Pets and Personality

Do any of the characters in your novel have pets? When I read about pet ownership, the choice of animal and where they live may say a lot. The use of animals in a story can lend some wonderful texture to your character. It uses some common assumptions about various animals. A few examples:

A large dog on a farm means a carefree, rambunctious animal roaming about the place, showing up on the back stoop for table scraps every night. This owner may also enjoy hunting.

A large dog in town means a fenced in yard and an owner dedicated to walking the dog once or twice a day. Perhaps the owner is under doctor’s orders to walk, and the dog forces her to do so. Or the owner may just enjoy the excuse to spend time outdoors with his companion.

A small yippy dog in an apartment trained to run and bark at the sound of the doorbell is probably owned by a loving woman who doesn’t mind devoting considerable time, effort, and expense to the dog’s upkeep. This pet probably eats the most expensive dog food available. And she may wear ribbons.

A cat owner may be looking for a good mouser. Or she may enjoy stroking a lap pet with luxurious hair. The type of cat can say a lot about the owner’s dedication to time and maintenance of this pet. The owner seeking a purebred Persian is likely to be different from someone like my mother, who doesn’t mind adopting the occasional neighborhood stray.

Aquariums can say a lot about a person. A small aquarium stocked with low-maintenance goldfish to entertain children is a different proposition from a large brine tank filled with many sensitive tropical fish.

And did you know that hedgehogs are popular pets in South Korea? (Read this article about this cultural phenomena.)

Your turn:

What pets have you given your characters? What did the pet say about the character?

Obviously I left off many pets such as reptiles, hamsters, and ferrets. What are your thoughts on giving characters less traditional pets?

16 Responses to Pets and Personality

  1. Judith Robl February 12, 2015 at 5:43 am #

    Tamela, thank you! I hadn’t considered pets as part of a novel. Perhaps that’s because I don’t really crave pets myself. They take a lot of time and attention, and they can be expensive to own. You’ve opened a whole new idea for me. Thank you.

  2. Jackie Layton February 12, 2015 at 6:27 am #

    Hi Tamela,

    I almost always have a dog in my stories. I choose different types of dogs depending on the setting. I always had a dog growing up, and I wanted my boys to have a dog.

    Over the years I’ve become cautious of stray dogs because my husband and both sons have been attacked by strays. When Bill was four, we were playing ball in the yard in front of our apartment and a big, mangy looking dog appeared. I told Bill we needed to leave the toys outside and get into the apartment ASAP. He didn’t want to leave his bike. So in the second I turned to grab it, the dog lunged at us and knocked Bill to the ground and straddled him. I dropped the bike, yanked the dog off of my poor child, and ran like crazy. By the grace of God the dog didn’t attack me too.

    I’ll spare you the other stories, but no matter how much I love the dogs I know, I’m still cautious.

    Tamela, you say pets add texture. What do you think about a heroine who rescues abused pets?

    • Tamela Hancock Murray February 12, 2015 at 9:31 am #

      Jackie, I think a heroine who rescues abused pets shows compassion and caring.

  3. Ane Mulligan February 12, 2015 at 6:48 am #

    The MC in my Chapel Lake series is a bit of a klutz. I’ve paired her with an English mastiff that is a big galoot. They are like owning a 2 year-old. And the dog has been known to rescue her once or twice, or at least he thinks so.

  4. Nora February 12, 2015 at 7:26 am #

    Silly me, I thought putting pets in my WIP was more about me as a writer. Sally’s Story has a stray beagle and Kate’s Song has a parakeet (that she just met but will buy and take home).

    Thinking about it on the fly right now though, I think I need to put the beagle into more scenes with Sally.

  5. Joe Plemon February 12, 2015 at 7:28 am #

    Great idea, Tamela. I can’t imagine Jan Karon’s Mitford series without Father Timothy’s dog Barnabas, who could only be controlled by quoting scripture. Besides adding such richness to the stories, Barnabas was was a subtle challenge to readers to consider what we are controlled by.

  6. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser February 12, 2015 at 8:02 am #

    The protagonist in “Blessed Are The Pure Of Heart” is a Marine veteran of Viet Nam,who lived through the terrible days of Con Thien with the 1/9…the REAL “Walking Dead”.

    He lives alone, with twenty-three dogs, all rescues. It’s not just that he rescued the dogs; they save him from a self-destructive spiral, every day.

    There are two who have fleshed-out personalities; his canine doppelganger, Mike, a three-legged Heeler who happens to be a girl, and Elvis, a large dog of indeterminate breed who is tossed a can of beer each night, and spills nary a drop as he opens and drinks it.

    Mike drinks her beer from a bowl, thank you very much, but she can’t really handle alcohol. It makes her dizzy.

    And then there’s Gringo, the white Pit Bull owned by the rather belligerently Hispanic son of Scott’s eventual romantic interest.

    Resemblance to my own life is…aw, heck. He’s me, but I served in a different AO, and I have twenty-five dogs…and the my “tripod” is a Rottie, not a Heeler.

    The dogs are what keeps Scott human, and keeps him even peripherally heart-engaged with the world. He relates better to animals than to people – pretty common in PTSD, when one is tossed back into Civilian Hell.

  7. Bobbie February 12, 2015 at 8:05 am #

    I love the interaction between animals and humans in stories. In my most recent WIP the hero is a knight whose best friend is his destrier. He is wounded and the heroine rides the horse to exercise him. The hero says “You have ruined my horse.” The response came to me naturally, but then I questioned my hero’s motive – jealousy, care about the warrior in the horse? Later in the story, the horse helps rescue the fair maiden…

  8. Sarah Chafins February 12, 2015 at 9:17 am #

    In one of my stories, the MC’s children adopt a new calf as their pet – even giving it a name, and visiting it often throughout the story. The family is quite poor, so although having a pet isn’t mentioned, it wouldn’t have been realistic here – another mouth to feed. The calf is symbolic in the story as the children had lost their father, and needed a positive distraction from the way things “used” to be. It lends to the message that God will provide even when we think it isn’t realistic.

  9. Angela Breidenbach February 12, 2015 at 9:23 am #

    I love pets in my writing. To me it’s totally about giving the whole picture of the story. In my book, A Healing Heart, the family dog is part of the family. As we see the heroine struggle, the dog becomes a pivotal point for the whole family.

    In the sequel, not yet pubbed, there’s a stray cat. He’s a huge part of recognizing how God works by sending help in unexpected ways.

    And then there’s #Muse & Writer. Well, that fe-lion is quite the character all on his own 😉
    Angie

  10. Patti Jo Moore February 12, 2015 at 9:53 am #

    Being the CatMom that I am, 😉 my heroines always have a cat—sometimes two. I enjoy featuring felines in my stories, and as a reader I also enjoy stories that feature pets (even if it’s not a cat, LOL).
    I like dogs too, but since I’ve never had a dog I feel much more “qualified” writing about cats. But I’m thinking that maybe I could include a bird and bunny in one of my stories too, since I’ve been taking care of my son’s pets while he’s been at college. 🙂

  11. Ellen Stumbo February 12, 2015 at 10:24 am #

    Interesting, I don’t write fiction, I write non-fiction. The title of this post caught my attention, and it was a fun read. Then I thought about my family, and what I wrote about, and the pet we have. I primarily write for parents of children with disabilities, and just a few days ago I posted a video of my youngest daughter (who has down syndrome) interacting with our dog (a golden doodle). We got a golden doodle because of the temperament, because of the possibility of him being a therapy dog someday, because he is big a cuddly and could really help a kid with sensory issues, and he doesn’t shed, and is considered hypoallergenic. I think you nailed it! What dog would a character who parents kids with disabilities have? A golden doodle! 🙂 and now you know you want to watch the cuteness 😉 http://youtu.be/WQ9POyhjgAk

  12. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser February 12, 2015 at 10:39 am #

    Here’s something that I’ll offer for someone’s use –

    because of illness, I can’t get out much, and the dogs know this. This morning my wife had to drive me into town to get a signature notarized, and the guys were furious, trying to shred my “street clothes” (as opposed to “dog ranch clothes”) so I couldn’t go.

    When I came back, Barbara couldn’t have come in (she went back to her job anyway). They would have held her responsible, and needed some time to get over their irritation.

    As it was, when I returned everyone had to check me over to make sure I was OK.

  13. Beverly Brooks February 13, 2015 at 9:25 am #

    What a great post – thanks Tamela! While I have used a pet in the story I certainly didn’t use all the tapestry of your descriptions. I plan to try to incorporate more “pet personality” now.

    Enjoyed hearing everyone’s ideas also.

  14. Caroline Duren February 14, 2015 at 12:15 pm #

    I write Christian romance, and I like giving pets to my main characters because it allows the other main character a chance to see the person’s compassionate side. For example, if the hero can be kind and patient with an animal, then perhaps he will be equally caring as a partner.

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