Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Dogs: Guest post by Thriller Writer Joseph Finder


A couple of years ago the serial autobiographer Karl Ove Knausgaard asked, in The New Yorker, “Has a single good author ever owned a dog?” No offense, Karl, but that question, to borrow a Chris Evans line from the movie “Knives Out,” was stupid with two o’s. The internet bristles with rejoinders — oh yeah? how about Anton Chekhov’s dachshunds? Or Faulkner’s Jack Russell terriers? Or Virginia Woolf and her beloved cocker spaniel, Pinka? Woolf even wrote a biography of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s dog, Flush. Emily Brontë’s dog Keeper was so grief-stricken after Brontë’s death that he howled outside her bedroom door for weeks. An early draft of Of Mice and Men was shredded and eaten by John Steinbeck’s setter puppy, Toby. (“Two months of work, gone,” he lamented.) There’s a great picture of Edith Wharton posing with a Chihuahua perched on each shoulder. Anyway I could go on, and on, at the risk of burning out my Google machine.

My point is that right now I am dogless.

This is a sad state of affairs that I hope to remedy soon. A dogless life is lived in black and white.

Until her death a couple of years ago I was owned by Mia, a Golden Retriever. We adopted her from The Seeing Eye in Morristown, New Jersey, which trains dogs — Goldens and Labs and German Shepherds, mostly — as guide dogs for the blind. Some dogs, failing to meet the school’s high standards, are given away for adoption. After some three years on the waiting list, we got a sudden phone call one day: a “gorgeous” two-year-old Golden Retriever named Mia was available. We had twenty four hours to say yes or no.

Understand, we knew nothing about this dog. But she was a Golden, and Goldens tend to be easy-going. She’d also gone through years of training, so we figured she’d be trainable. Mia had already worked with some blind people. She’d flunked out of dog-training school in her senior year, but it was for a good reason: she was too “friendly.” How could you go wrong with a dog that flunked out of training for being too friendly?

So we said yes, and drove down to Morristown to meet this dog whom we’d accepted sight unseen. But first we had to be interviewed, to make sure we were fit adoptive parents. From the next room we could hear frantic canine whining and squealing, accompanied by some kind of crashing sound.

“That’s Mia,” said the woman, Judy, who was interviewing us. She sounded almost apologetic. Once we’d passed, Judy went to get Mia from the room across the hall.

A moment later there was a blurred motion—a dog came flying through the air into our room—and a cloud of fur floating in the air, and the dog came at me like a guided missile. She knocked me to the floor and proceeded to lick my face, to smother me with kisses.

We’d been expecting a docile, obedient, sober-sided canine and what we got instead was a rebel. Boisterous and affectionate and loving beyond belief, but not a conformist. It took us a while to come to the realization that Mia was in fact clever. She’d escaped a life of servitude. Seeing-eye dogs have to be on duty nearly all the time, doing their wonderful work for the blind. Mia wasn’t having any of that. Let other dogs be dutiful and submissive; Mia just wanted to have fun.

Once we got her home and my wife was eating her lunch, a burger, Mia dove through the air to nab it — but taking only the bun and ignoring the burger, which fell on the floor. She turned out to have a particular affinity for French bread, particularly sourdough. If you left a sourdough baguette on the kitchen counter, Mia would somehow find a way to scramble up there. Goldens are famously food-motivated, but Mia took it to another level. She was an outlaw with a jones for bread. If she saw some, she snagged it. She couldn’t resist. We had to hide our bread in high, inaccessible places.

One day she stole an enormous bar of dark chocolate from Trader Joe’s that my dad had left on the counter, not imagining my dog could easily get up there. We had to make her drink peroxide, in order to make her vomit up the dangerous stomachful. Chocolate can be deadly to certain breeds of dogs, including Goldens.

Make no mistake, she was no blond bimbo. She knew plenty of commands and even obeyed them when she felt like it. As she grew older and her face whitened, she calmed down, mellowed a bit. But she remained adamantly puppyish.

Once I tried bringing her to my office, a few blocks away from our apartment. Writing is a solitary business, and I was maybe envisioning her curled at my feet under my desk, sighing contentedly as I finished a chapter. I’m actually not sure what I had in mind.

But Mia had other ideas. When she wasn’t asking to go out, she just wanted to play. She’d bring me a tennis ball. She’d nudge me. She’d grunt. She constantly wanted attention. She made it impossible to focus. She was not good for productivity. She wasn’t a work dog, but she had other, deeper talents. If you were sad or stressed, she’d come sit beside you and sometimes even pat you with her paw.

Sometimes, when I’m on deadline, I find myself getting up at four in the morning to write. Mia quickly figured this out. So she started waking me up at right around four every morning — I mean, within five minutes either side of four. I have no idea how she did it, but after making sure I got up, she returned to her bed and went back to sleep and didn’t ask for food until it was light outside. She was a reliable canine alarm clock.

Somehow Mia was so tuned into me that she knew when I was returning home from work. Ten minutes before I arrived, she’d start whining, pacing. I could hear her throwing herself at the front door as I approached.

One morning when she was nearly fourteen, she wouldn’t get up. After a few hours of this, we took her to the animal emergency room. They told us she had cancer, that she’d bled internally so much that she lacked the energy to stand. We put her through an arduous and expensive surgery, but the tumors came right back. We made the agonizing decision to put her down, rather than let her die in pain, feeling, our vet said, like she was drowning.

The terrible time came, and we surrounded Mia. My wife was the one who held her, and in the last few seconds of her life, Mia reached out to my sobbing wife and patted her hand with a consoling paw.

No dog can ever replace Mia, I know that, but the author needs his dog. We’re on the waiting list for another dropout.

JOSEPH FINDER is the New York Times bestselling author of fifteen previous novels, including Judgment, The Switch, Guilty Minds, The Fixer, and Suspicion. Finder's international bestseller Killer Instinct won the International Thriller Writers' Thriller Award for Best Novel of 2006. Other bestselling titles include Paranoia and High Crimes, which both became major motion pictures. In his new thriller, House on Fire, private investigator Nick Heller is hired to infiltrate a powerful family whose wealth and reputation hide something far more sinister.


Kathy Reel said...

What a beautiful story about your beautiful Mia. My husband and I are getting close to searching for another rescue Brittany Spaniel, but, like you, having had a special dog (named Coco), we know our Coco cannot be replaced.

Linda Brue said...

What a wonderful story. Thank you for sharing it with us. Mia sounds like a one-of-a-kind dog. But each and every dog is the best dog in the world, for different reasons. The next dog who adopts you will be the best, too, in his or her own way. I've lost so many dogs now I've lost count, and last November I had to send my best friend, a Bichon I referred to as "Sir Pain-in-the-Ass" (with good reason, I might add), to the Rainbow Bridge. I miss my Baxter Bean so much, he was my constant shadow, always by my side. We've always had several dogs, but now with Baxter's death we only have one, a rough Collie. I don't know that we'll get another, as we are getting older. But whatever we choose to do, I know that one never "replaces" one dog with another. One simply makes room in their heart for another, who will fill it in their own special way. My heart is so full of special animals it is a wonder it still beats! Good luck to you in finding your next companion. (Sorry this is so long.)

Unknown said...

I’ve been lucky in my adult life. Bob was a golden mix, very canny and food motivated. Joie de Bob! Congo a black lab mix. Samwize, some kind of golden/herding mix who adored life. Now we have Tilly and Rory, a Chesapeake mix with a birth defect...she doesn’t know she looks fu.nnY. She is all love. Rory is enthusiasm and jealousy. We made a couple of mistakes, not all rescues are undamaged. Dogs are the blessing of life..

marcia lengnick said...

In your list of dog books, you forgot Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley, his Standard Poodle. Our rescue standard is now 11 years old and showing signs of intestinal problems. When she was younger her best friend was Madison, a feisty golden. Running together around the neighbor’s garage, the dogs connected with me and down I went....plateau fracture of the tibia...9 two inch screws in my right leg and a lovely scar. There were those who thought the dogs should be put down...NO WAY! They were only romping and I got in their way!

AmyShojai said...

My dogs (and cats) are the reason I write. First nonfiction on care and behavior, and later the inspiration for my thrillers. I call them my "furry muses" and there is nothing better than being heart-claimed by one of these beautiful creatures. Mia will send you another good-dog to love. There's always room in the heart for one more...and one more...and one more.

LBE said...

Your dog was wonderful. I am in tears. Bless Mia and I hope you find another dog that is loving and wildly fun.

Romy Chenier said...

Beautiful stories about Mia. I laughed when I read the part about you taking her to work. It reminded me of our Golden, Abby, when my husband took her to work with him. He had an online bookstore and thought she would settle under the desk while he worked, just happy to be with him. She did exactly what Mia did ... wanting to play with him or go outside. He got nothing done! We miss her immensely ... I still cry when I think of her. But the memories are wonderful and we’re grateful she gave us so many.

Zena Suri Alpacas said...

A new dog does not replace your old dog, but a good one knows how to curl up against the terrible sore place in your heart and help it heal.

Jerry from Loon and Naples said...

A few months ago our 11 year old Yorkie, Hannah needed heart surgery. The cost was astronomical. Of course within a nanosecond I signed the documents to proceed. As I look down at the little beggar, I can’t imagine how devastated I’ll be having to say a final goodbye. I remember Mia as part of your household. Thanks so much for sharing your story.

Suzaboo said...

Thank you for sharing Mia with us. Goldens are wonderful, our granddog, Buddy, is a golden and has many of Mia’s “abilities!” One of his favorite things to do when they come to visit, he jumps out of the car and runs to the backyard and jumps right into the pool...doesn’t,alter what the water temp is. He swims a few laps and then he is ready to visit. The love of our life is Samson, a 12-year old cocker spaniel. We have had him since he was 5 weeks old, rescued from a bad situation. He has a lot of senior health issues and lost his sight in both eyes, we are his guide parents. I don’t know how much more time we will have with him, but we try to maximize our time with him.

Merle gornick said...

I don't know how in the world that I missed this post. But it makes me sad. I know that you have Millie now but Mia was one in a million. I miss her. ❤️

Merle gornick said...

I miss Ms Mia.