Nov 26, 2012

The Dog behind the Dawg

Out now in Australia
I've had a heap of reader feedback about Deputy Dawg, the beautiful but damaged canine companion in Slow Dance with the Sheriff. Seems like he's really resonated with people. So I'm hoping readers will enjoy the FREE epilogue to that story which is entirely in Deputy's point-of-view. You can read it on my website now.

But I wanted to share with you the dog-behind-the-Dawg. I modelled poor, damaged Deputy on my own big fella (pictured below), Mr Snufalupagus.  His appearance, his habits, his Bernese Mountain Dog traits.

For no particular reason we picked ourselves a really sensitive pup six years ago at the breeders. He was immediately the one we both were drawn to and he was so snuggly and connected when he looked up at us. There really was no question. And at the time we were surprised that the breeder was letting him go because he had A-1 markings and (as it turned out later) perfect elbow scores (elbow scores are important in big dog breeds because they're a solid marker to whether a dog is going to have problems with weight-bearing and arthritis later in life).  The lower the score, the more desirable from a breeding point of view. Our boy's score was a perfect zero.

Mr Snufalupagus (6 weeks)

So we couldn't believe our luck that they were willing to let this beautifully marked, skeletally perfect little man go to a pet home.

But as he grew up into the gorgeous, obliging boy that he is it was obvious that the breeders knew what they were doing. He has the most amazing, relaxed and gentle nature--he'd be the perfect dog to have around kids, if we had them--but with that comes some traits I've never seen in a dog I've owned (and I've had dogs all my life).

Essentially, he cannot handle being 'in charge'.  Lovecats readers might remember last year when we lost our little fella, Larry, to congestive heart failure. Well Larry's departure threw our poor big fella into paroxysms of anxiety, as if he thought the whole family was going to turn our attention on him and ask him to protect the pack and make decisions and generally be in charge. Despite everything we did to help him transition through the loss of Larry, he began to demonstrate major signs of stress (which I basically took verbatim and put them into Slow Dance with the Sheriff when Deputy has his big meltdown). It was very sad and he was terribly unhappy.

Yet he was still having the same love-filled, safe and comfortable life as before. He just really, really, really couldn't deal with the responsibility of being alpha.

So when our newest little girl came trotting along (literally--she was found trotting down the emergency lane of a six lane freeway out in the middle of nowhere) she took charge (cos she's pushy like that) and Mr Snufalupagus just about wept with relief. The two of them are BFFs now and she pushes him around and he ADORES her.

Not every dog I've owned in the past displayed the obvious alpha qualities, but even those that didn't were still socially confident, capable dogs. They were reasonably resigned to not being number one in the pack and the system worked well.  So this is the first time I've ever met a dog who would so willingly go to the back of the line even if no-one else was in it.

But that just makes him all the more special and precious to us, and whatever it was that the breeders saw in his temprement that made him go on the 'pet' list also makes him the biggest, snugliest, and most lovingly devoted dog you could ever hope to meet. Just so long as you aren't in some kind of crisis situation. Pretty sure he wouldn't cope in a crisis. But his good nature makes him emminently trainable, and he has a singular focus and astonishing nose that would make him great for something like tracking.

So those are the qualities I poured into Deputy Dawg on the page. The skills, the love, the loyalty, the deep-down damage, and I loved the way his doggie issues ended up reflecting the issues of his 'people'. And that, together, they all healed each other.

Have you ever had someone in your fur-family that was extra 'special' for one reason or another? Was it a mystery or do you know why they were the way they were? I'd love to 'meet' them here.


  1. Nikki, what a gorgeous photo of your dogs! Now, an explanation for the names please!

  2. Nikki, I *so* want to meet your Gus one day. Love that he's a Mr Snufalupagus. The name Gus always makes me think of Cats the musical or the book of poems it was based on which had a character called "Asparagus, but that's such a fuss that we usually call him just Gus".

    I've had several special fur-family members, but the one who usually makes the most impression on people is Oliver, the Heathcliff of dogs - tall, dark, handsome, brooding and tortured. In fact, he may have even had a little role in one of your books. :)

  3. I love these pictures! Thanks for sharing.

    We've had a couple of very special such family members. Partly because of an unusual character but mainly because they were such an integral part of the family. Life with them was so special.

  4. Oh, Gus is just adorable, Nikki! I LOVE big dogs and the DH and I have been considering getting a Bernese (though I think we're leaning more towards a Leonberger at the moment. Though if the truth be told we'll probably end up adopting a rescue puppy). Oh, yes, am clucky for a puppy. :-)

    While I haven't had a fur-baby in quite some time, I think that they've all been special in their own particular ways. Thanks for sharing Gus's story!

  5. Oh, Mr Snufalupagus is gorgeous, Nikki! I'm so pleased for him (and you!) that Miss Bossy Boots came along to take charge!

    We had our Secondhand Sally who came to us at about 2 years old with some interesting traits. One of them was that she was mortally afraid of tea towels and of washing being folded. She used to cower behind the toilet bowl. It took a long time before she would stay in the room with us and that scary washing! I can't help wondering if someone used to flick her with tea towels...

  6. What lovely photos. Dogs are the best.

  7. Scarlet - we worked our way through a range of names to fit the big, rolypoly Bernese pups and the frontrunner was Bari (which is Swiss for bear which was very appropriate bc he looked like a grizzly cub) but I just couldn't bring myself to walk him down the park shouting 'fetch, Barry'. It was just too Bogan-aussie. So, the next biggest and most lumbering character I could think of was the adorable Mr Snufalupagus from Seaseme Street and turns out it was the perfect name, because he's just as placid and obliging (and hairy)as that woolly mammoth.

  8. Rach - when you're over for conference I'll arrange a visit :) He would love to meet you too.

    And yes, Oliver *is* the Heathcliffe of dogs and he knows a thing or two about deep seated damage. But he's also a perfect example of love conquering all and he's getting so much better in your house-of-abundant-cuddles.

  9. Annie - yeah, you can't pick who or how the extra extra special ones wheedle their way so deep into your heart, can you. You just wake up one day and there they are, burrowed in.

  10. Michelle - here's a great test. Locate the local Bernese Mtn Dog associaion in your state and go along to their next open day or event day and meet LOTS of them enmasse. That's what really sold me on them as a breed. We went along so that my other half could see what a bad choice they would be and by the end of the day I was putting my name on breeder lists. Every single dog there was the same gorgeous, affable, chilled out nature. And several owners let me walk their dogs around the part to see if I'd get my arm ripped out of its socket but all of them kept glancing up at me as if to say 'how are we doing? All good? Not going to fast for you? Hey, let's go check out this bush...'


  11. Oh, poor Secondhand Sally. Yeah totally someone must have been a flicker. Our new girl is the same with the fly swat. I'd get it out to whack an errant fly and she'd have a little wee, poor love.

    So someone definitely took to her with a fly swat and more than once.

    But it's a lovely moment that day when you do it and they don't even blink. And you realise how far they and their trust have come.

  12. That is possibly the most adorable dog story I have ever heard! Your Snuffy would go very well with my girl, who is the sweetest dog in history with people, but who is a big bossy boots with other dogs. Sounds like a marriage made in heaven! But how on earth did the breeders know so young? Breeder esp!

  13. Awww he is so adorable. Look at him as a pup. And what a glorious nature.

    My now departed dog Ari, used to make me laugh. He sensed food even when he was on his rug snoring his head off. Yep, one second, snores, next 'the stare' - ie give me food stare. It made me laugh every time. He also used to pick off fruit off the trees to eat. I miss seeing that.