Pets: Such characters!

catIf it were up to my husband, we would have a dog. He even tells our neighbors, as they walk their dog (and we walk ourselves) how he’s working on me to get a dog. For now, no dog.

We do have a cat, mainly because he came with the house (see photo). When we were buying our house five years ago, the owner asked (in front of my husband’s sons) whether we also wanted his cat. So the cat, which we have never really named and therefore call Kitty, has become part of the family. My husband and I have “dialogue bits,” in which we interpret Kitty’s attitude: happy with us, anxious to come back into the house (or out of the house), or just disgusted and fed up with us.

Living with a cat makes me realize why writers like to populate their books with pets. Pets are cute, but they also have a definite personality. And they do communicate. If Kitty wants to play or be scratched, he’ll let us know. He’ll also let us know how abandoned he felt after we return from a long vacation; he’ll let us know loudly and for a long time. He’s got the guilt trip thing down pat.

Pets in books make for great characters, too. They also have other uses: they are great as protectors, as well as showing a more caring, nurturing part of a character. Pets are good indicators of whether a character is good or bad. A growling dog? Bingo, you have your bad guy.

In her latest book, Chevy Steven’s “Always Watching,” a stray cat is used to great effect for an ominous mood, while also softening the main protagonist. I’ve just read Julie Kramer’s “Stalking Season” and love “Shep,” the German Shephard on loan to her for protection. I have a feeling that Shep will be around for a few more books. And, if you’ve read Dana Stabenow’s Kate Shugak series, you know that Kate’s half-wolf, half-husky Mutt, is no mere pet. This is Kate’s longtime companion and partner, willing to take a bullet even for Kate.

I could go on naming books with faithful pets. It makes sense, after all, that if pets are a constant in one’s own life, they should also be the same for characters in books. What are your favorite pets in fiction?

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