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Meet the Crew Part 2: Harry and Zen


In this post I’ll introduce you to two very special members of my canine family. As I mentioned in my first doggy post, for several years I was a foster carer for a rescue group.

I’ve ended up with my own small pack of rescues, several of whom stayed with me because they were too old, sick or behaviourally challenged to be re-homed. Sometimes, of course, it’s just love at first sight between foster carer and rescue dog, meaning the foster home quickly becomes the ‘forever home’. That’s what happened with me and Harry.

Harry is the Bichon cross (white curly boy) who appears in my author photo. He was surrendered from an overcrowded household where he could not be properly cared for. Harry was being transferred between cars en route to his first foster home when he escaped and fled into a densely treed area surrounded by farm land. Over the next three weeks he was spotted from time to time, but could not be caught – he is quite a small dog and was then in poor condition and extremely fearful. I believe he survived thanks to some Buddhist nuns who lived nearby and left food out for him.

boys at cafe


Eventually Harry was recaptured and went into his first foster home, where he was treated a bit too kindly – he does love eating! It turned out he needed surgery on his back legs. He had to slim down before it could be done, so he came to me for pre-op dietary supervision and post-op nursing. What can I say? I knew from the first day that this was one very special dog and that he wouldn’t be going anywhere. Five years later, Harry and I are members of the local dog training club and have achieved a Novice title in the sport of Rally-O, which is a mixture of agility and obedience. For a boy who was once utterly terrified of all other dogs, he has done brilliantly. He’s had some major health issues over the years and has Cushing’s disease, but that’s well managed with medication.

Harry’s favourite thing is walking around our local streets and stopping to say hello to anyone he knows (humans, not dogs.) If it’s someone he especially likes he makes excited whimpering sounds as they approach. He is a neighbourhood character and has lots of fans.

Zen first day (640x437)

This terrible photo is my beautiful Zen, a purebred shih tzu, on his first day as a foster dog in my household. He was painfully thin and had a a broken rib that had not been treated – this can still be felt as a lump under the skin. His story: his owner had gone into a nursing home and couldn’t look after him any more. Zen was then 4 years old. The owner’s daughter took over responsibility for him. Her idea of looking after a dog was to put him out in the back yard 24/7 and pay him zero attention. After two years of neglect, another family member took the dog away and signed him over to a rescue group. Most of his teeth had to be extracted as they were diseased from poor feeding and lack of vet care.

The most heartbreaking thing about this is that Zen (the name I gave him) has the sweetest temperament you’d find in any dog. He loves all other dogs, is gentle and good with babies and children, adores cuddles and forgives everything. In fact it did not take long to get him back into good physical condition – he just needed proper feeding and some love. He is 10 now and does have some health issues including a heart condition. And he has severe thunder/fireworks phobia, unsurprising after those years of being left outside in all weathers. The glamorous ‘after’ photo shown below was taken by Alex Cearns of Houndstooth Studio, as was the picture of Harry at the top of this post.



I’m asked sometimes if the dog characters in my books are based on these guys, in particular Bramble from the Blackthorn & Grim series, as she is a small white dog. The answer is, those dog characters are a blend of my dogs past and present, or other dogs I have known. Oddly enough, the one that is closest is the gorgeous rottweiler-type dog, Bear, from Flame of Sevenwaters, who is physically as unlike Harry as you could get. The scenes between protagonist Maeve and the two dogs she rescues, Bear and Badger, were all written during the year when I was working intensively on rehabilitating the very fearful Harry. Harry has beautiful amber eyes like Bear’s. Real life works its way into fiction in all sorts of guises.