I received a fan letter from a lady who loved Hostile Witness*. She ended her note by thanking me profusely for not killing Max. I had been traveling so it took me a minute to figure out who Max was, and why it was so important that he was alive. Of course, she was referring to Max, Josie Bates's dog. Her letter started me thinking: why is a book that includes an animal richer and more engaging than one without?
The answer is simple: pets provide an emotional touch point readers can identify with.
Max-the-Dog, (his legal name), was originally created as a reflection of Josie Bates. Both had been abandoned, both had to fight for their lives, both were protective of others, both were loyal as they waited for those who abandoned them to come back. Max, though, became so much more than Josie’s mirror as the series unfolded. This is why he made such a difference.
Max helps kick up human characterization: Those characters who attack Max are inherently more evil than a bad guy who ignores him. Conversely, those characters who love and care for Max are more admirable.
Max is a sounding board: Internal dialogue can be tedious. However, speculation, rhetorical questions, or monologues sound natural when directed at pets. Max’s steadfastness created a sounding board for Josie to work out her problems.
Max's presence sets a tone: A whispered warning to a pet creates a much different tone than a screaming command. A a languid pet sleeping in a corner conjures up different mental image for the reader than a playful, active pet.
Max helped move the plot forward: An animal's needs can change a human character's trajectory. In Privileged Witness (book #3 of the series), when Josie takes Max out for his evening constitutional, they find her fugitive client hiding in the bushes. Without Max, Josie would have no reason to go outside and would not have discovered her client. An animal’s heightened senses can also warn of danger or alert a human to a change in their surroundings without the scene seeming forced.
From The Hound of the Baskervilles to Lassie, My Friend Flicka to The Black Stallion, The Cheshire Cat to Puss-in-Boots, animals have frolicked as humans, served to reflect our frailties and strengths, and just plain worked their way into readers’ hearts for being themselves.
So, to the kind lady who was concerned about Max, have no fear. He will never come to a violent end. No matter what happens to him, his presence or lack thereof, will be a decision motivated by story and plot and, of course, love. Max sits at my psychic feet with every Witness Series book I pen.
*Hostile Witness is free for all e-readers and is also available in print. The picture is of my grand dog Tucker.