The Lady or the Tiger or the Wolf?
I was asked by more than one person while writing my book if I’ve owned any dogs. The answer is no. Most of my life, I have actually identified with cats more but decided many years ago that I refused to get into the eternal debate about which pet is Better: a Dog or a Cat. I didn’t want to get caught up in nonsense and senseless hype.
Both cats and dogs are no better or worse than the other. I don’t even like that there’s such a debate. As an animal lover, it makes more sense to learn to enjoy and learn more about as many creatures as possible, even those one may be deathly afraid of, because, it’s nature, and nature’s cool.
Many cultures do not, or once did not, view animals as separate species. Animals were spirit guides, soul companions as well as kin. Depending on the individual, and among many animal-lovers and pet owner anecdotes, a human and a particular creature will bond no matter what, solidifying the idea that the human and animal species have more in common than is understood.
To tell you the truth, since I was a child, I felt drawn to cats (both literally and figuratively as well as artistically). I would draw them constantly. Cartoon cats I would often copy and change to my liking. If one reads my FWG bio, my first character at age 5 or 6, was a cat with bat wings! My avatar is an anthro snow leopard from one of my short stories. Saturday night, with my older brothers, watching original Star Trek episodes had me drawing on leftover cardboard a space opera comic with a galactic ship complete with captain and crew (all cats! What I wouldn’t give to find some of those drawings).
Also, as a child, I was deathly afraid of dogs. I mean, it made sense. Cats hate dogs because dogs chase them, right? But dogs also barked with large teeth when one walked by their wired fences or wooden gates. Yet, when I stayed in Jamaica with relatives, and after a few summers, having even lived there, going to school and all (talk about culture shock) the dogs there seemed… nicer. The strays didn’t try to bite. Dogs would run to a person, mouth wide open, tails wagging. House dogs seemed quiet and not growly. They also looked similar, lanky, medium size and short-furred, but that’s because being on an island did not allow for a varied gene pool. United States’ dogs seemed meaner to me at 8 years old. Do I sound as if I’m making ‘cultural stereotypes’ on dogs?
But I learned from those dogs and how to interact with them. Also, my grandma, being of old ideas, believed cats were evil and didn’t want them around. However, she had no problem with canines. There was a dog known as Old Max in the neighborhood. Though he had an owner, he would amble about our block. Nearly every household he visited would feed him, including my grandmother. He was a stately gentleman and never barked loud and always allowed us children to play with him.
It took more years and experience to realize that dogs weren’t the antithesis to cats. They couldn’t be. It was like comparing from the old adage about apples and oranges. One could love cats and still love dogs! Once I understood that I began to incorporate more dogs into my writings.
Also, plenty of my beloved childhood films during the 1980s had canine actors I cheered for! I loved the Benji film series as well as Disney’s A Dog of Flanders, Ol’ Yeller, The Shaggy Dog and its sequel The Shaggy DA. One of my favorite Disney animations is Lady and the Tramp, which I count as the earliest inspiration for my novel draft. But I equally loved The Aristocats!
If I’m the animal writer I believe myself to be, then I should learn from them, and not just the ones I readily relate to. A writer should step out of the comfort zone. Writing what one knows is fine, yet it’s even better to learn new things so one could write on that as well. I read more on dogs, I met friends’ dogs and I began to study them.
When my thesis needed new life, I began to dig deeper into why I loved dogs (ah, puns). That’s when the story’s voice and tone were found. Not just deciding on Third-person vs. First POV (on my thesis mentor’s advice, I switched all previous drafts to first-person), but experimenting with other literary vehicles to best tell my story. Instead of the ‘aloof’ third-person I used for my cat characters in my fantasy series (there’s those stereotypes again), I would let go and let my dogs tell their own stories in immediate First-person.
Because such a voice felt more historical, I wanted a sense of the familiar as well as what we humans often overlooked or took for granted in canines. Though I still haven’t had a dog for a companion yet, I’m looking forward to many more adventures with both dogs AND cats. See? Cats aren’t the only muses for writers; dogs can be a writer’s best friend too. And yes, I went there. *groan*