Monday, April 16, 2012

The Dog Dilemma

I love dogs. I've always lived in doggy households; when I got married,we had a puppy before we had children, and when the kids came along they always claimed we loved the beagle more than we loved them. My standard reply was that when they developed a nature as sweet and uncritical as hers, we might reconsider.

It's a real sadness for me that since Lucy, the most beautiful and charming Dalmatian in the world, died at fourteen a bit over a year ago, we've decided that with regular visits to grandchildren at the other end of the country, business trips to London and quite a bit of travel too it wouldn't be fair to get another one. Anyway, I don't think I'm brave enough now to sign on for 'giving my heart to a dog to tear.'

But I can have dogs in my books. A collie named Meg is a permanent fixture in my crime series and my favourite ever email came from a reader in Toronto who had loved a greyhound character in my book Lamb to the Slaughter and on the strength of it went out and got herself a retired greyhound whom she adores. Christine, if you should happen to be reading this I'd love to know how Nike is!

Received wisdom has it that whatever violence happens in your book, readers just won't stand for you killing a dog. People seem not to care too much about happens to the unfortunate human characters, but dogs are different. Horses too; I've never forgotten a Crime Writers conference when we were shown blood-curdling images of various unpleasant ways in which humans could die and no one batted an eyelid as we all scribbled the useful technical details in our notebooks. It was only when the picture of a horse hit by a car came up that there was a stir of dismay and gasps of horror came from all round the room.

So I find myself in a dilemma. In a book I'm working on just now, there is a devil dog, perverted to be a killer by its evil owner. It is wholly dangerous and no amount of retraining could convert it into a household pet. Any future it could have would be a miserable life in a secure kennel and in any case that would hardly be a plausible outcome.

Killing it at the end is the obvious solution. For the integrity of the plot I think I will have to do it, though I dread the hate mail and the readers vowing never to read anything else I write. Not only that, I dread doing it. Yes, while I have become used to having fictional human blood on my hands, dogs really aren't the same.

Maybe I could just write a different book.

4 comments:

Liz said...

My dog votes for clemency, notwithstanding my reasoned exposition of the facts. Once I suggested sharing quarters wirh devil-dog, it was strictly Not-in-My-Backyard.

Frankie Y. Bailey said...

My first dog as a child was a Dalmatian puppy that a woman gave my mother. I have been haunting dog rescue and local animal shelters for months trying to decide if I can fit a dog into my life. Really want one.

But getting to your writing dilemma, I have a dog -- George, a Lab mix that my male protagonist, John Quinn, rescued from the highway. Lizzie, my female protagonist, sometimes have George at her house when Quinn is away. So I really struggled with what to do when I needed for completely legitimate plot reasons to have George be injured when bad guys break into Lizzie's house. He survived -- and I made sure Lizzie and Quinn went to the vet hospital to hold his paw and that they pampered him when he was released.

Not sure what you should do about your devil dog. I guess you could channel Stephen King with "Cujo." A lovable family pet in the beginning, but at the end, he is dying of rabies and a mad, violent animal out to kill his family. He had to die. Maybe your readers will agree with you about the devil dog. Or, maybe the fact that he is a devil dog will make them blame the people who made him that way, rather than you for putting him to death.

Aline Templeton said...

Thanks for the comments and suggestion. From the start I've emphasised the perversion side and objectified the dog - always 'it' rather than 'she'. I think I'll have to see what the story needs when it reaches crisis point.

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