Thursday, February 9, 2012

Hair of the Dog, Part II

Sheila Webster Boneham

A couple of posts ago I wrote about dog hair, which is a big part of my life, especially now that shedding season is upon us here on the coast of North Carolina. Dogs (and cats and horses and birds and other critters) are not only vital characters in my forthcoming Pets in Focus Mystery series, but also an important part of my larger life. I showed horses in my teens and twenties, and I’ve been active for two decades in canine activities, competitive and not. My profession, though, for the past few decades, has been writing and helping other people learn to write better. At first glance it may seem that showing animals and writing are completely different sorts of pursuits, but they have more in common than you might think.

I’ve considered the similarities in my passions before, but a couple of weeks ago I entertained myself with this question as I languished in an airport after judging a dog show. I was tired of playing backgammon on my iPad (it cheats), and I had finished the book I brought to read. Assuming that I’m a reasonably consistent human being (potentially a topic for another time), I figure that dog sports and writing must have elements in common to keep me so passionate about them for so many years.

The first element that comes to mind is aesthetic appeal. Beauty, yes – a well-turned phrase, a gorgeous head. But there’s more to aesthetic appeal than beauty. There’s rhythm, function, timing, and all the other things that come together to stir us to respond emotionally and intellectually to the thing before us. A dog may be beautiful in itself, or in its performance, or – ideally – in both, just as a piece of writing may be beautiful for its language and rhythm, or the way it moves us, or – ideally – both.

Then there’s the challenge of doing well in either arena. Training a dog to compete successfully is a lot of hard work for trainer and dog alike. Learning to write well is also a lot of hard work. This is, of course, true of anything we want to do well. To the casual observer of the finished product – the book, the competitive performance – it may appear to be no big deal. Trust me, it is. In fact, novices in both fields are often amazed to discover that they have to work, and work hard, if they want to make it look effortless.

Of course, no matter how good you are, you don’t win every time. Editors say no thanks. Judges put you and your dog at the end of the line. Rejection is part of both games, and rejection sucks. But here’s the thing.... the people who win a lot – with book contracts and in canine competitions – have also lost a lot. You just keep playing, and learning to play better, and eventually you win more often. And along the way, you're bound to get a little messy.

I thought of a few other parallels before we started boarding the plane, but the one that stood out - that has stood out for me for many years – is that I write and I show dogs because they’re both so darn much fun. In fact, despite the hard work and disappointments and frustrations that come with the territory, I’ve found some of my best friends through both activities, had some great laughs, enjoyed profound and moving moments. I can’t think of two better ways to live large parts of my life.

Sheila W. Boneham, Ph.D., is the author of the forthcoming "Animals in Focus" mystery Drop Dead on Recall as well as award-winning books about pets including Rescue Matters! How to Find, Foster, and Rehome Companion Animals (Alpine, 2009), The Complete Idiot's Guide to Getting and Owning a Cat (Alpha, 2005), and fifteen others. Sheila's books are available from your local bookseller and on line. Learn more at


Beth Groundwater said...

Great post, Sheila, and I love your beautiful dog photos. I hope you continue to have fun at both pursuits for many years to come.

Robin Allen said...

Gorgeous dogs, Sheila. They look like champions! My other love is knitting (since the 5th grade), and it has similar similarities to writing. I'm still trying to figure out a way to write and knit at the same time.

Shannon Baker said...

Nice comparisons, Sheila. A dear friend of mine competes with Border Collies in dog obedience. We, too, have remarked on many similarities between our respective obsessions.

Sheila Boneham said...

Thanks, everyone...not that I like to show off my dogs, but there are lots more photos at I think common threads run through all creative pursuits - gardening is another long-time passion of mine, and I've written abouttheparallels there as well.

Kathleen Ernst said...

I can't think of any tribute to both activities than your comment about them being so much fun! (Loved the pix, too.)