Does This Make a Good Speaking Topic?

Even though the annual Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Conference is still several months away, many writers in the group are preparing and proposing speaking topics.  I’ve often tried to propose a topic that would work well and be accepted by the conference board.  The reward is a free conference attendance, and, to me, that is a lot of savings on a terrific event.  Unfortunately, none of my topics have, as of yet, been accepted.

This year, one of the proposals I’ll submit will be with a well-established writing colleague, Robin D. Owens.  Have you read her paranormal romance books?  Lots of good reading there.

Anyway, both Robin and I are interested in secondary characters that happen to be animals.  She focuses a lot on cats, and you know my heart has gone to the dogs.  We’re thinking of doing a presentation on animals and other non-humans as secondary characters.  I’d really appreciate your thoughts on this subject.  Here are some of my challenges, as I think through the proposal:


Dog with reindeer antlers

Okay. Couldn’t resist. This is Trigger. What’s his story?

Much more than half our population has a pet of some sort.  According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, our country has over 43 million households with dogs and 36 million homes with cats.  That’s a lot of anecdotal expertise out there.  How can two writers bring something new to the conversation?

I have had three large dogs in my adult life.  With each dog, I believe I’ve added skills and interest.  But then, so have many who will be in my audience.  My knee-jerk reaction to this thought is that I could put together interesting statistics, but I’m not sure how those stats would help people write better about animals as secondary characters.  Perhaps, I can re-read my books on “Why does the dog do that?”


Close up of cat face

Nalla on mouse alert.

As pet owners, we all engage with personification of our pets, at least to some extent.  How can a writer step so completely outside the human experience to write about a world from a dog or cat’s perspective?  And is this necessary?  With human side-kicks, we only need to sketch a few impressions and our readers (being human themselves) fill in the gaps.

Or perhaps I’m making too much of our differences?  Perhaps the animal psyche is similar to the human psyche and all we need to do is remind readers of Rex’s furry legs, or habit of chewing old shoes and we’ll be okay.


One thing that bugs me, is the now cliché use of an inexperienced dog walker facing that dreaded poo-pick up for the first time.  This potty joke is a cheap laugh at best, and is growing more boring all the time.

How can I put animals in a story in a perspective that’s appropriate, yet still give them the distinction of a personality all their own?


Colorado Wolves at Western Welcome Week

Spooky (front), Rocky and Yukon with owner Cody on Main Street, Littleton. Wolves at Western Welcome Week, Littleton, CO

Above everything else, a speaking topic needs to be relevant to the audience.  Do you think writers would be interested in listening about and discussing “non-humans as secondary characters” in writing a book?  Need we, as authors, even need be concerned about stereotyping pets and other animals?  Or should we use the stereotypes that already exist (German shepherds are brave, loyal and bright–cats are aloof–fish are boring) and solidify the beliefs that the majority of our readers hold dear?

If you have any thoughts on this topic, I’d appreciate hearing from you.  Hoping you have a bright and perhaps a little furry, scale-riddled or feathered day.

A Visit to the Pound

Last week I was working on a blog for a client that would talk about taking good care of your outdoor pets in winter.  Have I ever told you how much I like freelance writing?  I mean, right now the pay is not impressive, but I get to work at my own pace, write for a living, and meet all sorts of interesting people, dogs, and other animals.  How cool is that?

Anyway, working on that particular blog post took me to Littleton’s Humane Society of the South Platte Valley (HSSPV). And while I was there, I had the chance to meet with a terrific woman named Susan Fredinburg, the Operations Manager.  Susan is a quiet, humble woman who graciously showed me around what was obviously her pride and joy.

HSSPV appreciates great community support.

HSSPV appreciates great community support.

“Four of us started this shelter almost four years ago,” said Susan. “We opened December 24, 2009.”  The three women who remain with this not-for-profit are either Operations Managers or the Director, and the shelter, which Susan was quick to point out is a low-euthanasia facility, has five other paid staff.  Everything else happens with the help of volunteers.  People come in, and after a short orientation, do things like walk dogs, clean kennels, play with cats and generally make the place a fun environment.

The HSSPV serves seven districts in the Denver area, including Arapahoe County, Cherry Hills, Englewood, Littleton, Lone Tree, and Parker.  The way the service works is that animal control will bring in lost and stray dogs to the shelter, where they are examined and cared for in an on-hold status for seven days.  During that time the shelter staff hopes to reunite a pet with its owner.  After the seven days, Fido or Fifi will go up for adoption or evaluation for euthanasia.

Adoption day for one lucky pup.

Staff at HSSVP take a commemorative photo at adoption time.

“We determine whether or not to euthanize based on injuries or illnesses that may be terminal, low quality of life situations, or aggression,” said Susan, “but we’re proud of the fact that we have one of the highest live release rates in the metro area.” The shelter’s live release rate is over 96%, meaning most dogs or cats that come in, will be released to existing or new care givers, as opposed to being put down.  The HSSPV is also “breed friendly,” meaning that no dog will be turned away because they are part of a breed that has a “bad reputation.”  Currently, there are a lot of pit bulls for example, mixed in with the other dogs the HSSPV shelters and cares for.

You can tell that the HSSVP is very community oriented.  They have a room being set up as a community room, where people can host meetings, dog meets, dog training, and other public events.  And then there is the facility’s pride and joy, a community outreach vehicle entirely donated and maintained by Ralph Schomp Honda company.

Community room at the HSSPV

Future home of community meetings, dog training and lots of fun!

“They just gave us this wonderful RV,” said Susan. “Please come in.” She showed me around the completely refitted vehicle that includes a little get-to-know you chamber for potential new pet parents and their dog or cat.  The vehicle is taken to places like the large pet stores who host adoption days or on other public service calls.

The HSSPV also provides basic veterinary services such as low-cost vaccines for your pet and spay or neuter operations.  There is a part-time veterinarian on staff and a full-time veterinary technician.

When we toured the cattery, there were cats roaming freely in their own room. “We set this up like a living room so that the transition to other homes would be easier for the cats,” said Susan. I asked about the couch that one furry friend was relishing with his paws. “We use donated furniture, and replace the couches when they begin to wear too thin.  We are always looking for more couch donations.”

In all, this shelter dispelled any old notions of pet shelters being horrid, end-od-the-line kind of places with mean old guys anxious to try out their latest gas-chamber methods.  In fact, I hope to make one of my New Year’s Resolutions, to become a dog walker for the Humane Society of the South Platte Valley in 2014.

I hope you’ll check out your local shelter.  There is life there a plenty, and love to go with it. What could be better.  And if you’d like to donate to the HSSPV please visit