In a previous post, you may have read about our new puppy Yvie. She’s an interesting little girl because she doesn’t really look like any dog we’re familiar with.
When we first saw her, we thought she might be a Belgian Malinois. She has the typical sable coloring, short hair, and slim body. But the shelter listed her as a German Shepherd mix. She was smart like a Malinois but didn’t have that high guarding energy. And she didn’t have the long hair of a German shepherd. Also, her round eyes and shorter snout indicated a touch of Australian cattle dog. Then the vet mentioned a Jack Russell terrier, which made me wonder even more.
Is This a Belgian Malinois? Or German Shepherd? Or Terrier?
Curious about her breed mix, we bought an Embark DNA test at the pet store and sent in the mouth swab. Now, the doggie DNA results are back, which both surprised us and confirmed some of what we guessed.
What is the Mix on This Breed?
First, let me ask, what’s your best guess? A Belgian Malinois has that short hair and sable coloring. My husband thought cattle dog from those round eyes and short snout but she was missing the thick body.
Well, Yvie is not fully either. She’s mostly German shepherd and Australian cattle dog, with a little terrier. This makes a lot of sense. She’s super smart like a shepherd and wants to stay busy like a cattle dog. And now that she’s about five months old, we can tell she probably won’t grow very tall. So she’s like an Australian cattle dog with, as the dog class teacher said, “deer legs.”
This matches with her active but highly focused personality. She loves to fetch and is always alert. And now that we know her breed, we understand her better. We get why she’s always looking for something to do. We get why she likes to stay near “her person.” We get why she likes to chew on her yak cheese sticks, which I can’t recommend enough for busy dogs.
One drawback is the DNA test wasn’t inexpensive, but I have to say it’s worth it. It helped us accommodate Yvie’s needs better. She now enjoys more food puzzles, more dog TV on youtube, and more walkies and fetch. And because she’s a happier dog, we’re happier humans!
Recently, I interviewed mystery writer Paula Munier for the magazine,The Big Thrill. We had a fantastic fun chat by video that lasted well over an hour. We yakked on about her new book, The Hiding Place, her life in New Hampshire/Vermont, the doggie characters she puts in her stories, the writing life, and more. The whole conversation simply didn’t fit into my article so I thought I’d share a few choice bits from our conversation here. We talked about her dogs, why she puts all things French in her novels, and why gardening is important for one’s mental health.
A Dog’s Life
The dogs are one of my favorite aspects of these books. Can you talk about your canine inspirations? Obviously, Elvis and Susie Bear are actually trained search and rescue military dogs. But I know that Susie Bear bears a resemblance to your dog...
Yeah, my dog Bear. Here’s Bear… [Bear comes into view.]
What a good boy, I love Newfoundlands.
We were laughing because he’s about 85 pounds and my husband would like one of those 160-pound Newfoundlands. But we saw someone the other day who had a Newfoundland and he called his dog a “Pocket Newfie” because he’s only 85 pounds. A “Pocket Newfie.” [laughs]
Yeah, you need a giant pocket for that Newfie.
That was so funny. But during the pandemic, so we have three rescue dogs, and in Blind Search, the dog that Henry gets at the end, that dog he names Robin, who’s trained to keep him on track, that dog is based on our great Pyrenees Australian Shepherd mix named Bliss. She never moves, she’s on the couch. She only moves if there’s danger. Otherwise, she’s hanging out.
And during the pandemic, we were lucky enough to rescue a Malinois like Elvis. And although they said she won’t get much bigger, because Malinois are smaller than Shepherds, well, she’s enormous. [laughs] She’s also crazy athletic and super smart.
The biggest difference between my dogs and the dogs in the book are my dogs aren’t that well trained. It’s harder during the pandemic. Blondie may end up, there’s a great trainer in Massachusetts, he trained all kinds of dogs, so Blondie may go to boot camp at Mike’s to get her in shape. She’s pretty good but she’s insanely strong and so athletic. But she’s so much fun. It’s so nice to have a living breathing Elvis in the house. I’ve never had one so…
All Things French
I’m a total Francophile and I really like that you have a lot of references to France and French people in your books. What’s your relationship to France?
Well, my dad was in the military so I spent half my childhood in Europe. We were stationed in Germany and my mother took me to Paris when I was 12 because she loved Paris and we have a good French name, Munier. All my family, most of it, are all from Alsace-Lorraine. I went to high school in New Orleans so that sort of compounded the French thing. And I studied French. Now, my daughter and granddaughters live in Lozon. My granddaughters are native French speakers. So I have every reason to keep up my French. And I love the French. I’m an Anglophile and a Francophile. I watch all the Britbox and Acorn TV. And I watch all the French mysteries on MHz. So for me and my mother, we’re half-French, half-German.
Yes, my husband is the same ancestry. His family name, Hugg, is from Alsace.
Oh, yeah! My mother is French and my dad is German. My mother has a highly evolved French aesthetic. She loves French food, French art. It’s part of our lives and part of our loves. And I love putting in art and French stuff [into the novels].
Gardening During a Pandemic
I’ve been working on a book about plants and mental health. I know from Twitter that you’ve recently gotten into gardening so I wanted to ask, what does gardening do for you in terms of mental health?
Oh, interesting. Yeah, a few years ago, I wrote this little book called Happier Every Day and one of the things to do is grow a garden! Plant a garden because all these studies show that people who garden suffer less depression, are more physically active, and all those things. There’s something about playing in the dirt. It’s like when you’re a kid. It’s fun! You forget! I mean for me gardening is just me being three years old and playing in the dirt. That’s basically what it is with fancier tools. But that’s the appeal of it. I think that’s why more people have taken it up during this pandemic.
I’ve always been a gardener but I grew flowers and shrubs and I didn’t grow vegetables or fruit to eat. So, during this pandemic, like a year ago, I said to my husband, “What if there’s no food?” because we were already having shortages here. I said, “I think we better build” — we have 19 acres here and most of it’s woods — but I said, “You know I think it’s time we put in a potager garden. We’re going to have to have it just in case. We better grow some vegetables.” So he built me this spectacular big, rectangular garden with raised beds and arbors at each end and … just beautiful and I thought, “Oh no, now I have to plant something in there!” [laughs] And I wasn’t convinced I could do it.
But we got some good soil from the guy down the road, amended soil, and my neighbor said, “Oh, the soil’s so good here everything will grow,” and everything grew! I ordered a package of vegetable seeds, some of them I didn’t know what they were, some were vegetables I’d never heard of, but they came from this artisanal seed company in Vermont. It was 50 bucks worth of seeds and we had radishes and okra and tomatoes and chard and lettuce and beans and peas and squash. I mean this goes on and on. It was insane. And we got Blondie not long after we built that, and I would just spend the summer out there, in the garden with the puppy.
It’s like a form of meditation really. I do a lot of yoga and meditation and it’s a form of meditation to be out there in the dirt, digging away in nature, in the sun. I think that’s what a lot of people are missing. We were lucky because you know, we couldn’t travel, we couldn’t go to the movies, couldn’t go to dinner, couldn’t do any of those things, but I could go out in the garden and dig for a while. And that’s what really saved me.
And all we did was cook because we live, as my son says, in “Nowhere, New Hampshire,” so having the garden and all these new vegetables and new recipes, it even made cooking more fun. I would encourage everyone to grow something.
In Spring several years ago, we adopted a big black dog. He was a Belgian Shepherd mix about six months old with pointy ears and a pointy nose, the largest dog my husband and I had ever owned. I’m 5’6” and he came up to my mid-thigh. Since all of our dogs have had or have names that start with vowels, Arrow, Iris, Olive, we named him Ezekiel. With a brassy bark and sharp brown eyes, he looked more like a Zeke so we started calling him Zeke.
Zeke liked to roam the perimeter of our yard, woofing at crows that flew overhead, chasing squirrels that ran up trees. He also liked to bark at our neighbors behind the fence as they got out of their car. Inside, he followed me everywhere, convinced I needed guarding. It was how he earned his second nickname, “The Sheriff.” And on nights when his body dissolved into the darkness of the front yard, I’d call for him, saying, “Are you Shadow, the Direwolf?”
A Pet Den of Smells
In our bedroom, Olive slept on her bed beside me, our cat Maddie between our pillows, and Zeke in the corner near my husband. (Our other cat, Aleksy, likes to sleep with my daughter.) Unlike Olive, Zeke didn’t snore like a buzzsaw or whimper like Maddie. He just plunked into sleep every night, breathing deeply and solidly, probably relieved to have found a “forever home” after being returned to the shelter more than once.
A few weeks into our slumber ritual, I noticed a trend. With warm spring nights and three pets and two humans breathing in the same room for eight hours, the room stunk in the morning. Like dog. Strong dog. Oftentimes, like wet dog. I’d wake up to damp air and animal musk smells. It was not fun. I considered buying an air cleaner but I wasn’t sure it could truly help me. An air cleaner pulls particles out of the air like dust. I wasn’t sure it could process scents. Then it hit me: a plant could clean this musky indoor air.
A Peace Lily Plant, Nature’s Purifier
I had always grown houseplants but I’d never put any in our bedroom. Aleksy liked to chew on the stems in the early hours. So, I bought some metal screening. With tin snips, I made a circular fortress to keep the cat out. Afterward, I was unsure which plant to choose. I already owned several to clean indoor air: devil’s ivy, dracaena, snake plant, ferns, etc. I wanted something I hadn’t grown before.
A few days later, as I was roaming through a local nursery, I found a lush plant of dark green leaves. Its wands of white flowers faintly resembled calla lilies. The blooms held a tall oval bract around a spadix. It was a Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum). I bought it and a new ceramic container and potted it up. Peace Lilies like shady conditions so in the bedroom I set it atop my husband’s dresser, about four feet from the window. I watered it and set the metal fortress around the pot, hoping it could clear the air in a few weeks.
Well, it didn’t take a few weeks, it took all of three days. It worked its magic at night until one morning, I woke up and inhaled neutral clean air. I thought, “Gosh, it doesn’t smell in here. Why?” The plant had taken in the foul air through the miniscule holes in its leaves and had exhaled fresh oxygen. I’d solved the dog musk issue.
Peace Lily Plant Profile
Peace Lilies are ideal house plants because they take low light and aren’t fussy about soil. When happy, they bloom for six or more months. They like watering and require a drink twice a week. Big rooms need more than one plant. Their air-cleaning talents only cover about a six-foot square space. But tucked among other houseplants of various textures and sizes, they can be part of a peaceful green sanctuary. Then at night, with or without a big black dog, one can sleep well and breathe easy.