Their keen senses, curiosity and observational skills make dogs and cats perfect partners in the fictional pursuit of crime
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Cozy or noir? Thriller or mystery? Talking cat or working dog?
Whatever your poison in literary murder and mayhem, there's a book for you. And chances are good that a dog or cat is a character in his own right, either as a four-footed detective or as a sidekick to a human protagonist. Think Lilian Jackson Braun's Siamese sleuths Koko and Yum Yum, who first made an appearance some 50 years ago; or feline Mrs. Murphy, her Persian nemesis Pewter and their corgi buddy Tee Tucker in the Mrs. Murphy series by Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie Brown.
Editors and agents used to tell authors that a "pet viewpoint" worked only for children's books, but from Braun on, writers have proven them wrong.
"It takes having a well-known and successful 'name' author to take the plunge and show it's something readers like before it becomes a trend," says Amy Shojai, author of three thrillers featuring German shepherd service dog Shadow. "James Rollins (a veterinarian-turned-writer) was one of the first best-selling thriller authors to include an animal viewpoint in his work, with a war dog partnered with an ex-military man. Robert Crais followed with a similar war dog-type character partnered with a damaged-cop character."
In her own series, Shojai, drawing on her background as a behavior consultant, wanted a viewpoint dog character with some chapters told from his perspective.
"Not as a human-in-a-fur-suit, but as I perceived a dog might truly think and behave and with motivations suitable to a canine," she says.
Shojai's fellow author Clea Simon has written 20 mysteries, all featuring cats. Simon began her career as a journalist, and along the way she realized she could combine her love of writing with her interest in and appreciation for cats. Her third nonfiction book, "The Feline Mystique," explored the relationship between women and cats.
"That was sort of the kickoff for my cat-related mysteries," she says.
At first, Simon went the traditional route. In her first series, featuring music journalist Theda Krakow and her cat Musetta, cats didn't talk -- at least, not in English.
"But after that, I realized that we all talk to our pets, and we all imagine how our animals respond," she says.
That led her to explore different ways of including a cat's viewpoint. One is her Dulcie Schwartz mystery series, which lead with the information that the character's cat, Mr. Gray, has died. He returns to her as a friendly ghost who is a comforting and wise presence.
Simon's newest mystery, "The Ninth Life," is narrated by a feral black cat who is saved from drowning by a homeless girl. It's a dark tale with a mean-streets vibe, a transition from the cozy, amateur-sleuth territory of her first books. In both instances, Simon explores her interest in the relationship between people and cats.
If you read Shojai or Simon -- or other authors who include animals in their plots -- it's not unusual to find arcana about dog shows, training or animal behavior. Many writers find their work to be a way of delving into some of the issues or controversies surrounding animals. Shojai covered dog fighting in her latest, "Show and Tell," and Simon addressed animal hoarding in "Mew Is for Murder" and puppy and kitten mills in "Cattery Row."
"One of the rules I live by, though, is that I could never seriously hurt or kill an animal in a book," Simon says.
Shojai is on the same page.
"I don't write dog abuse scenes," she says. Instead, she highlights the setting, fight paraphernalia and laws and issues surrounding the crime.
What's the pleasure in reading a mystery with purr-sonality or canine charisma?
"I think mysteries that feature or involve animals mirror real life," Shojai says. "Readers identify with the hero of the book who cares deeply about a pet."
Wash pet dishes
in hot, soapy water
Q: How often do I have to clean my pets' dishes? Can I just give them a quick swish with hot water? And what types of dishes are best? -- via Facebook
A: Much as I'd like to save you some time in your kitchen cleanup routine, a hot water rinse isn't enough to sanitize your dog or cat's dishes. A pet's food and water bowls should be cleaned thoroughly in hot, soapy water after every use, just as you would with your own dishes.
Not many of us love washing dishes by hand, although some people say they find it relaxing. You can run your pets' dishes through the dishwasher. Use the sanitize or high-temperature cycle. For pathogens to meet a steamy death, the water temperature inside the dishwasher must reach and stay at a minimum of 155 degrees Fahrenheit. The other bonus to using the dishwasher is that it's a water saver. According to a study from the University of Bonn in Germany, dishwashers use less water and require less energy than washing dishes by hand.
That said, I believe you should wash pet dishes separately from dishes used by human family members. I think this is especially important if you have young children, seniors or people with compromised immune systems living in your home. They are most susceptible to bacteria such as salmonella, MRSA and leptospira, which can be spread between animals and humans. Washing dishes separately adds an extra barrier to transmission.
I usually recommend stainless steel or ceramic dishes. They are both long-lasting and easy to clean, but ceramic dishes are prone to breakage. If bowls become chipped, replace them. Bacteria can hide out in the broken areas. Battered plastic dishes can also harbor bacteria, and that can lead to chin acne or other skin problems in cats and dogs. -- Dr. Marty Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
New flu strain
can affect cats
-- Cats as well as dogs can become ill from a new strain of canine influenza (H3N2) virus, according to experts at the Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine. "Suspicions of an outbreak in the cats were initially raised when a group of them displayed unusual signs of respiratory disease," says Sandra Newbury, DVM, the program's director. "While this first confirmed report of multiple cats (at an animal shelter in Indiana) testing positive for canine influenza in the U.S. shows the virus can affect cats, we hope that infections and illness in felines will continue to be quite rare."
-- Just how smart are dogs? More than we give them credit for, scientists say. The average dog's intelligence is estimated to be at the same level as that of a 2.5-year-old toddler -- in other words, curious and creative. Among the discoveries researchers have made in their studies of canine intelligence are the ability to read human cues, show emotional connection to their owners, display jealousy and learn hundreds of words. Vox reporter Joseph Stromberg says, "It's likely that these abilities have been shaped by evolution -- over thousands of years, we've selected those dogs best adapted to live with humans."
-- When Australian veterinarian Tristan Rich removed a brain tumor from the head of a 9-year-old goldfish, the complicated surgery involved three buckets of water, two of them containing anesthetic. The amount in the first bucket rendered Bubbles unconscious, allowing Dr. Rich and his team to run a tube from the maintenance bucket into Bubbles' mouth so the water could wash over his gills. They then removed the tumor, sealed the incision with tissue glue, and placed Bubbles into the "recovery" bucket, where he received oxygen, pain relievers and antibiotics. Now Mr. Bubbles is swimming pretty. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.