Dino was my first dog; he took me from my first year in school to my first year in art college. Named after The Flintstones’ pet dinosaur, Dino was a French poodle. His mum belonged to my Uncle Luke and his gran belonged to my Aunty Kate – a dog-family-within-our-family thing which delighted me no end. Dino hasn’t made it into any of my books (yet) but his ability to kill a rat instantly with one lightning snap did, attributed to another (fictional) dog who was based on another (real) dog. Ah, the creative onion!
Dino was loyal and fiercely protective but a wee bit snippy. Our next family dog, Tags, was an old darling.
He could be a complete nut and whirl around the house like a tornado, or lean his head on your knee and stare lovingly into your eyes. He sat behind my chair every day while I worked. That quiff of hair standing up on the top of his head was the result of all the petting he got from everyone who ever came into the house! Even my dog-phobic friends loved Tags.
Tags made it into a series of English Readers I illustrated in the 1990s. In the books his name was Patch and he was white with brown splotches, but Patch’s shape and personality and goofy grin were all pure Tags.
I cried for weeks after he died. Even dogs who live decent dog-length lives are here for too short a time, but they can still overlap ours significantly. Tags took me from 18 to 31. My mother was only 54 when we got him – which doesn’t seem at all old to me now. By the time Tags died she was 67 and a widow. He was about 4 when my niece Ann was born. Theirs was a mutual adoration club and she was heart-broken when he died.
I considered writing a book about him, following three generations of women through an eventful thirteen year timespan all in the company of a very special mutt. It’s one of those book ideas that never made it from thought to page; I guess I couldn’t face the emotional journey of trying to capture something so personal. If I’d known what a major success a book about a crazy lovable dog could be, maybe I’d have made a little effort! Some day.
Cara was a rescue dog, and another special hound. Not because he turned out to be an endangered breed, a fact I only discovered when he was 10, but because he, like Tags, had a BIG personality. A personality I tried to catch on paper in my first novel, Timecatcher, where I made him the main character’s dog. He is Duff, the steady friend, the braveheart, and in the end, the hero. Cara died while I was working on the book – that’s five years ago but there are tears in my eyes now as I type.
I painted him into the corner of this endpaper for The New Kid. He’s walking the beach with myself and Michael, off the lead and beside the sea, just as he would have wished.
The other dog who features in The New Kid wasn’t mine; Frankie belonged to a friend. Another rescue mutt, she’d been mistreated and was nervous as hell.
Named for Dear Frankie, Ireland’s radio agony aunt of the 60s and 70s, Frankie-the-dog was so nervous she wouldn’t let me touch her and ran away at my approach. Yet she was so anxious to make friends she kept appearing at the door and coming closer, kept fighting her own fear until she was through it and sitting on my lap as I wrote!
Not surprising then that I used her as the dog in a tale about a group of kids working through their fears and worries to make friends with each other.
Unfortunately Frankie went missing last year and hasn’t been seen since. But I part-dedicated the book to her, wherever she may be. I part-dedicated Timecatcher to Cara so I guess I’d better get working on books for Tags and Dino if I don’t want to be haunted by some small four-legged ghosts… not that the ghost of a good dog could be a bad thing.