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Animal sidekicks in romantic suspense

Dogs have been showing up as crime-solving sidekicks since before Columbo and his Jacqueline Deleckifaithful basset hound “Dog.” An August 9, 2007 blog written for The Cozy Mystery List includes more than 35 authors who write series with canines as significant secondary characters. In my own Grayce Walters series, the heroine is an animal acupuncturist with intuitive abilities that allow her to “talk” to dogs. I was inspired to include a four-legged hero in the series by Gus and Talley, two Golden Labs who were my constant companions for many years.

Although cats make an occasional appearance, dogs join our heroines and heroes on the page much more frequently. Let’s take a look at what makes dogs popular characters in romantic suspense.

Dogs are loyal.

Dogs are known as man’s best friend, and according to Cesar Milan, it isn’t because dogs depend on people for food, water and shelter. Dogs are pack animals, which is why dogs are seen attaching themselves to people and even other animals. This pack instinct means dogs are affectionate and have a need to bond with their “pack mates.” These characteristics make dogs good companions and confidantes for our fictional characters.

Dogs are cute.

Virtually everyone loves dogs. Stoic soldiers cry when an Army dog is killed in action. Little kids want to pet that frisky, tail-wagging puppy. Old ladies sit for hours with their lap dogs. Young women are drawn to men walking dogs in the park (it reflects men’s nurturing side). Dogs bring out the “aww” factor in all of us. Writers use dogs to tap into readers’ fond memories of their own special Fido or Duke or Spot.

Dogs are intelligent.

All animals have the potential to play a significant role in your story, but dogs are particularly well qualified to find a clue, rescue a damsel in distress or take down the bad guy. Inherent qualities such as intelligence, strength, stamina and scent detection make it believable and logical that your canine characters can help solve the crime.

Dogs have personality.

Ask people to describe the nature of cats and they are likely to use words like “independent,” “finicky” or “arrogant.” They don’t distinguish a huge difference in breeds of cats like we do with dogs. The wide range of traits and characteristics associated with dog breeds make is vastly easier to “cast” a canine as a character, depending on the tone, voice and sub-genre of the book. If your heroine is a snobby socialite, pair her with a Yorkshire Terrier. If your hero works search-and-rescue, partner him with a Labrador Retriever. Using dogs in your story can reflect the traits of your heroes and heroines, and even villains. The variety of dog breeds makes is possible to cast whatever type of character your story demands: a noble German Shepherd, an elegant Standard Poodle, a playful Jack Russell Terrier, an agile Border Collie.

Do you have a favorite fictional canine?

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