Writers who pen westerns must have a deep-seated respect for animals. All those horses and cattle. The loyal dogs. The villainous rattlesnakes. Shoot, even the chickens have a role to play. Out on the lonely prairie, a fella was more apt to talk to his horse than another person for days on end.
I love animals. But I have a confession to make . . . I don’t own any. Part of the reason is that my husband has allergies, especially where cats and other long-haired critters are concerned. Another contributing factor is the three children living with us who already demand a lot of attention and cleaning up after. Also, with all the traveling I do for my writing career, the hassle of finding and paying for dog sitters is not terribly attractive at this point. Maybe once our nest is empty and all the kids have left, we’ll consider some four-legged children, but for now we only support the two-legged variety.
I had dogs and cats as a child – all outdoor animals. We had seven acres with lots of room to roam. But even then, the animals always loved my brother more than me. It seemed dreadfully unfair until I realized that he was the one who lived outside with them. Playing. Going on adventures. More often than not I was in my room reading about animals. All those great Black Stallion books. Old Yeller. Sounder. Where the Red Fern Grows. (Why are the dog books always so sad???) I would imagine myself racing across the plains on my trusty steed, but in truth I’ve only ever ridden about a dozen times in my life and mostly those were at a walking pace. Sigh.
But the imagination is a wonderful thing. I can create heroines who ride, shoot, and spit better than any man if I so desire. Or give a boy a dog that becomes his most trusted confidant. So that’s what I do. I add animals to my books, name them, and give them special connections with their owners. Then I live vicariously through my characters to enjoy all the benefits of animal love without any of the unromantic poop scooping or hair vacuuming.
Animals don’t play key roles in all of my stories. But I have had a few that warranted extra page time and emotional commitment from my characters. Where dogs are concerned: Travis Archer had Sadie, Levi Grant had Ornery, and little Lewis Adams had the adorable Hercules.
Then there are the horses. I think I have more fun naming the horses than I do the people sometimes. Some of my favorites have been Gideon and Adelaide in Head in the Clouds having Samson and Sheba, Travis having Bexar (even the horse had ties to the Alamo!), Stone Hammond with Goliath, and of course, Ben Porter’s matched Shires – Hermes and Helios.
I’m currently working on rewrites for my next full-length novel. As I was brainstorming pet ideas for a girl who grows up fairly isolated from others, I decided to try something unusual. So the lovely Evangeline Hamilton makes a pet out of an big black boar. She’s raised this feral pig since it was a baby, and her older brothers de-tusked it, not willing to let her keep it otherwise.
She named the beast Hezekiah since it should have died after being abandoned out in the wild but was given a new lease on life. And to help guard that life, Evie makes sure to tie a big red bow around the boar’s neck every time they go out adventuring to ensure no hunter will shoot her pet by mistake.
In the novella I’m currently writing, my Posse inspired me to include a cat, and he’s causing all kinds of mischief.
So what are your favorite animals to share real or imagined adventures with?
If you could pick an unusual pet for me to have in one of my novels, what would you suggest?