This month’s blog topic, “If Animals Could Talk,” had me stumped. I haven’t had a really close relationship with an animal since Brownie, the Heinz 57 mix dog I treasured as a pet while growing up. After I developed allergies to dogs and cats, pets were out. As an adult, I’ve been bitten by a dog while walking and chased by growling hounds who appear to lust after bicycle tires. These encounters fail to classify as relationships. What would these dogs say if they could talk? Hmmm. Not sure I want to tune in.
Perhaps my failure to engage in conversation with the animal world while I was writing led me to inadvertently violate a rule that mystery/suspense/thriller writers disregard at great risk. Here’s the rule: authors can kill kindly, wrinkled grandmothers and clueless, fresh-faced teenagers as often as their plots and murder counts require, but they should never, never, ever kill a dog on the page of a novel.
In one of my books, a dog dies. In my defense, the deceased canine is the villain in a brief subplot, which is essential to the story in that it provides insight into the villain dog’s far more villainous owner. What’s more, the subplot also features a tail-wagging hero who saves my heroine. Any further explanation could act as a plot spoiler. So here’s what these dogs might say if they could talk.
- The Villain Dog
I’m only following orders. I was abused as a puppy, and I was trained to fight other dogs. When I growl and savage other dogs, people cheer, and I get food and praise. I’ve been chained up and beaten. I do what I’ve been trained to do in order to survive.
- The Hero Dog
I love people. Haven’t really met one I wouldn’t lick. They scratch behind my ears, give me yummy treats, and help rid me of annoying fleas. Sometimes they talk baby talk to me even though I’m fully grown. Guess they still think of me as a puppy even though I’m a hard-working adult. Don’t I chase all those obnoxious squeaky squirrels out of our yard? I’m brave, too. I’ll do whatever it takes to keep my humans safe.
Okay, I’ve given my dog characters their say. Nonetheless, I pledge to avoid any future canine deaths in my books. I’ll stick to killing off literary stand-ins for the people who have seriously annoyed me.
Why do you think the death of a fictional animal seems more offensive to many people than the death of a fictional human being?