Many writers and artists keep or have owned pets; there seems to be a special affinity between cats and writers in particular. They provide companionship in what can be a rather lonely profession. In this collection (under one of my other pen names) you can find some quotes from famous artists about their pets.
How a person feels about and treats animals is an excellent gauge of their character, a fact that has been exploited by fiction writers countless times. A responsible, nurturing person – the kind who will make a first-rate spouse and parent – is fond of, and looks after their pets. On the other hand, a single kick at an animal will signal, irrevocally, that readers are supposed to hate a new character.
In Georgette Heyer’s classic romance The Grand Sophy the heroine, Sophy, arrives at her aunt’s town residence not only with her Spanish stallion, but a dog, a monkey and a parrot (the latter two as gifts for the children). From her very first entrance you know this is no ordinary young lady.
In another book by the same author, Frederica, an unruly big mongrel named Lufra chases the cows in Green Park as Frederica walks him, and is only saved from the authorities by a noble marquis, who pretends that the animal is a rare “Beluchistan Hound” smuggled into the country at great expense.
In Arabella, the elegant Mr. Beaumaris accepts an ugly mongrel as his constant and incongruous companion, shocking society, because he did not want to disappoint the girl he is courting.
These incidents provide occasions for the future romantic interests to interact and show their mettle – they also remain in readers’ memory long after more generic romances have faded.
Perhaps conforming to a paticularly British prejudice, in Heyer’s works you can tell the good guys by their having dogs, while the villains tend to prefer cats.
Of course pets can be an interesting addition to any genre, not just romance. In J.D. Robb’s (aka Nora Roberts) In Death series, Eve and Roarke have a tomcat. Cats and dogs feature prominently in “cozy” mysteries. Shifter romances on the other hand rarely feature pets, since the main character is half animal himself or herself.
In my own romances I have also used pets here and there, mostly dogs. In Margaret’s Turn, the hero gives Margaret a guard dog after a burglary, an early sign of his desire to protect her. In Catching a Rook, the hero’s unwanted fiancée dislikes dogs, so he sends for his favorite hound as one of several ploys to make her cry off. Here the animal serves to underscore their incompatibility.
While animal characters cannot talk, depending on a writer’s skill they are excellent foils for the human characters, and can be highly memorable in their own right. Think of romance books and films you have enjoyed, where a pet has played an important part … why not include one in your own next story or novel, if it fits?
Before I say good-bye, here is a foto of my own dog Millie, who keeps me company while I write and edit, and ensures that I go out and get some fresh air every once in a while. She is a soothing and lovely dog, the best-behaved I have ever owned.
May Burnett writes historical romance series as well as fantasy and non-fiction (under other pen names.) She lives in Austria and loves animals.