Published by Kate Thompson,
When your Imaginary Dogs Drool
"Hey Girl nudged Astra in the hip and Good Boy woofed. Astra sighed and she and Matthew looked down at the dogs. They’d gone for their leashes. They held them in their mouths. Their big friendly eyes, drool." The Asteroid’s Daughter and the Serpent Handler’s Son
Hey Girl and Good Boy are Sheriff Astra Billings’ best friends. Together they tip the scale at 300 pounds. They are Newfoundland dogs, Newfies for short, and they live with Astra in my novella, “The Asteroid’s Daughter and the Serpent Handler’s Son."
Gentle giants, and worthy of the name, Newfies make ideal companions. Of course, you remember Nana, the prim Newfoundland dog who, for the Darling family in J.M. Barrie’s, Peter Pan, proved to be a treasure of a nurse. That’s a stretch, but Peter Pan is fiction. The Newfoundland is a sweet dog, a work dog, a strong swimmer, brave and loyal. Did you know a Newfoundland survived the Titanic? This is true; and he didn’t take the lifeboat. He swam ahead and led survivors to safety.
J.M. Barrie owned a Newfoundland, a Landseer he called Luath, who served as inspiration for Nana. I didn’t know much about Newfoundlands when I began my novella. Astra needed a dog and it was a Newfoundland that came to me, two of them, in fact.
I’d met a couple Newfies a few years before. I admit I was alarmed when I saw giant dogs coming out to greet me and my daughters. My daughters were little then, the dogs full grown. As it turned out, I had nothing to fear. Gentle giants indeed, they were true to their breed.
Maybe you’ve heard that writers ought to write what they know. This isn’t true. Writers have imaginations. I imagined Astra’s Newfoundlands. To go along with my imagination, I had the one brief encounter and a reference photo, my girls petting the dogs and the threads of drool that connected them.
In the early drafts, Astra’s dogs were like paper dogs. They would need a bit of fleshing out in the rewrite. I put the story on the shelf to age. By the time I got back to it, I couldn’t find the picture. In fact, years had passed, my daughters were practically grown, and in my mind, the one experience I had with the dogs was fuzzy at best. Hey Girl and Good Boy were minor characters, but no matter how small their part, they belonged to Astra; they were part of her. Besides, I liked them. I needed more than imagination to bring them to life.
This called for research. I like research. It’s something I can get lost in and often, it’s hard to stop. I delved in and read everything I could find on the Newfoundland dog. I studied pictures, read heroic stories and dog manuals, watched YouTube videos and when I was out, I kept my eyes peeled for Newfies. You can spot one a block away. I began imagining two Newfies, always by my side. I mean, by Astra’s side. I imagined thick, satiny-black coats, their faces turned up, the trust in their eyes.
One late November, I heard about a Christmas tree farm that was sponsoring a fund-raiser for the Newfoundland rescue club. Newfoundland dogs would be there carting Christmas trees for the patrons, donations welcome. I didn't need a Christmas tree; I had a nice one out in the garage in a box.
The farm was an hour away. I didn’t need to go. I’d finished my research and I knew way more about Newfoundlands than I needed to know for the scope of the story. A few minor edits and the novella would be complete and I’d move on and Hey Girl and Good Boy would stay behind, with Astra, of course. I would miss them. Well, I could always go to the book and read the passages they were in.
I went to the tree farm. The dogs were a friendly bunch, the way Newfies are. They gave me hugs and kisses, just like those Good Boy and Hey Girl gave Astra. They stood by my side and nosed my hand. I petted them. I talked to the owners.
When I left the farm, I wanted Newfies of my own, real, not imaginary, dogs that were loyal and lovable, panting, shedding and slobbery. Thanks to my thorough research, I had to admit that they were big dogs with big needs. It was far easier to care for them in the pages of my novella than in real life and that's where they've stayed.
Newfoundland Carting a Christmas Tree. Photo by Charles Thompson. All rights.
and a contributing author of