In my author bio for Crossed Paws, published in Shoreline of Infinity 22 (you can listen to it here for free), I dedicated the story to my dog Tammy. Tammy was let off the leash for the last time on March 3, 2020, and just a few days ago was the one year anniversary of when we laid her to rest alongside her favorite tree on Cedar Gap Mountain in north Alabama.
We live on the slopes of the mountain (or small hill, for all you with actual mountains in your backyard :-), and every Sunday morning Tammy and I hiked up the hill, sometimes on the trails, sometimes bushwhacking through the brush. There came a time, in mid-2019, when she was no longer able to safely hike the rough terrain, even when we stuck to the trails–her hind legs were weakening, and I was very much afraid that a slip or tumble could break a hip or leg, leaving her in serious pain until we could get her to a vet.
Tammy had already dodged one bullet, I wasn’t going to risk another.
The first draft of Crossed Paws was written a few years ago, when Tammy still ecstatically danced around as I pulled down her harness and leash to get ready for our Sunday morning hike. I wrote the story not long after the vet discovered a small black blister in her mouth during her annual checkup. The vet had it biopsied and it turned out to be canine oral melanoma, which is an often aggressive form of dog cancer; even after surgery it can recur and be fatal within a few months. (The one “fortunate” thing was that this instance of the melanoma belonged to one of its less aggressive forms.) The blister was lanced, and Tammy seemed none the worse for it. At her next check up however the melanoma had returned. This time the blister and a semicircle of surrounding tissue was removed from the upper lip on the right side of her snout. Again she responded as if nothing had happened. And the cancer never returned. She was one of the lucky ones who went on to live out the rest of her years cancer free–though the removed tissue did leave her with what my wife and I eventually came to refer to as the blowhole.
Tammy was already in her teens by the time this happened, and I knew that even under the best of circumstances there would only be a few more years with her.
Crossed Paws sorta I guess came out of the anticipation of those final days that I knew would someday come. To put it in an SF context I threw in high end robotic pets–I was remembering the discontinued Sony Aibo. Then added in artificial intelligence–or at least high-level simulacra; nanites and neural mirroring; bio-printing; and freelance programmers doing the best they could for themselves and their four-legged family members in a gig economy.
It’s won’t surprise the reader that a lot of Tammy made its way into Maisie. Whenever I visualized Maisie she, unsurprisingly, looked a lot like Tammy. I deemed Maisie a “Georgia Peach Pitbull”, akin to how we pedigreed Tammy as a “Belgian Wafflehound”.
The tone of most of the stories I write is what I describe as “melancholy optimism.” Which to me means that they end…well, but often at a terrible cost to the characters. For Crossed Paws I deviated a bit from that. In reality I knew that someday Tammy’s time would come to an end. But maybe, in a story, I could delay that for a little while longer, for someone at least, even if that someone is fictional.
Thank you Tammy for fifteen years of unconditional love, joy, and inspiration.
See you later girl…