A couple of weeks ago, I had a dream about my parents’ dog, Gina. In my dream, she was no longer an elderly, arthritic, deaf, incontinent, grumpy mutt with only one eye (and it blind). She transformed into the enthusiastic puppy she’d been when I first bought her for my parents to help my dad get over his grief at our other dog’s death.
I knew when I woke up that Gina was gone. My parents called several hours later to break the news. Because of the time difference between where I live (London) and where they live (southern California), there’s a good chance I dreamt of Gina as she was falling into her final sleep.
Gina was brilliant, and I’m not just saying that because I loved her. She was the smartest dog I’ve ever seen and fiercely protective of her family—not always a good trait, but it did come in handy when I was walking her once and a strange man kept trying to approach me despite my warnings that I didn’t want him to come any closer.
Her personality was as distinctive as any of my other family members’—that is to say, very distinctive. Perhaps because of the bond I formed with Gina, I love when animals feature in novels. I don’t just mean when a hero or heroine owns a cat/dog/parrot/monkey/fill-in-the-attention-grabbing-pet-here. I mean when a pet is so well developed that they become a character themselves.
My all-time favorite animal character in a romance novel is Hairy, the Chinese Crested from Take a Chance on Me by Susan Donovan. He’s so integral to the plot that he has his own point of view—the cute little guy thinks of the hero as Big Alpha and the heroine as Soft Hands. He even solves a murder.
Hairy is as clever a foil for the hero as the heroine is. The hero, Thomas, is a rugby-playing lawyer who works with a special team of cops targeting people who’re trying to hire hit men. Hairy is a six-pound, shivering, nearly hairless pedigree dog who wears a maxi-pad because he pees when he’s nervous. And he’s often nervous.
He’s also lonely and traumatized, having seen his owner get murdered, and when he moves in with Thomas he instantly develops an attachment with Thomas’s boxers.
One of my favorite scenes is when Thomas succumbs to Hairy’s cries and takes him out of the cage he’s been sleeping in, allowing him to sleep with Thomas instead. And Hairy decides the most comfortable spot is Thomas’s chest (really, who doesn’t like to cuddle up against a big man’s chest?).
At that point, the circling began—tight and fast little spins that went on and on until Hairy apparently thought he’d rearranged Thomas’s chest hair to perfection.
Hairy plopped down with a sigh, dropping the pair of boxers next to Thomas’s head. The dog curled up and managed to bury his pointy snout in the cozy hollow beneath Thomas’s chin.
Thomas lay perfectly still. He tried to relax his fists and breathe normally. He felt the dog’s warm skin against his own and looked down his nose to watch the dog’s shock of white Billy Idol hair rise and fall with each of his own breaths.
This was plenty weird, Thomas realized, but not in a completely bad way. Just odd. Unusual. But not utterly awful. He tried to ignore the fact that he had an ugly dog sleeping on top of him and closed his eyes.
Sometime during the night, Thomas begins having naughty dreams about his vet, Emma.
At this point, Thomas began to surface from the bizarre dream world to a waking state, pulled along by the most outrageously delicious physical sensation he’d ever experienced. Emma—sweet, soft, sexy, unbearably female Emma—was nibbling on his unshaven face, giving little fleabites to the tiny hairs growing along his jaw, moving to the stubble on his upper lip, heading toward his mouth for what promised to be a hot, passionate kiss…
Thomas woke with a shout, staring into the bug-eyes of the mutant.
Whoa, relax, Big Alpha! We need to get you together with Soft Hands—and soon.
I slept great. How about you?
Susan Donovan develops Hairy so well that I bonded with him as much as the other characters.
Do you have a favorite animal from a novel? What does it take to make an animal a successful character?