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Wednesday, December 30, 2009


All of my novels, and many of my short stories include animals in some way. Why? The answer is simple. I think it’s a basic truth: the way people treat animals indicates the kind of person they are underneath any false polish they’ve managed to create.

That’s not to say that you must be an animal lover to be a good person. One of my best friends is terrified of dogs, and barely tolerates other fur-people. BUT… if she saw an injured creature in front of her house, she wouldn’t walk past it (though, she’d probably call me to help instead of actually handling it herself – still, she would feel sympathy and take action). Nor would she go out of her way to run down a dog (or chipmunk or frog or whatever) in the road. She would, in fact, make every effort to avoid it. She became a vegetarian as a teenager because of the way the meat industry treated animals raised for slaughter. I believe all these quirks indicate her basic character.

On the other hand, it’s been clearly proven that many of the most horrific serial killers started out their “trade” on animals and worked their way up. A general disregard for life, especially life that is relatively helpless, indicates the type of people they are. In her San Francisco Chronicle article “Cruelty to Animals: A Warning of Possible Violence to Come” Dr. Margo DeMello says, “Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy, Andrew Cunanan, David ‘Son of Sam’ Berkowitz, and Albert ‘Boston Strangler’ DeSalvo were ALL cruel to animals before they started hurting people.”

I had a former neighbor who owned a pit bull puppy. He also had two children, one of whom was a boy of about five years. Once, the puppy came running out of their yard to greet me and my dog as we walked past, leaping about and wanting to play. The boy came to fetch it, and—using a tight fist—punched the dog in the ribs for being naughty. This one action told me more than I really wanted to know about his family life.

Domestic animals are dependent upon us for their care. They’re much like children, with the exception that they never stop depending on us. This makes our character’s behavior toward animals a way to amplify certain characteristics.

In my book, One Love For Liv (available in print and eBook formats from Samhain Publishing), my heroine dislikes animals of all kinds. Witness her introduction to Spike, a bull mastiff and important secondary character in this story:

Something warm and wet swiped her face, both reviving and disgusting her. She kept her eyes closed and limply swatted at it. Her hand hit fur. “Ugh.”
“Spike, back off.”

Spike? What was going on?

She gave a low moan and tried again to force her eyelids to obey her will, finally succeeding after a Herculean effort. A tanned face covered in five o’clock shadow and smears of black grease swam in front of her. Next to him, its neck surrounded by a studded black leather collar, sat the biggest brown dog she’d ever seen. The creature had drool suspended from its mouth and it looked as if it had swallowed a sneaker with the laces hanging out. Dear heavens, was that what had licked her?

A moment later, she turns to our hero and says:

“I’ll sit on the curb. Just get your ugly dog away from me.”

“Spike? C’mon, he’s gorgeous.” He gave the monster a vigorous scratch all up and down its body. “And he’s not my dog, but don’t worry, he’s a marshmallow.”

“I don’t like dogs.”

This isn’t a very flattering picture of our heroine, in my opinion, and it wasn’t meant to be. She’s a snob, and more than a little bit selfish. Hopefully this comes across in how she feels about this overly friendly dog.

In one of my as-yet-unpublished novels, The Possibility of Forever, the heroine begins to fall for the hero because of how he treats her pet rat, Maynard.

Just inside the doorway, she stopped, surprised to see Jed rubbing Maynard gently with the cloth placemat, crooning to him under his voice.

Oh, she sighed silently, her heart doing a little flip-flop in her chest.

Without the impetuous of Jed’s treatment of an animal most people would be disgusted by, it would have taken far longer for our heroine to see him as a love interest. It also showed us another side of an otherwise “tough guy”.

I love stories that include animals. It’s a great way to show (not tell) a lot about the characters… don’t you agree?

About the Author: Marianne was born in California, met her husband in Colorado, got a puppy and got pregnant, then moved with the group of them to the frozen north of New Hampshire where her thin blood keeps her indoors six months of the year. It's the perfect scenario for writing!

She has a novel, "One Love For Liv" available in print and eBook from Samahain Publishing, and a novella "Kitchen Matches" available in eBook format from Samhain Publishing. She also has eight published stories with The Wild Rose Press. Check out her website ( ) or blog ( ) for more information or to see what's going on inside her brain. If you dare.


MJFredrick said...

I absolutely agree that you can tell what kind of person someone is by how they treat animals. My dh and ds are both cat people, my brother is a dog person who talks tough but loves his critters. My dad, too. They have this vulnerability that's very sweet.

Anonymous said...

Animals creep into my books (and my life) too. Don't they have studies that show that pets lower our blood pressure and have other health benefits? Loved your examples. But even as an animal lover, I have to say that I am put off by shoe-lace drool. (And the drool always has dirt in it, too.) Hair I can take, but keep your drool to yourself. Good post!

groovyoldlady said...

Great post, Marianne (as always)! My hubby doesn't like animals. He's allergic to cats and is terrified of dogs because he's been attacked and bitten 3 times in the past 5 years AND had his pant leg mauled by a ferocious chihuahua. Nonetheless, I've never known him to mistreat an animal - He'll punch or kick one in self-defense (so would I!), but mostly he just tries to avoid them.

I, on the other hand, am the girl who would sleep in the barn with the kidding goats and have my puppies (yes, plural) on the furniture and in my bed.

It makes for an interesting marriage and - Hey!- I bet it would be interresting to weave into a story line. Hmmmmmm.

MomJane said...

I love your stories and I love animals. I had a couple of "friends?" ask me just recently why I would spend money to have my little Yorkie's leg operated on just because she had torn ligaments. It would have been cheaper to have her put to sleep. I wonder if they would consider doing that to their children if it got too expensive.

Sherry Gloag said...

We had a pet shop for many years and so many times I heard about the times the animals introduced their 'companions' to so may people they would never normally stop to pass the time of day with.

I adore cats, hubby hates them. For many years we had a cat who shared a great love/hate relationship in public with hubby, and when they thought themselves unobserved could be found snuggled up together on the sofa in front of the TV!

Cat has long since departed to its cat-heaven, and now the wild birds invade our home when their food supplies outside run low!

Great post, thanks for sharing. All the best for 2010

jmberrygirl said...

All my stories have critters, too. I agree that people's true colors show when they're with animals. My husband is allergic to dogs and never really had pets growing up. He snuggles with my smelly weenie dog almost daily and talks to him when he thinks I can't hear. It is so precious! If you asked him, he'd say he couldn't stand small dogs, house dogs, or dogs without formal obedience training. But he sure spends a lot of time with that little guy!

Angelica Hart and Zi said...

To say dogs are a passion for Zi is an understatement. He has four, and usually never less than three. Angelica adores Zi's dog but currently only has one kitty cat. In time, plans are to have one of each.

Enjoyed the post. We like how you incorporate pets into your stories. They just add extra appeal in our humble opinion.

Dru said...

If it wasn't for allergies, I would probably have a cat or two. I do like seeing pets in the stories that I read, because you get to see the heroine or hero truly relax.

Diane Craver said...

I loved the animals (Spike and the ferret) you included in ONE LOVE FOR LIV.

I only have one novel with a dog in it. I do plan on having a dog in my WIP. I dogsit my daughter's pet sometimes but we no longer have a dog ourselves. I guess I'm too busy taking care of our daughters with special needs but maybe in the future.

Great post!

LeslieJane said...

I too love animals, especially cats. Always had cats growing up, and my current place does not allow animals, boo hoo. Guess I need a new place to live. But I do get my fix by periodically volunteering with the SPCA. And I don't associate with people that do not at least are kind to animals, if not love them.

debbie haupt said...

Oh I do agree with you Marianne, animals as part of the story always make me dig in my pockets to find more money for more books. I'm anxious to read your now that I've seen it. Some of my favs with animals are Kristan Higgans, Janet Evanovich her early novels and her Plum novels with Bob the dog and Rex the hamster. So I can't wait to read yours. Happy New Year everyone!!!!

Anonymous said...

Hi Marianne,

You make an excellent point! How people react to animals goes a long way in showing, not telling, about their basic character. What a great writing technique!

Happy New Year!

robynl said...

I so agree that you can tell a lot about people by how they treat animals. I hope people see a loving kind soul in me as I talk to animals and pet them and love them. Our dog, who is gone, was my friend, companion and love of my life(along with dh who felt the same).
My one uncle who appeared to not be too fond of their dog Mitzi came home one weekend from work and was talking away to the dog and saying how he missed her and did she miss him, etc. He didn't know my cousin was home and when she appeared he walked away with a expression of 'uck, I didn't say anything. It was too funny - this big burly man getting caught talking to the dog.(As my cousin related this to me).

Virginia C said...

Hi, Marianne! Thank you for this wonderful post. My mother was a true animal rights activist. Not in the way of writing letters or holding up protest signs, but in the way of actually placing animals first. She was born and raised "in the country". As a young girl, she ran through the woods and often found steel leg traps which she busted with a rock and threw in the river. She was a "wildlife handler", and she took care of injured animals. She even took birds out of cat's mouths! Mom wouldn't kill bugs. She kept paper cups around the house so she could catch bugs and let them outside. Our love of animals was one of the main things we had in common. She watched "Animal Cops". I can't watch it! All of my cats are abuse or rescue cases. Sadly, I have lost three cats in the past year. It takes a lot to care for abused or stray animals. They sometimes have many health and behavorial issues. Mom called me "The Cat Whisperer". She said that I was the best cat trainer that she ever saw. She said many, many times that whatever cruelty was done to the animal should be done right back to the offender.

gcwhiskas at aol dot com

Rowena Cherry said...

Hi, Marianne!

Happy New Year. I like to include animals in my stories, and love reading other authors' animal stories. In fact, there's a blog on blogspot called "Males-and-other-animals"

When I lived in Germany, I was enchanted by how kind the Germans are to wild animals. In the spring, they built little barriers all along the country roads to make sure frogs did not take short cuts to their ponds, but traveled through the proper culverts.

Just as we have signs warning us to slow down for deer, they had signs in Morfelden warning drivers to watch out for leaping frogs!


Michelle Kafka said...

Yes we're animal lovers too. Punching a dog? Oh oh. Thanks for the excerpt. Happy holidays!

Jennifer Johnson said...

I agree. You can tell a lot about a person when you see how they are around an animal. Nice excerpt!

Marianne Arkins said...

Thanks everyone for your comments -- it's good to know that I'm not the only one who uses pets to judge character!

sherry said...

I agree that you can tell a lot about a person by the way they treat their pets. I love animals but I have so many allergies that I can't have any pets.

susan said...

I love books with animals in them and I hate people who mistreat animals..I think that person should get some of the same treatment. susan L.

Hywela Lyn said...

Just catching up Marianne. I absolutely agree with what you say. I'm passionate about animals myself, and like you, tend to have animals in all my stories, I think they enrich our lives so much. I get very angry and upset when I hear of animals being ill trated.

I have a rescued dog and two horses, one of which was mistreated in the past, and my dog had his hip and pelvis broken and it was allowed to heal without a vet before he was resued. Both the mistreated animals have the sweetest, most forgiving natures imaginable. Humans could learn a lot from them.