mysteries, perhaps living vicariously through those main characters and their relationships with their animals. I’ve never had pets so I’ve avoided using them as characters in my manuscripts. My fear is that my lack of experience with dogs would be apparent to pet-owner readers. But now, after six weeks of caring for a dog, I know why so many cozy mysteries include pets, especially dogs. Pets not only add a dimension to the coziness of those mysteries, but the pets can help their owners investigate. I want to enumerate my findings, but like any grandparent, I must first tell you a bit about my grand-dog, Rocky.
Two months ago, my daughter, Audrey, rescued Rocky, a Corgi/Beagle mix, from foster care. Rocky’s former owners had two dogs. When the mother of the family died, Rocky was put into foster care with a rescue operation. He is seven-years-old and very well trained. His stay in foster care lasted for only a few days when Audrey adopted him. We believe Rocky was the mother’s dog. He loves women over men and hangs out in the kitchen watching my every move while preparing and cooking meals. He has separation anxiety when left alone, which we now understand from other owners of rescued dogs is a common problem. We also believe the mother was at home full-time, and he had the companionship of the other dog. Although he was crate trained, the dogs shared a large crate. But without the other dog, crate training isn’t very effective. When left alone, he becomes morose and woeful.
When he first came to our Hatteras beach house a month after Audrey took ownership of him, I think Rocky was still in mourning. I don’t think he understood his abandonment was not his fault—he didn’t do anything wrong (at least that’s what we think is his perception). I’ve always had the idea that dogs could be smart and soulfully empathetic. Rocky has confirmed those notions. But not all dogs are so smart or as astute to their owners as Rocky.
From what I’ve learned from Rocky, I’ve compiled a list of ways that dogs and their needs can aid amateur sleuths. For those of you who are experienced with dogs, most of my observations will probably be no-brainers.
1. People have discussions with their dogs. No matter how nuts, people talk to their dogs. Thinking out loud enables the main character to express his/her impression of people and use their logic to try out theories of the crime all the while including the reader. It doesn’t matter that the dog can’t contribute. Although they can nod or change their facial expressions. Readers can decide if they agree or disagree with the main character’s findings and logic.
2. Dogs do have opinions of people. They can react to someone in a positive or negative way so taking the dog along in the investigation can be helpful. Owners know by how the dog reacts whether or not the dog likes or trust the new person.
3. Due to a dog’s need to walk/exercise and use the facilities, dog owners are thrown together in the neighborhood or in dog parks. People talk to each other while tending to their dog’s outdoor needs. There are also those times when walking the dog allows for snooping. While I was walking Rocky, I noticed no one around. The neighbors had gone out for the day. All was quiet. We ducked under an unoccupied rental house to explore its sound-side views. I looked back into the neighborhood and caught our jerkwad neighbor on someone else’s property pulling out utility flags that had been place by a surveyor, something the homeowner had paid for. Like I said, he’s a jerkwad hatwack—not just my opinion. The jerkwad has become notorious. In a small place like Hatteras Island, reputations are important. So, you can also observe as well as interact with others while dog walking.
4. The nose knows. Dogs noses can find evidence. Rocky unearths stuff we’d rather he didn’t, but in a mystery, his ability would be awesome.
5. More commercial places are allowing dogs. Pet stores, ACE Hardware, the beach, and many bars and restaurants, especially if they have outdoor seating, are becoming pet friendly. People are curious about dogs. Many people come up to Rocky and extend their hands. They want to learn about him. Through their curiosity, asking questions, main characters can in turn ask people questions. Since they started the questioning, they can’t very well object.
6. Protection—I’ve unfortunately had run-ins with bad dogs. I even wrote a short story about one terrible experience. A few summers ago, the brother of a beach friend of mine and his family came for vacation with their dog. They always violated the leash laws. When they were in the ocean, I was sitting in my low beach chair. Their dog came up to me, he was at the level of my throat since I was sitting, leaned into me, and growled. Luckily, my friend’s husband was sitting nearby. He yelled and took hold of the dog. Since then, I’ve avoided the dog, opting not to sit with them on the beach when they visit.
This summer, my friend reassured me that the dog had matured, settled down, and mellowed. I decided to trust her judgment. Rocky was sitting next to me when the dog charged. I’m unsure if the dog was lunging at me or Rocky. Even though Rocky was the smaller dog, he didn’t back down. Rocky doesn’t bark. I’ve never heard him growl—until then! That little dog howled and growled. The dog lunged for a second time. Rocky, the middle-age male that he is, wouldn’t put up with the designer dog and kept his defensive stance. Finally, the dog’s owner grabbed his collar. Like my neighbor, the dog is a jerkwad, at best. Mighty Rocky is my hero!
7. Comic relief—dogs’ antics never end. We have Rocky on a long leach attached to a sand spike so he can roam. He’s quite good at tying us all up in his leash while we are sitting on the beach. The chairs, umbrellas, and tables become bound up. We’ve taken to moving the tables and chairs once the leash makes a Cat’s Cradle of our beach settlement. It’s easier than winding the dog back through his path.
In my next manuscript, look for Rocky as a character. We didn’t know what we were missing, even if they are a lot of work! Do you include your pets in your manuscripts?
P.S. The Caroline Crimes Anthology, for which I wrote three stories before submitting one--I got into the anthology!! Look for "Stevie and Keith for the Save."