I am no stranger to perusing books because of dogs on the cover, or because canines are mentioned in the blurb. I discussed it in an H&H post, Must Love Dogs (and Cats): Animals in Romance Novels. It doesn’t matter if the dog is there for comic relief, like Pooh in It Had to Be You by Susan Elizabeth Phillips; a woman’s best friend, like Buttercup from Kristan Higgins’s One of the Guys; or a working dog like Peck from Nora Roberts’ The Search. I love them all. But lately, I’ve noticed that animals in books are taking a more multifaceted role, becoming an intrinsic part of the plot and even anthropomorphized as characters.
Of course that’s not such a big jump, since over 90 percent of pet owners consider their pet a member of their family, meaning they let their animals sleep with them, take them on vacation, buy them Christmas presents and celebrate their birthday (ah—guilty). But it is more than that; perhaps there has been a sort of meeting of the minds between people who consider animals pets, and people who consider animals as having a job to do. Each type now seem to have a new appreciation of the ways animals enrich our lives—in both work and play.
And our romance books reflect that. More and more, the animals in our stories have a specific job to do, maybe as a member of a K-9 police or military unit, or a therapy dog or search and rescue dog.
I have already mentioned Roberts’ The Search. How can you not love a dog who saves a boy’s life?
Even as she reached for her radio, Peck alerted again. This time he broke into a run, shooting her the briefest of glances over his shoulder.
And she saw the light in his eyes.
“Hugh!” She lifted her voice over the now pounding rain and whistling wind.
She didn’t hear the boy but she heard Peck’s three quick barks.
Like the dog, Fiona broke into a run.
She skidded a little as she rounded the turn on the downward slope.
And she saw near the banks of the busy creek—a bit too near for her peace of mind—a very wet little boy sprawled on the ground with his arm full of dog.
Emilie Richards in One Mountain Away has a story arc about an adorable goldendoodle that the heroine, Charlotte Hale, hopes will help her granddaughter, who has a seizure disorder:
“The other thing only some of the dogs can do? They can actually sense a seizure coming on. It’s uncanny but real. Those dogs can warn their owners and let them know what’s ahead, so they can lie down or get to a safe place. Dog owners noticed it first, on their own, and started telling their doctors. Researchers have done studies, and they’ve proved it happens.”
The bond between human and canine is never more apparent than in K-9 stories. In that previous post, I mentioned Robert Crais’ Suspect so I won’t jump on that band wagon again, except to say, if you are a mystery lover and dog lover—read it. Ditto on Diane Kelly’s Paw Enforcement released in June. I have been looking for more K-9 stories, and one commenter in the post asking What Job Should the Next Wave of Heroes Do mentioned Jaci Burton’s Hope Flames and J.M. Madden’s Seal’s Lost Dream. I haven’t read them yet, but I will definitely be checking them out, along with Harlequin’s Texas K-9 Unit series.
D.D. Ayres has a new series out— K-9 Rescue, with hunky dogs and very hunky men! Perfect for readers who like a bit of suspense, along with man’s best friend, and very tempting men in uniform—although, many times they're not wearing clothes at all! Irresistible Force will be released Aug 26, but you don’t have to wait that long, because Necessary Force, the intro novella, is out now:
She lifted her camera without a thought of anything more than the desire to immortalize his erection in all its glory.
“What are you doing?” His voice was as rough and rumpled as the bedding. The scowl on his face reminded her that he was a serious man with a serious job. Firefighter. K-9 division for search and rescue missions.
She squatted down beside the bed. “Just taking some informal shots.” Her finger never left the shutter button, recording shots reflexively.
“I didn’t agree to this. Not nudies.” And yet he didn’t reach to pull the sheet over his nakedness. Ooh boy. Just reclining there he was messing with her mind.
We have all laughed and cried over the videos of the welcomes our soldiers received from their pets upon arriving home after a long tour. And we even shed sentimental tears reading about a warrior’s drive and determination to bring home an animal with whom he bonded during his overseas assignment. Alexis Morgan’s Snowberry Creek series is built around a group of soldiers and the dog they adopted in Afghanistan.
Luke Fletcher, Virginia Kantra’s hero from Carolina Man, and his men definitely got attached to this young dog, especially after she saved a soldier’s life:
Luke dug in his harness for MRE. He’d eaten the snacks already. Ripping open the leftover meat pouch, he squeezed a chunk on the ground.
Lance Corporal Anthony Ortega, an ex gangbanger from East Lost Angeles, grinned. “I wouldn’t feed that shit to my dog.”
But the mutt wasn’t so picky. It poked its head from behind the barrel. Its ears were cropped, one eye swollen nearly shut.
Nineteen-year-old Private First Class Cody Burrows whistled in sympathy. “They really messed that bastard up.”
“Kids didn’t do all that,” Luke said.
Fresh blood oozed from a gash on its shoulder, but its other scars were older injuries, puckered and scabbed over.
“No,” Habib agreed. This dog has been used for fighting.”
Catherine Mann’s new book, Shelter Me, out this week, is touching on so many levels. While overseas, Sierra McDaniel’s father and his men adopted a dog they called Trooper. After her father’s death, her former flame, Staff Sergeant Mike Kowalski, a solider under her father’s command, brings Trooper home. Now Trooper is a wonder dog—and yes, he is a character in the book, cleverly anthropomorphized. Not only does he have plans to get these former lovers back together, he is an amazing lodestone and therapy dog to Sierra’s grandfather, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. Just that was enough to hook me, but wait there is more. Sierra’s mother runs a dog rescue facility. Mann’s biography states that she is an active volunteer with her local humane society, and it shows in the book’s both heartbreaking and heartwarming details:
Sighing, Lacey looked toward her feet, at three pairs of eyes staring back up with such hope and joy over a simple scratch behind the ears. She couldn’t take all three. She shouldn’t even take one of them because there wouldn’t be a foster home available. She would be adding to her “zoo” of a home.
She tried to be analytical, but God, it was all impossible. Logic told her the beagle and wirehaired Jack Russell would be easier for her to adopt out. . . and the brindle mutt that looked like a mini Lab with tiger stripes, only eighteen months old at the most and still hyper, would almost certainly fade into the shadows. No one would pick her. Logic had many faces. Her heart was already ten damn steps ahead of her brain. She scooped up the brindle mutt, heavier than she looked, probably closer to forty pounds. The pup rested her head on Lacey’s shoulder with a shudder-sigh.
Speaking of animal rescue, that seems the perfect topic for my next blog—and do I have some great books in mind. But for now, please share your favorite working dog stories.
Leigh Davis, blogger