Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Question We All Must Face

"You don't really need to work..."

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  May I introduce to you: Leon. Leon has never been on Jungle Red before. When I was living in Atlanta, a million years ago, I found Leon while I was out running. (On Ponce de Leon Avenue.) He was being tormented by some stupid kids, and I stopped and said--hey! Is that your kitten?

They said no.

I said--well, I'm taking him. I whisked him off to my apartment, where my tortoiseshell cat Lola immediately became furious, ran into the bedroom, and skooshed her body into an empty shoe box. 

I told Leon I could not possibly have two cats, and he was going to the humane society,but he didn’t listen. He did everything but sing and dance until I agree to let him stay.

Lola and Leon lived together for 14 years, and never said a word to each other. This was one of Leon’s favorite places. (You can see by the computer how long ago it was.)

generic pets but you get the picture
Can pets co-exist? What if they are different species? And what is your answer to –as Edgar nominee Steve Ulfelder puts it—The Question We All Must Face?

 What’s Reigning: Cats or Dogs?
            By Steve Ulfelder

You don’t need me to tell you house pets have an honored place in crime fiction. Cats and dogs are so beloved and talented that these days, they’re as likely to narrate the stories and solve the crimes as they are to cough up a hairball or have an accident on the rug. Laura Lippman, Robert B. Parker, Clea Simon, Spencer Quinn, and of course Lillian Jackson Braun are just some of the authors who’ve used quadrupeds to good effect.

In my series, though, I find myself at a risky crossroads: Conway Sax, my tough-guy hero (a former NASCAR racer who solves cases for his fellow recovering alcoholics), appears to be transitioning from a cat guy to a dog guy.

Why? Well, let’s not beat around the bush: because I find myself making the same transition.

When I began writing Conway in 2007, I had three cats (I’m down to one due to old age and a coyote, sad to say). I loved them all dearly; until very recently, had you asked me the Question We All Must Face (Are you a cat person or a dog person? No equivocating!), I would confidently have said cats. So it made sense to soften up and humanize Conway, who can be pretty brutal, with a pair of black-and-white housecats named Dale and Davey (as in Earnhardt Sr. and Allison—Conway names his pets after race drivers).

This worked just fine, with Dale and Davey becoming beloved characters. But then I hauled off and adopted Bonneville (usually known as Bonnie), a retired racing greyhound.


I have flipped for this dog, and for greyhounds in general. Here’s a piece I wrote about Bonnie for Crimespree Magazine: Here is her Facebook page: Here’s her Twitter account:

Have I gone overboard? Yup.

Is it just a matter of time before I adopt another grey? Yup.

With this backdrop, you’ll be unsurprised to hear that while Conway retains his cats, greyhounds poke their pointy snouts into book four in the series, Wolverine Bros. Freight & Storage. A pair of greys named Dandy and Cha Cha make their goofy debut in this story, and while they belong to another character, there are hints that Conway will become their eventual caretaker.

What do you think, Reds and readers: Can a pair of retired greyhounds coexist with a pair of housecats in the same series, or am I setting myself up for disaster? At the very least, must I find Conway a love interest who owns a kennel?

Also, who are some of your favorite four-legged characters in mysteries?

HANK: Great question! And I cannot wait to hear your answers.
(And of course--a copy of WOLVERINE BROTHERS to one lucky commenter!)

And the winner of Katherine Hall Page's SMALL PLATES is  Brenda Buchanan! Email me your address...



Steve Ulfelder is the Edgar finalist author of four mysteries featuring big-hearted former NASCAR driver Conway Sax. Steve also co-owns Flatout Motorsports Inc., a Massachusetts company that builds race cars, and is an avid race driver himself. Visit him at

In WOLVERINE BROS. FREIGHT & STORAGE, Conway Sax is a man on a mission—this time in Los Angeles, where he uses his race-driving experience in a desperate bid to rescue Kenny Spoon, a washed-up TV star who’s been kidnapped. It’s a favor for Kenny’s mother Eudora, Conway’s dear friend and a fellow member of his tight-knit AA group.
When he returns to Massachusetts, Conway finds himself caught between Eudora and her two sons: Kenny, and Harmon, a cop who resents his talented, troubled half-brother. Each member of the Spoon family distrusts the others, it seems … and each has a past full of dark secrets that may explain why.
While Conway tries to learn why Kenny was kidnapped and protect him from further harm, a shocking murder devastates this complex, all-too-human family. Conway vows to find the killer and avenge the death, but each clue only points to more suspects.


  1. We’ve always had dogs and cats, so I’m sure the retired greyhounds and the cats will eventually become fast friends.

    One of my particular favorite four-legged characters is Miss Marple in Lorna Barrett’s “Book Town” series . . . .

  2. Every great contemporary detective must have a pet. It's what makes him/her human. Right?

  3. I'm allergic to cats -so, of course, we have two. They are in charge of the "cranky old man" black lab. Personally, I'm in the dog camp, since I can pet them without wheezing, but I'm an equal opportunity reader!

    I'm wondering how I have missed this series; it sounds great!

    Hank, thanks for another great introduction. Off to the bookstore!

  4. Oh that's a cool story Steve! Is Bonnie not tempted to chase the cat??

    I can't imagine living without an animal--I tried about eight years ago when 3 of my guys went within 6 weeks (awful!) I couldn't stand the lonely silence, so Tonka the wonder dog was adopted. And then Yoda the cat.

    My heroines have all been cat people...but I like the greyhounds in your tough guy's life, Steve. Don't you think people react a little differently to someone who's adopted an animal in need? All kinds of possibilities there!

    I've got your book on my teetering pile and thanks for visiting JRW!

  5. Welcome, Steve! A hero who has cats ANd greyhounds? I'm on my way to the bookstore!

    I think the cats and greyhounds will be great together... Good luck!

    P.S. Maggie Hope adopts a cat in THE PRIME MINISTER'S SECRET AGENT. His name is K, and he's inspired by a cat I had in my 20s. He's already getting fan mail!

  6. Definitely a DOG person! I've not had much contact with cats, and on the occasions when I've been with a cat, visiting the humans, I've had allergic reactions to the cats - wheezing, itching, hives. Also, I'm a little bit afraid of cats. I can't understand their minds at all!

    Spencer Quinn's Chet is one of my favorite characters. I'm only a couple of books into the series but plan to read the rest of the books. Ah, that teetering TBR pile!

    When my niece was younger, I started writing stories for her about the lives of her stuffed animals. She sent the more poorly behaved ones to live with me one or two at a time, for rehab. I found myself looking up information about the traits of different breeds of dogs so I could exaggerate some of the worse traits! It's been fun, and even though my niece just graduated from high school, she will soon be receiving a card from her most obnoxious animal, a dog that still "lives" with me.

    Steve, your books are going on my list!

  7. As for myself, I'd have to say I'm a dog person. I mean, cats are okay, that they seem much fonder of me than I of them, but there's something about the unabashed enthusiastic love of a dog when you get home.

    We had a dog for 14 years - lost him to old age. I would adore to adopt a retired greyhound - I fantasize about it, actually. The husband said no, not while we have such a crazy life that the dog would be alone 8 hours a day. But if I ever become a NYT best-selling author...

    When I wrote my Laurel Highlands protagonist, he's a divorced cop. Need to give this man some companionship, right? He told me, in no uncertain terms, that if I was going to saddle him with a pet, it better be a dog, and a big dog (no mops without handles, please). So I gave him a Golden Retriever. Readers love Rizzo (but he doesn't solve crimes).

    Oh, the retired greys I've met are very laid back. I bet they and the cats get along just fine.

  8. I am unequivocally a dog person-- except that one day in 1993, I spotted a big black cat lying in the gutter across the street. I went over and asked, "Kitty?" and before I could get another word out, this huge black cat had leapt into my arms, put his paws around my neck, and purred in my ear. After checking around (no one claimed him) and paying a $150 vet bill (he had a large wound in his side), I became THAT cat's person.

    He and my Yorkie became best friends, and I discovered that I am allergic to cats. Still, I kept him for the five years he lived, despite the diabetes, feline HIV, and feline leukemia he developed (do not ask about the vet bill). The dog and I both mourned his passing.

    I got my peach faced lovebird the same way-- he sat on my car in the driveway and wouldn't leave (I think there is a sign on my house). When no one claimed him, I checked him out at the vet, and then gave him to my mom, who couldn't have a dog (though she wanted one) in her apartment. After she died, I got him back, but the dogs were terrified of him until they figured out that he couldn't get out of his cage.

    The current dog and the bird have bark-and-tweet sessions from time to time. I'm not taking in anymore cats because of my allergies, but if my village didn't have a two-dog rule, I'd probably turn into one of those little old ladies with too many dogs.

    I love Susan Conant's dog mysteries. I have never forgotten the albino squirrel that got himself fried on a wire in one of Patricia Cornwell's books. I get more upset when a literary murder victim's pet gets killed than at the murder itself. (Real life is different. I am not only always upset by animal cruelty, but there was the year-of-many-murders that I lived through, so I do not take murder lightly, which is why I can't write murder mysteries.)

    My cousins have a greyhound. They maintain that she is not a DOG, but a GREYHOUND (pronounced in caps-- apparently, there is a difference). And since I've had two dogs (among the six-- all rescues-- that I've lived with) that I KNOW were definitely human, I get it.

  9. I love the nasty old outdoor cat in the Elvis Cole novels. I think it's been 20 years and all that cat has done is growl and lick himself, but he's more memorable than many two-legged characters.

  10. Tom, I too love Elvis Cole's feral cat!

    Roberta: Most greys cannot co-exist with cats. I mean, they've been bred and trained for 3000 years to chase small furry things, pick them up by the neck, and shake them violently ... so shelters test the dogs, and only those with low prey drives go to homes with cats. We got lucky with Bonnie!

  11. I'm absolutely a dog person, and I grew up with a sweet little cocker spaniel/poodle named Mitsy. But these days, I'm looking for pet love wherever I can get it. My husband is seriously allergic to anything with fur (and to chemicals and scents ... *sigh*). So we can't have pets. We do have a stray cat who's abandoned our back yard, so I see a pet through the glass, but that's about it.

    Sad, right? As a result, I coo over pet photos the way most women coo over babies. I'd take a cat in a pinch, but my heart belongs to dogs!

  12. I'm a dog person, but the only animal I've written about in fiction is a cat. Cats are so unpredictable, whereas dogs are loyal people pleasers. There may be more possibilities with cats, although dogs can bring a lot of humor.

    I look forward to cats and dogs coming together in your writing, and we'll see what that combination brings!

  13. I am certainly a dog person. Cat's strike me as cranky house guests who expect you to make them breakfast.

    That said, Tucker has neither cat nor dog. He has two hermit crabs named Click and Clack.

  14. Phew Steve, glad we cleared that up!

    Deb R--what a wonderful aunt you are. Your niece will remember those stories forever!!

    Ellen, love the story of the big black cat. He was lucky to choose you. (And yes, let's don't talk vet bills, except to say they are worth every penny)

  15. Debo, that's great! What a wonderful idea.

    We grew up with Irish Setters--they were goofy and adorable. That's not their names--they were: Rusty, Penny and Roderick St. John. (What can I say, we were not that imaginative.)

    We dont' have pets now, because Jonathan is too allergic, When we met though, I still had Lola. So he took allergy pills for several years until Lola died at age 20. And yes, of course, Lola ADORED him, would never leave him alone. Just to prove she was in charge.

    And Ray, yeah...of course. .SOmeone once told me cats only say two things:
    Everything here is mine.
    When's dinner?

  16. Congratulations on the new book, Steve!

    If I WERE a pet person, I'd have cats. Before having cats living with us in a NYC apartment sent me to the ER with asthma and pneumonia, I had three. Now my daughters each have 2 cats, and I happily visit until I begin to wheeze.

    Having said that, I dogs and cats in my books. My new book has 2 sweet and goofy Rottweilers who slobber all over sliding glass doors.

  17. Cat man all the way. Grew up with cats. Always had cats. Still do. But not one cat in my books... In each Ellie Stone novel, though, there's a cameo by a pug named Leon. He's always being toted around by his owner, a sour old woman. He's there just for fun.

  18. For 16 years, we had both dogs and cats. Now, just the one little Burmese. It's -- weird. Love him to pieces, but I often miss dog energy. Cats are a lot easier to leave home alone, though!

    Which is proving a challenge on the page. In my first series, my protag inherits a cat, Mr. Sandburg, from an elderly retired English teacher. Just starting my second series, and my protag acquires an Airedale terrier named Arf. He's great, but I've had to sprinkle this reminder into my outline, so I don't lose track of him: WHERE'S THE DOG?

  19. OH, I agree, Leslie! WHERE'S THE DOG can become a real manuscript snag. My detective Jake Brogan has golden retriever, Diva. I finally had to move the darn dog to Jake's mother's house to prevent her (the dog) from starving.

  20. Hank/Leslie - too funny. I just realized I'm constantly having my character phone the neighbor to take care of the dog when he gets derailed from his schedule. Yes, WHERE'S THE DOG?

  21. New books to read!! Yay! Seriously, nothing hooks me faster than a character with animals--no matter how comfortable/uneasy the alliance, it reveals much about the character in question.

    And Ellen, oh yes! When a cat leaps into your arms, wraps its paws about your neck and lays its head on your heart? I'm a goner; Murphy's been a joy to have. But grew up with both cats and dogs. Would have multiples of both if I could. Dog-sit two mini dachs and two Australian shepherds to get my dog fix.

    Favorite animal characters? I enjoy the foxes and dogs especially in Rita Mae Brown's books.

  22. Cats and dogs will be fine together, speaking as one who once woke up sharing a bed with a wife, two kids, five cats, and three dogs.
    For your character, dogs won't work. A dog has to be walked at least twice a day, or you have to find a new way to make arrangements every time your character is out of the house for more than 10 hours.
    The litter box takes care of all that for cats.
    As the kids say, shit gets real.

  23. I have always known I'm a cat person, until I adopted a Shih Tzu (which is a little like a cat in a Halloween Costume). The first few days were dicey: puppy was fascinated by cat and chased her everywhere. She spent one solid day under the bed! They eventually learned to coexist, though not without the occasional swat on the nose.

    I think adding in the greyhound will give you much material to play with!

  24. I love the idea of a character transitioning from cat lover to dog lover. We started with cats and when we brought home our lovable, goofy black lab mix, both cats hid in the basement for a month. Then one day we heard a hiss from one of the cats followed by a yip from the dog who had cornered her. One piece of cat claw was sticking out of the dog's snout and they were besties ever after. The other cat came around (or had a similar confrontation we didn't witness) not long after. Congrats on the Edgar nomination!

  25. Dogs can be walked/fed by a neighbor who stops by, which gives you someone to bounce info off of, instead of internal dialog. Or there are those automatic feeders, and a doggie door (I've never used either of these, but I'm told they work. I use the neighbor or neighbor kid, and at one time, I had a handyman who was replacing the bathroom floor while I was out of town and he walked/fed the dog for me.)

  26. Since I live in NYC I am able to rent a cat when I need to pet something small and furry.

  27. Steve, my cats, Buffalo Thunder-Paws and She-She Marie-Rie, love the Joe Gray mysteries, but we have gone through them all very quickly, so I must get your books immediately! They would not take to a doggy book, although a dog could coexist, much like they share space with Kendall, my assistance dog, who is just as aloof with them.

  28. This comment has been removed by the author.

  29. Yep, they can - but it can be a real zoo sometimes! For a long time now, we have had 2 Labs and 2 cats (one being a Siamese who, I believe, thinks he is a dog) - but we lost our second cat last July. They co-exist, but it can be quite interesting at times - makes for a lively household!

    So, I can easily see the greyhounds and the cats! I don't know about the need for a kennel - but perhaps a good veterinarian!

  30. I was born a cat person. I will always be a cat person. My husband, formerly a dog person, is now a cat person. He was "smitten by a kitten". He and that kitten spent about 8 years snuggling on the sofa. Sadly, that cat has passed away, but that adoption led to 2 others, and those cats are still with us.


  31. Not a pet person, but I love STEVE (& Conway) -- lucky enough to take a class with Steve at the Cape Cod Writers Conf).

    I have lived with pets, but never a cat. Dogs in my life have included a wire haired terrier (Digger O'Dell), a black toy cocker (Miss Boo), an Irish setter (Mahogany of Killarney -- we called her MAHA), and then a few more dogs after I left for college.

    Raising the girls we had a Black Lab/Golden Retriever mix (Rascal) and an English Springer Spaniel (Lucy).

    The only animals I have ever owned personally were a parakeet (Bo Bo) and a cow (Nill).

  32. This comment has been removed by the author.

  33. We are dog people, the bigger the better. Our two boys are left at home during the day, but here at work there's a dog shelter two doors down that walks their residents daily. Bonus!

  34. Great blog post today--who doesn't like talking about the pets who own us? We've always had both cats and dogs, sometimes they co-existed peacefully, sometimes not so much. Love them both, but think I'm really more of a dog person now, even though they are much bigger responsibilities to care for than felines. I'm a sucker for unconditional love from dogs.

    Steve, I got Purgatory Chasm for my husband to read, since he's a NASCAR and racing fan, and ended up reading and enjoying it too! Look forward to reading more in the series.

  35. I know a lot of people who love both cats and dogs, so I see no reason they can't coexist in a novel. Should make for some interesting comic relief as they get to know each other.

  36. Smitten by a kitten! That is so funny-love it.

    PK! So great to see you!
    And Lynn in Texas, too! xoo

    And Katherine Hyde-you have the last word--and you are SO right!.

    See you all tomorrow=--and Steve, hugs from us to Bonnie!

  37. This book sounds interesting, and one I'd definitely enjoy reading. It's definitely going into my Amazon wish list! And what a great question!

    Growing up I had a giant gray cat named Flash who insisted on outdoor life in our rural neighborhood. When I moved out of my childhood home, Flash stayed behind. He later used up his ninth life crossing the road.

    My roommates always had cats. And while I tried dogs a few times, it never worked out. After I had my second son in 1998, I became allergic to fur-bearing animals. Even hamsters triggered attacks of sneezing and watery eyes. It seemed like my pet choices were limited to fish and reptiles -- and I wasn't a fan of reptiles!

    But then in March of 2008, Gingerbelle entered my life. She was a ball of golden fur with too many birth defects to list. I met her while taking photos of puppies that I planned to draw, but when I held her she put her head on my shoulder and sighed. It was a sound that felt like coming home. She was more than "special needs". She was special, period. She was the best dog ever. She came home with me and I began taking allergy medicine that same week.

    Just over a year ago we lost Gingerbelle to kidney disease. I now have three rescue dogs -- a Catahoula Leopard Dog / German Shepherd mix, a Corgi / Rottweiler Mix, and a Plott Hound / Yellow Lab mix. And while I love them dearly, they can't come close to Gingerbelle, the dog who turned me into a dog person.

  38. I will never not have a dog AND a cat! I have one of each that I dote on (and they total 3 dogs and 4 cats in my household). My formerly feral black cat snuggles with me at night and follows me into the bathroom to jump on the counter and stop me from washing my face. My Bentley, a rescued English Shepherd, is the love of my life, too. He follows me everywhere and truly cries when I come home from work. He is the only dog EVER I trust occasionally off-leash to go to the car from the house. He's 11 (around) and I will miss him horribly when he's gone.

  39. We have Lacey, a 16 year old, tiny grey cat and Patrick, who is a three year old pug, terrier. Lacey is sedate and Patrick is very energetic. Very! These two do not get along, sadly. We love them both. There'd be a lot of material in their antics for a writer. I'd be interested in reading about your cat/dog stories.

  40. Of course they co-exist. Animals have personalities just like everything else. I do rescue and a variety of critters have come through the door. Some did well together, some did not.
    My animal family does well and yes, other than having four legs, they are very different.

  41. I know just what you're going through, Steve! I was always a dog lover (had a poodle as a kid) but it wasn't until we adopted our first golden, Samwise, that I completely fell in love. Suddenly dogs (particularly goldens) were popping up in my books.

    The best news to me is that having incorporated so many of Sam's traits in Rochester, the star of my golden retriever mysteries, he lives on, though he's no longer curled around the back of my chair.