In the bio of my first book, I mentioned that I got a lot of writing done with a warm puppy asleep on my foot. How a sleeping puppy can help a writer develop her craft is almost as much a mystery as those I write. So I’d like to take this opportunity to explain.
As many people know, my family has been raising Seeing Eye® puppies to become guides for the blind for over twenty years. We are currently raising our thirteenth pup.
We started shortly after I found a copy of the novel FOLLOW MY LEADER, by James B. Garfield, in one of the local libraries. I had read it as a child and tried to become a puppy raiser at that time. I sent a letter to The Seeing Eye® asking them how I could get involved and they replied saying I could not do it because I lived in Brooklyn. I would have to live in New Jersey. I figured that would never happen.
But it did, many years later, when I was an adult. And when my daughter read the book at about the same age as I had, she asked if we could raise a puppy. My husband was totally against it, we were cat people, and it was out of the question. We finally convinced him that it would be just for one year. That was in 1993.
Raising a puppy starts with the delivery of a seven-week-old ball of fur. The anticipation for each of our puppies was similar—excitement, acknowledgement of a big responsibility, and in the beginning, lack of sleep. The warmth and sweetness of a soft fresh puppy is unbeatable and the cuteness factor is sky high. Cuddling ensues when the puppy is delivered, but also training. The more we followed the rules, the easier it became. We learned that when the puppy wakes up, we were to take her out, after she ate, we were to take her out, and when she had been playing for a while it was a really good idea to take her out. It sounds tedious but it doesn’t last forever, and it cuts way down on the paper towel and stain remover bills.
Because I was not officially working, (volunteering in two school libraries, puppeteering in KIDS ON THE BLOCK disability/difference awareness performances, carpooling and taking care of my mother didn’t count as work) I was the one home with the puppy most of the time. I learned a few things, one of which was that if I was sitting at my computer, the puppy would curl up on my feet. If I wanted to get up, the puppy would wake up, need to go out, be played with or walked, or fed, etc. So I stayed in my chair and wrote book after book.
I have found that when I’m stuck, taking a walk with the puppy is a useful thing. We walk along, practicing crossing streets without running into them unheedingly, and discuss plot points. The puppy rarely disagrees, but, on the other hand, cannot take notes, so I’m obligated to remember all the epiphanies by myself, rush home and write them down. When I self-published the last book in the Wally Morris Vengeance series last year because I couldn’t stand the series not having an ending, we chose the name TWELVE PUPPIES PUBLISHING as the name of our publishing company. The puppy who was #12 is on the back of the book.
Each of our puppies has had a different personality and sense, or lack thereof, of humor. Two didn’t make the program and lived with us for their whole lives. One of them became a therapy dog. Another of the dogs we raised who had a career change became a bomb sniffing officer for ATF. When people ask how we can give them up after raising them for a year and falling in love with them, which we always do, we say it is sometimes harder than other times. But one thing about raising Labrador Retrievers, at least in our experience, is that they will go with anyone, and I think that makes the separation they feel easier. To me, that’s more important than our feelings. The departing dogs will fall in love with their trainers, then they will fall in love with their forever people, who will not have to leave them at home all day while working as I now do.
Luckily I only work outside of the house three days a week, and while I’m home writing there is still a warm puppy on my foot, even as I write this blog.