Reaching, Stretching… Beyond the Limits of Our Comfort Zone

Zeke

Today I’m introducing Zeke, the one feline in the family that has escaped my camera until recently.  Whenever we would visit she (yes, Zeke is female) put herself into hiding. She managed very well in her slightly chaotic household until additional people and another canine upset her norm.

It wasn’t until our last visit that she allowed me to photograph her with glass doors safely between us.

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Then, on the last morning, as we were readying to leave, Zeke spied something that brought her out of hiding despite the turmoil of our impending departure. I still don’t know what it was on that hall table that enticed her out of her comfort zone, but she wanted it enough to ignore all of us and the camera. She stretched up and hovered there, examining new heights.

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She reminded me of our other family’s youngest canine, Cooper, who wondered for weeks why the Labradors often stood peering at a sheet of glass in the living room.

Then one day he ventured to leave the comfort of his four-on-the-floor existence and stretch up to discover a fascinating new world to watch beyond the window.

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I think Zeke and Cooper have something to teach us as writers.

Does our best writing come from the safe confines of the familiar? Or might there be new worlds waiting for us if we will but stretch beyond the limits of our comfort zone?

“Just a Dog”

People might say she was “just a dog”, but in our family that phrase raises people hackles.  To all of us she was so much more.  Today our family circle is suddenly smaller by one and we are bereft.

Enjoy romping with all your Sheltie pals from years gone by,

dear old friend.

"Ebby"

CAREANN’S EBONY OF CEDARWOOD, C.D., C.G.C.

December 10, 1998 – March 4, 2010

Co-owners: Heather J. (Garvin) Wik and Carol J. Garvin

The Canine Crowd

Tynan

Ebony

I was asked about the various pet members in our extended family. I don’t seem to have a picture of our son’s cat, but here are all the others:

  • three Labrador Retrievers
  • a Brittany Spaniel
  • an Australian Shepherd puppy

Cooper

Java

Mac

There’s always a little canine chaos when any of them get together — running, cavorting, playing with each other’s toys (yes, they all have lots of toys; some of them even know how to put their toys away when asked), and eventually collapsing into various corners of the room when their energy runs out. (Check out the picture of one of their ‘collapsed’ moments in this earlier post.)

Right now “Ebby” is the distinguished one in the crowd — a venerable twelve years old and holder of both an obedience trial C.D. degree and a ‘Canine Good Citizen’ title. “Java” is the only chocolate among the Labs and is the only one who coexists with a feline friend. “Mac” gets to go jogging most days with his mistress, often along the ocean shore. You don’t want to know about his fascination with starfish! “Cooper” is the newest member of the clan… barely five months old and already intimidating the other dogs with his penetrating crystal blue eyes. And our “Tynan”, well, I’ve mentioned him before… alternately a gazelle and a couch potato, always a helpful companion, and an avid swimmer just like “Mac”.

That’s all of them… for now. I keep telling my DH that I miss the Shelties we had for 35 years, but he keeps saying that “one is enough” at this point in our lives. We’ll see.

Portraying Pets With Personality

Have you ever considered that animals have personalities?

We’re on the move this week, visiting some of our family in BC’s Okanagan and Kootenays. All our families include dogs (although there is one cat among the canine crowd), and all of them get along well with each other. They may not tolerate the intrusion of a neighbour’s dog but a family member’s is welcomed with enthusiasm, and remembered by name between visits. It’s as though they understand they’re part of an extended family.

Each one has its distinct characteristics and that started me thinking about how we depict pets in our novels. Unless the story focuses on an animal, such as in Marley and Me, it seems like they are a presence without personality. They exist for the children to play with, as company for the protagonist, or as a threat to the antagonist. They’re just there. They are little more than “set dec”.

What a missed opportunity! Different breeds have different characteristics and the canny writer will research these and choose one that fits the character’s lifestyle, or create tension with one that is totally unsuitable. Just as a healthy plant enhances the hominess of a living room, so the right pet can complement a scene, offer comic relief or perhaps help reveal character flaws.

Have you included pets in your stories? What purpose have they served? Consider doing a short writing exercise that features an in-depth look at your favourite animal.