Here's the story about how we lost our beloved Trooper, found the amazing Shadow, and Shadow helped me heal after the the death of Trooper -- and how he also gave me insights into the very heroic and wise Wolf.
THIS IS ALSO
IN THE BACK OF THE E-BOOK FOR JANUARY MOON AND IS ALSO ON MY WEBSITE
IN THE BACK OF THE E-BOOK FOR JANUARY MOON AND IS ALSO ON MY WEBSITE
OK, I know you really want to know more about the dogs and a less about me, so here goes: the German shepherd in the picture with me is my beloved Trooper. He crossed The Bridge on Good Friday, April 2, 2010, at the age of nine months due to irreversible kidney disease. The other picture here, Trooper resting in the grass, was taken on his last good day several days before he died. I think he was already looking at The Bridge in the distance. Trooper’s kidney disease was caused by a bacterial infection known as leptospirosis. Unfortunately, he caught lepto when he was 4.5 months old despite being vaccinated (that is not to say you should not vaccinate your dogs; you should). He was deathly ill but rallied, proving he was truly a little trooper. In early March, 2010, it was clear that although he’d won a few battles he couldn’t win the war and over the course of a few weeks his decline came swiftly. I’d just started to write January Moon in mid-February and from the very beginning I envisioned a role for a very heroic, loyal dog. Of course, in my mind’s eye, that dog was Trooper.
Amazingly, several months earlier, a friend told me about a man in Missouri who had two dogs dying simultaneously from a puzzling illness that sounded to her a lot like Trooper’s disease symptoms and she asked if he could contact me. At that time Trooper still seemed to be thriving. Quite sadly, however, this man lost both dogs to what proved to be lepto.
I knew nothing about this guy except that he was from Chicago, retired, and loved dogs. Shortly after I commiserated with him over his loss, Trooper began his own decline. That man was Dennis Banahan, a retired Chicago homicide detective, author (Threshold of Pain) and a consultant to crime writers. Our shared experience with lepto and consequent loss became the foundation upon which we were to build a strong friendship.
Although Trooper came from a friend who is a breeder and she wanted to help us find another purebred shepherd, Al and I were undecided about where or how we’d find our next beloved dog. The day after we lost Trooper, Al and I drove around aimlessly, silent in our grief, trying desperately to avoid returning to our dog-empty house. The crate still sat where it had always been, as did the toys and food dishes too. The cats were depressed and the parrot was sulking.
As Al drove hundreds of miles to nowhere, I obsessively scanned the roadways and highways, the culverts and even the beaches of Lake Michigan, absolutely certain we were going to find a dog begging for a home. But that was not to be.
Ever since I fell in love with the TV series Rin Tin Tin as a kid, I’ve dreamed of owning a German shepherd. I’m not a dog snob; I like all dogs and cherish mixed breeds as well as purebred. Nonetheless, I always wanted a GSD and Trooper fulfilled that lifelong wish. He was everything I expected in the breed: intelligent, fearless, loyal. His herding instincts annoyed our four cats but his insistence on also herding me warmed the cockles of my inbred Irish heart. I believed Trooper could never be replaced, even by another GSD. Trooper had a spark I’ve never seen in even the best of dogs. I had no expectation that I’d ever find a dog the equal of Trooper and decided to not even try. Rather, I decided to reach out and find a dog more in need of me than I was in need of him. I also vowed I’d not judge the new dog in reference to Trooper; that would be patently unfair: Trooper was a one-percenter.
So, on Easter morning, two days after losing Trooper, I trolled the internet rescue sites for dogs in need of a home. No size or breed seemed out of the question; the door to my heart was open to all comers. But in the end I was back with shepherds and found myself at Chicagoland German Shepherd Rescue where I was sure I’d found my dog. The next day, however, I learned from volunteers my first choice wasn’t a good match for our family because he had issues with cats but I was asked to consider a two year old black male shepherd with an obvious touch of Malamute. Skipper (his shelter name) had a few issues including signs of depression, fear, and separation anxiety, and he tested mildly positive for heartworm (and was in treatment for a cure). His coat was also dry and dull. Coincidentally, he’d been turned in the day Trooper died.
We applied for him immediately and after the shelter verified our references (that we are loving and responsible pet owners) we were invited to meet Skipper in his foster home, which was a wonderful loving home where he had seemed content. Nonetheless, Al and I both had the immediate and eerie impression he’d been waiting for us.
We renamed him Shadow (it was either that or Velcro!) because he never left either my side or Al’s (he wasn’t going to lose another home and made that quite clear; wherever we were going, he was going). He quickly charmed all four of our cats, as well as our neighbors. Today Shadow is thriving both emotionally and physically. He has a great sense of humor, keen intelligence, and a gentle heart. He is far more laid back than Trooper but that should not be confused with a disinterest in protecting his people and territory. That would be a mistake.
I wasn’t able to write a word in the two weeks of Trooper’s rapid decline and, of course, I also couldn’t write between the time of his death and Shadow’s subsequent arrival. I had just gotten to the part where I was developing Wolf’s character and his role in the story when Trooper began his rapid spiral into death, and each time I tried to force myself to continue writing about Wolf I fell apart. After Trooper left us, I couldn’t bear to sit at the computer because my feet couldn’t stand being under the desk where he liked to sleep when I was working. Believe me when I tell you that after Trooper passed, that space under my desk was a cold and haunting spot; two pairs of socks on a balmy April day couldn’t warm my feet.
But miraculously Shadow moved seamlessly into that space under my desk and with him came Wolf. I started to observe Shadow very carefully and as I did Wolf’s character began to form in my mind.
Whereas Trooper was spontaneous and transparent, Shadow is calculating and inscrutable. If both dogs could play cards, Trooper would always lose and Shadow would be a card shark. Shadow has no discernible “tell” – he doesn’t share his feelings and thoughts with strangers, although thankfully he tells me everything.
And it’s understandable. Trooper lived in the rarified world of unconditional love; he knew no enemies, he had no critics, he knew he was adored. Trooper was lucky to pass without ever knowing there are Monsters out there and that makes me happy. But Shadow – like Wolf – knows all about Monsters. I see it in his eyes. He’s told me. He remains cautious and knowing and prepared… in case the Monsters return.
Trooper would naively think he could go into the cult and bark Jess free and he’d be surprised when Rae Harte would try to kill him. Shadow, however, labors under no delusions about the human capacity for evil. Shadow would go into the cult with a heavy heart, anticipating a fight to the death, and understanding the necessity for speed and surprise.
All of this dawned on me several days after Shadow joined our family. It happened as I was watching him stalk something in our yard. Suddenly I visualized Wolf moving into the compound on a search and destroy mission to rescue Jess. He would move swiftly, using his blackness to his advantage, and when he hurtled himself through the window he would know he was fighting a Monster. Just like Shadow.
Trooper’s illness caused me to meet Denny Banahan (what are the odds that at the exact same time I needed a homicide dick I’d find one?). Trooper’s death opened the door for Shadow to join our family. Of all the thousands of shelter dogs who need a home, what are the odds that the one I’d take home would be able to explain to me everything I needed to know about Wolf?
There are no coincidences.
And yes: the picture of the beautiful dog on the cover of this book represents Wolf but is a dead ringer for Shadow.
I gave Donna Casey free rein to design a cover for January Moon. She asked to read the book to get an idea for the cover but I had no idea what she was ultimately going to design. So when she sent a draft via email I was absolutely astonished to see Shadow on the cover. I couldn’t remember sending her a picture of him.
“Where did you get a picture of Shadow?” I emailed her back. In the meantime my husband walked into the room and saw the book cover on my computer.
“When did we take that picture of Shadow?” he asked.
Donna said she “could see” Wolf after she read the book and then she found a picture that fit her vision among the hundreds of dog pictures in her extensive design library. I was spooked.
Simultaneously I was having the first conversation I’d had in probably forty years with an old friend from high school, Cindy Newlin O’Connor. In the blink of an eye Cindy most graciously offered up one her fabulous moon photographs in the event I still needed one for the book’s cover. Donna already had a moon on her first draft but we quickly agreed the photo Cindy suggested was far more evocative.
As January Moon’s Lt. Fred Wiley might ask, “What are the odds that forty years could pass and this nice chick Cindy just happens to waltz into Maureen’s life with a gorgeous photo of a moon at the exact same time Maureen claims she needs one?
Truly, Lieutenant, it boggles the mind.
Update: Our four cats (Hiway, Big Daddy, Pinky & Brain) and Maggie Mae, our parrot, are thinking Shadow’s getting pretty damn full of himself, especially after Oprah called. I tried to explain to them he’s still adjusting to his celebrity status and they need to cut him some slack. And to his credit, despite his hectic schedule now, he really does try to keep up with his fan mail. Usually he stays on top of it except when he’s out of town and then I step in and try to handle it for him. I wouldn’t have to do this if he wasn’t so stubborn but at this writing he still refuses to travel with a laptop and there’s not a damn thing I can do about it.