Left Isis
Right Isis

May 3rd, 2024

Ah, May. For most people in the U.S., the beginning of the best time of the year. For us here in southern Arizona, it’s the last tolerable month until October, so enjoy it while you can. I do have a great line-up of authors for Tell Me Your Story this summer, though – the great Dennis Palumbo will be here on May 20, one of my idols, Laura Jo Rowland for June, and debut author Alexander Marriott for July. Now, there is something to look forward to.

When all the brouhaha first arose concerning a most unfortunate incident perpetrated by a certain Governor of South Dakota, one of my first thoughts (aside from horror) was that this woman has never heard one of the first rules a fiction writer learns: If you don’t want to lose your readers’ good opinion of you and your characters, never kill a dog in your novel.

There are exceptions, as long as the death of said canine is the catalyst for a revenge quest by the protagonist. I offer as an example Keanu Reeves’ reaction to the demise of his dog in the movie John Wick. I used a somewhat similar device in one of my own novels, The Sky Took Him. In that book, an explosion killed two people and a dog, and it was the death of the dog that drove the survivor to a frenzy. I was a little afraid to kill the poor animal for fear of readers’ reactions, more so than the two grown men, but I suppose I got away with it because the perpetrator got his in the end.

Said incident also made me think about my grandparents, who were subsistence farmers in Oklahoma from the 1910s until the mid ’60s. Besides crops, my grandfather raised hogs and cattle, and my grandmother had a large chicken yard. They butchered, dressed, preserved, and ate animals all the time. Wild dogs often ran in packs out in the country and raided farmers’ coops and killed calves, and I do know for certain farmers would shoot at least the pack leader if they could.

HOWEVER, my grandpa always had a dog of his own, and often two, and loved them like children. In fact, he loved all animals and would not stand to see any suffer. Even the ones who were being raised for meat. Believe me, they lived good lives with him until butchering time. And even then, he was adamant that the animal be killed quickly and without fear. He once beat up a man he saw mistreating a horse.

I only know of one incident where Grandpa shot a dog. I was there when it happened. The dog was my grandfather’s beloved old mutt Butch, who had been Grandpa’s companion for as long as I could remember. Old Butch finally went blind and deaf, but Grandpa took good care of him just the same, until the dog wandered off into the woods and was lost for over a week. My family happened to be visiting when Old Butch found his way home, tottering into the yard half starved and barely able to stand. Grandpa sat on the porch steps for a long time hugging that dog. He gave him food and water, and while the dog was eating, he went into the house and came out with a pistol. He waited until Butch was full and satisfied, then picked him up and carried him off into the woods. He was gone for a long time.

He came back alone.

Now, if you have to shoot a dog, that’s a reason I can live with.

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