County wordsmiths write about life with their furriest, funniest, most dependable—and sometimes most difficult—family members.
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My Four-Legged Muse
By Andrew Gross
Author Andrew Gross with Tobey
People always ask me, as they do all writers: “Where do you get your ideas?” I figure each of us has our own secret weapon—the one thing that always works when the creative engine has ground to a halt. When all else fails. Maybe it’s jogging under a blue sky. Or sitting at Starbucks with a latte. Or listening to Mahler’s Fourth, smoking who knows what.
Mine is white with four legs. It’s my Westie, Tobey.
It always seems to happen like this: it’s the middle of the night, one of those rare, beautiful sleeps allowing me a small respite from two weeks’ worth of plot elements that go nowhere and ideas that end up as dead-ends. Suddenly, my wife and I are jolted out of sleep by the ear-splitting cannonade of our dog barking his head off, feverishly scratching at the bedroom window, madly trying to paw his way through the glass.
We shoot up in bed. It’s 3 am. My usual first reaction cannot be printed, and probably isn’t appropriate for an animal-friendly article.
Then he’s on the floor, barking at us, hurling himself against the door to get out. We open the door to let him go, or cover our heads with the pillow yelling at him until he finally settles down. My wife is usually back asleep before her head hits the pillow. I, howeverm, grumbling why we even have this dog (just kidding!!!), lie there watching the clock slowly tick away.
And then it starts to happen: first, maybe just one little nugget that solves a book thing I’ve been noodling out for days. Yeah...I run it over in my head about a dozen times. That might just work! At least being woken up at 3 am hasn’t been a total waste!
Then, it’s like comets flashing in the night—as soon as I close my eyes it happens again! That character’s song lyrics—they could mean something. They could be a message for something, or even a warning! I like it! I jump out of bed, eager to write that down!
All of a sudden, I’m wide awake, but it doesn’t matter, because everything, everything that has escaped my grasp for the past few weeks, is suddenly taking shape! Suddenly, it’s like there’s music in the wind and I’m the only one who can hear it. I race with the pen just to keep up with each new idea. The only challenge now is to simply get them all down—and hope they’ll make sense in the morning. Which they usually do. Where the hell is it all coming from? Every book I’ve written can trace its finest moments to a random nocturnal event, having been woken up by...
I turn and look at the dog. By that time he’s usually curled back in bed. Asleep. I stare at him until he finally opens his eyes. (Reversal is fair game!) And I wonder, does he know? Are you aware? Hello in there... My muse, the thing that always comes to me when I need it most...
Tobey, is it you?
He wags his tail just once with a look that says something like, “Well, someone has to keep this family in dog food.”
Needless to add, my writer friends all ask if he can spend the night at their house every once in a while.
After co-authoring with James Patterson five #1 New York Times bestsellers (e.g., Judge and Jury, Lifeguard, Third Degree), Andrew Gross went on to write his own New York Times bestselling thrillers, including The Blue Zone, The Dark Tide, Reckless, and Don’t Look Twice. His next book, Eyes Wide Open, will be published by William Morrow in July. He and Tobey (and his wife Lynn) live in Purchase.
By Kate Buford
A donkey, two horses, dogs, a bunch of ducks, one lamb that lasted about a week, a couple of feral cats, one of them pitch black. There were so many pets running in and around the Northern California home where I grew up, a place a lot like Westchester. At Easter, we got to go downtown and each choose a baby chick, often dyed pink or green, and bring it home in a little Chinese food box. They never lasted long. I had a turtle once. He died, too, when I couldn’t figure out how to open his food tin. The goldfish got proper burials in the flowerbed just outside the kitchen door—also called “The Infirmary,” where my father nursed sick red geraniums back to health. Our Popsicle sticks were the tombstones.
My father was great with dogs, especially Labs and Retrievers. He loved to train them to perfect obedience, something he was never able to do with his four children. A favorite trick was to place a piece of meat, preferably raw, on the bridge of a dog’s nose and make him, blinking and salivating, keep it there until Dad said, “OK!” We were always surprised when outsiders thought that was cruel. Didn’t they understand that the dogs worshipped my father, gathering at the door, ecstatic, when he came home from work every night? When Cuchulain, our great and noble Golden Retriever, came to the end, Dad took him to the vet to be put down. The dog knew what was up, but he faced his fate bravely. When it was all over, the vet, a family friend with a slight stammer, said to my dad, “He was a g-g-g-gentleman!”
But probably the most apocalyptic pet story was the one about the rabbits. One spring, some friends with a farm up near Santa Rosa let me take home a litter of about 10 beautiful Dutch bunnies. They were small, delicate, and had various white and brown markings. Dad let me have them because there were already a couple of rabbit hutches, empty, next to our paddock. I just had to remember to feed the bunnies. Which I did. Eventually, they grew into rabbits and, by late May, I had given all but one away. She was my favorite, brown and cuddly.
It gets hot east of the Berkeley Hills where we lived—dry, blistering, cobalt-blue heat. By mid-June, the night of the high school graduation, it was well over 100 degrees. I was new to rabbits and didn’t realize I should have soaked burlap sacks in water from the horses’ trough and draped them over the hutch. “They’re your rabbits, dead or alive,” said Dad the next morning, Saturday. So, I took a shovel, walked down to the paddock, dug a hole next to the hutch, and buried my rabbit.
But, I had forgotten about Cuchulain, who was still with us then. And the heat. Sunday morning, my little brother, Kevin, came to the bottom of the stairs leading to my room above the garage. “Kate! Wake up!” he yelled. “Your rabbit is resurrected from the dead!” The dog had dug up the rabbit and deposited it at my door. It was hard, green, and smelly. Dad made me bury it again. Cuchulain dug it up again.
By now Dad was mad. This time, he took the rabbit, hiked to the top of the almond orchard, and buried it himself. Deep. Cuchulain watched the whole thing and never dug up that rabbit again.
Kate Buford lives in the Yonkers Waterfront District and in Lexington, Virginia. Her new book, Native American Son: The Life and Sporting Legend of Jim Thorpe (Knopf), is a New York Times Editors’ Choice. Burt Lancaster: An American Life (Knopf, 2000), her previous book, was on the Best Book of 2000 lists of many major newspapers. She is a member of the Marmaduke Writing Factory in Pleasantville and is on the advisory board of the SUNY Purchase Writers Center. Her two children graduated from Irvington High School and loved all the many pets of their own childhood.
Love at First Sight—Twice
By Nancy L. Claus
Nancy Claus's two boys, Jackson and Foster
When my beloved golden retriever died a few years ago, I didn’t think I’d get another dog. With an empty nest looming, I figured I’d enjoy the freedom. I figured wrong. When I found myself intercepting stray balls and Frisbees on the beach, playing with other people’s pets, I knew it was time. And, that this time around, I wanted a rescue, not some doggie in the window of a pet store.
A friend told me about Sunshine Golden Retriever Rescue (sunshinegoldenrescue.com), a group of volunteers who find Goldens (or the “golden hearted”) in high-kill shelters, mostly in the South, and transport them, in a kind of underground doggie railroad, to new homes along the East Coast. When it comes to matchmaking, eHarmony has nothing on these folks: I was more thoroughly, um, vetted by SGRR than any dating service. Once approved, my daughters and I checked the website and studied the histories of available dogs. Independently, we each chose Jackson. And, after a number of e-mails and phone calls, Jackson’s foster mom chose us.
I never had believed in love at first sight. I do now. In just a few short months, Jackson became as inextricably intertwined in our lives as the silky, golden mesh of hair now covering every surface in our house. Indeed, we’re so in love that we just adopted our second Golden rescue, Foster, last December. And the two boys are as crazy about each other as we are about them.
Authors on Animals
Most dog lovers are familiar with the classics: Old Yeller, Lassie Come Home, Call of the Wild, and White Fang. We queried local librarians for their choices of the top dogs in canine literature.
Good Dog Carl
Alexandra Day, 1985
Leaving a baby in the care of a pet Rottweiler seems a dubious premise, but it works in this fun series of wordless books. Both Pound Ridge Library Director Marilyn Tinter and Ardsley Public Library Director Angela Groth give Carl and his adventures a solid thumbs up.
Lad: A Dog
Albert Payson Terhune, 1919
Before Lassie was even whelped, there was Lad, a heroic collie with “absurdly small white forepaws,” who battles burglars, rescues children, and wins dog show blue ribbons with equal aplomb. We guarantee a good cry.
Where the Red Fern Grows Wilson Rawls, 1961
Groth loves this classic tearjerker about a boy and his two coonhound pups growing up in the Ozarks.
The Art of Racing in the Rain, Garth Stein, 2008
“I don’t usually enjoy books told through the eyes of an animal, but this one touched my heart in a special way,” says Mount Kisco Public Library Director Susan Riley of this New York Times bestseller. According to Bedford Free Library Director Ann Coonan declares it “hands down the best”
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle David Wroblewski, 2008
“This debut novel is absolutely astounding,” Riley says. “The quality of writing and the evocative descriptions of farm life draw the reader into the story to the point where it becomes impossible to put the book down. I will be re-reading this one.”
Dog and cat toys have advanced far beyond tennis balls and yarn. Westchester veterinarians give their picks for what will set your four-legged friend’s tail a’ moving
➜ Kong Company Wobbler $19.99. Motion causes food to fall out of the Wobbler, providing play and physical activity for dogs. Vets love that it slows rapid eating and prevents gulping
➜ FroliCat Bolt Automatic Laser Pointer toy