Writers who pen westerns must have a deep-seated respect for animals. All those horses and cattle. The loyal dogs. The villainous rattlesnakes. Shoot, even the chickens have a role to play. Out on the lonely prairie, a fella was more apt to talk to his horse than another person for days on end.
I love animals. But I have a confession to make . . . I don’t own any. Part of the reason is that my husband has allergies, especially where cats and other long-haired critters are concerned. Another contributing factor is the three children living with us who already demand a lot of attention and cleaning up after. Also, with all the traveling I do for my writing career, the hassle of finding and paying for dog sitters is not terribly attractive at this point. Maybe once our nest is empty and all the kids have left, we’ll consider some four-legged children, but for now we only support the two-legged variety.
I had dogs and cats as a child – all outdoor animals. We had seven acres with lots of room to roam. But even then, the animals always loved my brother more than me. It seemed dreadfully unfair until I realized that he was the one who lived outside with them. Playing. Going on adventures. More often than not I was in my room reading about animals. All those great Black Stallion books. Old Yeller. Sounder. Where the Red Fern Grows. (Why are the dog books always so sad???) I would imagine myself racing across the plains on my trusty steed, but in truth I’ve only ever ridden about a dozen times in my life and mostly those were at a walking pace. Sigh.
But the imagination is a wonderful thing. I can create heroines who ride, shoot, and spit better than any man if I so desire. Or give a boy a dog that becomes his most trusted confidant. So that’s what I do. I add animals to my books, name them, and give them special connections with their owners. Then I live vicariously through my characters to enjoy all the benefits of animal love without any of the unromantic poop scooping or hair vacuuming.
In my latest release, my animal-loving heart had free reign. My hero, Benjamin Porter, is a freighter who is a gifted horse trainer. He has a pair of beautifully matched black Shires who pull his heavy freight wagon. They both have white socks and blazes, but only one has a white belly. It’s the only way others can tell the two draft horses apart. Thanks to a childhood fascination with Greek mythology, he named them Helios and Hermes. Hermes for the Greek god of trade and the guardian of travelers; and Helios for the Greek god of the sun who relied on mighty steeds to pull his golden chariot through the sky.
In my story, Ben is attempting to court his business partner, shopkeeper Victoria Adams. Tori has a young son named Lewis, and on one of their business trips, she barters goods in exchange for a puppy for Lewis. I, of course decided to keep with the black and white color scheme and adorableness, so I chose an Australian shepherd pup.
Here’s the scene where the puppy comes into play:
“Sarah said I could name him.” Lewis grinned, all trepidation vanishing as excitement took over. “He’s the biggest pup of the litter, so I thought I’d call him Hercules. What do you think? Just like the strong man in the stories you tell me.”
Satisfied that the horses were calm, Ben put a hand to Lewis’s shoulder and steered him a couple paces away. He hunkered down and offered his fingers for the pup to smell, enduring the friendly licks and shameless begging for attention before giving in and ruffling the dog’s ears.
When he and his brother had been kids, they’d run across a book on Greek mythology in their teacher’s collection and had enjoyed the adventure stories so well, they’d started naming all their animals after the ancient characters. They still did as adults, though Bartholomew had more of an opportunity, running a livery in Seymour. Ben had saved the names he’d chosen until he’d found the draft horses that lived up to them. Hermes for the Greek god of trade and the guardian of travelers; and Helios for the Greek god of the sun who relied on mighty steeds to pull his golden chariot through the sky.
“Hercules is a big name for such a little pup.” Ben raised a brow in feigned concern. “You sure he deserves such a tag?”
Lewis looked down at the fuzzy fur ball, scrunched his forehead in thought, then lifted his chin in the same stubborn way his ma did. “Well, even Hercules started as a baby.” He lifted the puppy into Ben’s face until they practically touched noses. “He’ll grow, just like the other Hercules did. He’ll get strong and brave and be the best dog ever!”
“I reckon you’re right.” Ben eased the pup away from his face then pushed to his feet, rubbing Lewis’s hair as he stood. “It was Hercules’s actions that made him a legend, not his name. A man should always remember that. It isn’t his name or his clothes or how much money he has that matters. It’s the way he conducts himself—with honor, kindness, and courage—that makes a lasting difference in the world.”
“So you like the name?” The boy blinked up at him, giving Ben no idea if his attempt at conveying a life lesson had penetrated.
Oh, well. He winked at the boy. “I think it’s an outstanding name.” He tilted his head and scrutinized the pup a second time. “This one’s definitely hero material. You picked well, Lewis.”
The boy beamed and ran back to the little girl waiting for him by the trough. Ben’s heart gave a tug as he watched the two put their heads together and giggle over the puppies’ antics. Lewis had wormed his way into Ben’s heart months ago. It hadn’t taken long. The kid was so eager to please and so hungry for male attention, a rare commodity in a town full of womenfolk. Now, Ben couldn’t imagine his life without the little guy.
Although . . . a secret smile slid across Ben’s face as he watched the two young’uns crawl around in the dirt like pups themselves . . . he could imagine giving Lewis a little brother or sister to play with. That would be a pleasure indeed.
So what are your favorite animals to share real or imagined adventures with?