Occasionally, the dog dies.

Occasionally, the dog dies.

Thank you, Sue Henry. You killed a dog on page 10 .At least I think it was Sue Henry. I was so excited to see the murder that I neglected to check the reference. I insist that while, generally, we like our animal characters and want to keep them in the story, occasionally, the story demands a sad occurrence.  Sometimes, in a good mystery, an animal just doesn’t make it. Usually, that gives the protagonist intense motivation. Susan Conant’s central characters, her malamutes, are poisoned in A Bite of Death. That attempt on their lives propels her to discover a murderer.  Dorothy Martin rescues an abandoned dog who has been wandering the moors.  Not all animals have wonderful lives, but our protagonists need to be empathetic and instrumental in noticing  what is going on in the world of animals and contributing to their welfare.They aren’t about to cause the death of an animal, but others are. Holly Winter, Conant’s protagonist is well aware of the horror of puppy mills and the inadvertent cruelty of some dog owners. Dogs are characters in a novel. They can have problems.

I read many books that have animals as characters. Of the 85 books I’ve read in the last six months (Amazon, I don’t understand how your profit margin can have dipped. I‘m doing my part), I expect 30 of them have animals as characters. I have been acquainted with many animals in my life—I grew up on a farm, lived on a ranch, my daughter is a veterinarian– and animals are a constant, particularly dogs. They have individual character the way people do and enter my books as distinct characters. They have challenges and concerns, but they lack, at least most of them, the planning capacity of humans. They have a lot in common with teenagers; the here and now is more important than tomorrow. Most react emotionally to tragedies of sudden death around them and to close encounters with danger. They don’t always escape that danger.  I see them as complex and interesting, but not immortal.

They are useful in a story as well. Dogs allow our human characters to show their emotional depth. Mary Marks sends an abandoned cat to Martha in Forget My Knot (DA Quilting Mystery). Hazel Holt’s character Sheila Mallory talks to her dog Tris and her cat Foss revealing her own ideas and concerns. Those dogs are not such distinctive characters as Simon Brett’s Gulliver in his Fethering Mysteries. That dog exists as a constant reproach to the protagonist for her lack of emotional involvement. In Laurien Berenson’s Melanie Travis series, Melanie is immersed in the life of poodles, her own and her aunts, She treats her own dogs as relatives, but knows neglect and cruelty exist for other dogs where owners use the dogs for profit. She tries to do something about it

Tragedies for dogs are motivation for the protagonist. Mysteries are about justice. Some protagonists find justice for dogs. Cat’s, not so much.

I enjoy Miss Helma Zukas’ prickly relationship with Boy Cat Zukas and look with interest in each book in the series to see if he has managed to get Helma to admit she cares about him. Kerry Greenwood in her Corina Chapman series ignores dogs and gives us a collection of three individual cats with distinct personalities. I miss the dogs, but, hey, it’s her book.