All of my novels, and many of my short stories include animals in some way. Why? The answer is simple. I think it’s a basic truth: the way people treat animals indicates the kind of person they are underneath any false polish they’ve managed to create.
That’s not to say that you must be an animal lover to be a good person. One of my best friends is terrified of dogs, and barely tolerates other fur-people. BUT… if she saw an injured creature in front of her house, she wouldn’t walk past it (though, she’d probably call me to help instead of actually handling it herself – still, she would feel sympathy and take action). Nor would she go out of her way to run down a dog (or chipmunk or frog or whatever) in the road. She would, in fact, make every effort to avoid it. She became a vegetarian as a teenager because of the way the meat industry treated animals raised for slaughter. I believe all these quirks indicate her basic character.
On the other hand, it’s been clearly proven that many of the most horrific serial killers started out their “trade” on animals and worked their way up. A general disregard for life, especially life that is relatively helpless, indicates the type of people they are. In her San Francisco Chronicle article “Cruelty to Animals: A Warning of Possible Violence to Come” Dr. Margo DeMello says, “Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy, Andrew Cunanan, David ‘Son of Sam’ Berkowitz, and Albert ‘Boston Strangler’ DeSalvo were ALL cruel to animals before they started hurting people.”
I had a former neighbor who owned a pit bull puppy. He also had two children, one of whom was a boy of about five years. Once, the puppy came running out of their yard to greet me and my dog as we walked past, leaping about and wanting to play. The boy came to fetch it, and—using a tight fist—punched the dog in the ribs for being naughty. This one action told me more than I really wanted to know about his family life.
Domestic animals are dependent upon us for their care. They’re much like children, with the exception that they never stop depending on us. This makes our character’s behavior toward animals a way to amplify certain characteristics.
In my book, One Love For Liv (available in print and eBook formats from Samhain Publishing), my heroine dislikes animals of all kinds. Witness her introduction to Spike, a bull mastiff and important secondary character in this story:
Something warm and wet swiped her face, both reviving and disgusting her. She kept her eyes closed and limply swatted at it. Her hand hit fur. “Ugh.”
“Spike, back off.”
Spike? What was going on?
She gave a low moan and tried again to force her eyelids to obey her will, finally succeeding after a Herculean effort. A tanned face covered in five o’clock shadow and smears of black grease swam in front of her. Next to him, its neck surrounded by a studded black leather collar, sat the biggest brown dog she’d ever seen. The creature had drool suspended from its mouth and it looked as if it had swallowed a sneaker with the laces hanging out. Dear heavens, was that what had licked her?
A moment later, she turns to our hero and says:
“I’ll sit on the curb. Just get your ugly dog away from me.”
“Spike? C’mon, he’s gorgeous.” He gave the monster a vigorous scratch all up and down its body. “And he’s not my dog, but don’t worry, he’s a marshmallow.”
“I don’t like dogs.”
This isn’t a very flattering picture of our heroine, in my opinion, and it wasn’t meant to be. She’s a snob, and more than a little bit selfish. Hopefully this comes across in how she feels about this overly friendly dog.
In one of my as-yet-unpublished novels, The Possibility of Forever, the heroine begins to fall for the hero because of how he treats her pet rat, Maynard.
Just inside the doorway, she stopped, surprised to see Jed rubbing Maynard gently with the cloth placemat, crooning to him under his voice.
Oh, she sighed silently, her heart doing a little flip-flop in her chest.
Without the impetuous of Jed’s treatment of an animal most people would be disgusted by, it would have taken far longer for our heroine to see him as a love interest. It also showed us another side of an otherwise “tough guy”.
I love stories that include animals. It’s a great way to show (not tell) a lot about the characters… don’t you agree?
About the Author: Marianne was born in California, met her husband in Colorado, got a puppy and got pregnant, then moved with the group of them to the frozen north of New Hampshire where her thin blood keeps her indoors six months of the year. It’s the perfect scenario for writing!
She has a novel, “One Love For Liv” available in print and eBook from Samahain Publishing, and a novella “Kitchen Matches” available in eBook format from Samhain Publishing. She also has eight published stories with The Wild Rose Press. Check out her website (http://www.mariannearkins.com/ ) or blog (http://www.reading-writing.blogspot.com/ ) for more information or to see what’s going on inside her brain. If you dare.