Reader Friday: Pets and Animals in Fiction

Pets and animals in fiction is a huge topic. Interestingly, a quick search of Amazon didn’t bring up any book on the topic. So, readers/writers, there’s a void to be filled by an animal enthusiast. I did find an excellent post on the subject by Sue Coletta  – Tips to Include Pets in Fiction

Today, let’s discuss two things:

Your favorite pet:

Looking back at your entire life, which pet was/is your all-time favorite? Tell us about that pet and why he or she was so special.

The roles pets and animals play in books you enjoy:

As a reader of fiction, what way of using pets or animals in the story do you find most enjoyable? Explain.

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About Steve Hooley

Steve Hooley is the author of seven short stories published in four anthologies, a Vella serial fiction, and is currently working on the Mad River Magic series – a fantasy adventure series for advanced middle-grade to adults. More details available at:

43 thoughts on “Reader Friday: Pets and Animals in Fiction

  1. My favorite and only pet was a blue parakeet my parents bought me when I was eight years old. I named him Cuddles after a pet owned by Mr. Magoo because when I was eight, my favorite cartoon character was an almost-blind old guy.

    Regarding the role of animals in fiction, I like dogs and horses best and mostly as allies or healing influences. I probably will never read a book about cats who solve crimes.

  2. Thanks for participating, Truant. I love your examples. Mr. Magoo brings back memories for me, too.

    When you mentioned dogs and horses as allies or healing influences, it reminded me of a short story I wrote to “try out” a handicapped young man, Thomas. He had a faithful burro, Pedro, who became Thomas’ conscience.

    Thanks for sharing.

  3. Dogs are my favorite people. Dogs and horses, though I rarely have an opportunity to be around horses.

    My beloved dog of childhood was Bob Barker, a beautiful collie/shepherd mix.

    In adulthood, my beloved dog was a black lab mix–I found him on a hiking trail when I lived in NC. Someone had apparently dumped him off & he was hanging out with a German Shepherd mix dog. I stopped to pet him but didn’t linger long because the person I was hiking with had to go to work in just a little while so we had to hustle.

    But I looked back one last time at the puppy, who was about 3 months old at the time. As I did he cast this look at the German Shepherd as if to say “I’ve found my ticket outta here. See ya.” And that little lab pup followed me all the way out to the trail head, where I scooped him up and took him home. Thankfully, no one ever claimed him and Starsky was mine. He moved with me across the country and remains the favorite dog I’ve had in my adulthood.

    RE: Pets in fiction. Since my love is 19th century American history and fiction set in that period, animals (not pets, per se) are of course essential in any such fiction (too bad we don’t still travel by horseback as our main means of transportation. I think it would cure a lot of ills if we had to slow down and travel horseback everywhere).

    Unless they are the subject of the book (i.e. Black Beauty, Lassie) focusing an inordinant amount of attention on animals in fiction is difficult to pull off without sounding hokey. Thus far in my writing they are a blended in part of the background, though, if I ever come up with a satisfying plot focused on a dog (or a horse) I’d be happy to write it.

    • Beautiful, BK. I loved the names you gave your dogs. I bet there are some interesting stories behind how you chose those names.

      I agree with your point on the need to slow down. Maybe there’s a message there the world needs to hear. Instead of the animals showing us the dangers of socialism/Marxism/tyranny (Animal Farm), the animals could show us the consequences of life lived in the hyper-fast lane.

  4. Good morning, Steve. Great questions.

    I prefer dogs and cats to people, as a general rule. As far as a favorite pet goes, I didn’t have a favorite. It’s like having children. You don’t have love one more than another. You might LIKE one more than another, but that’s a whole different issue.

    In fiction, I want the dog or cat to still be standing on this side of the dirt by the story’s end. It’s all I ask.

    Have a great weekend, Steve!

    • Good morning, Joe. Great answers. We writers tend to be introverts, so I won’t be surprised if others respond with the answer that they would prefer to spend time with pets vs. people. And on the other hand, there must be some true love for those pets if you don’t want to pick a favorite.

      Your preference for the rolls pets play in fiction must be very common, since it seems to be a cardinal rule for writing fiction: “Joe’s Rule.”

      Have a great weekend!

  5. Fun questions, Steve.

    Another vote for four-legged over two-legged. Like Joe, can’t choose a favorite–all are beloved. The brattiest critters that caused the most damage are the ones we reminisce and laugh about years after their passing. We cherish our furniture with puppy teeth gnaw marks.

    In my second book, Stalking Midas, a cranky old character hates people but loves his nine feral rescue cats. The alpha cat (is there such a thing?), Rambo, causes plenty of plot complications for the main characters who are trying to solve the crime.

    • Thanks, Debbie. The four-legged fans are winning.

      I agree about the worst-behaved pets being the ones we now laugh about. My wife had a lab that would accompany when I was doing outside chores so she could run off with my tools. Standing just far enough away to let me know she wanted to be chased.

      I loved Stalking Midas. Rambo was the cat out of hell, and he could do some real damage.

      Sorry about the delay in my response. I ran a “quick” errand, and my battery died.

      Have a wonderful conference!

  6. Thanks for the shout-out, Steve!

    Favorite pet? Oh, geez, I can’t choose. I’ve had so many animal companions over the years, and I loved each and every one of them. Like Joe, I may have liked some more than others — we all have our quirks — but that didn’t make me love them any less.

    As for fiction, since I can’t even imagine a world without animals, the story seems more real with pet characters.

    • Your welcome, Sue. That post was a great article.

      I thought of you, when I picked this post, separate from your article. I thought you would say you’d had so many pets you couldn’t choose one. And, I was thinking about you when I suggested this topic could make a good book.

      Sorry for the late response. Dead battery.

  7. Happy Friday, Steve! Pets are one of the things that make life worth living. I’m with Joe and Debbie, all my pets have been beloved. My wife and I have had so many wonderful cats in our home, from Kuan-Yin and Indra, to Max the Manx, my late father’s Turkish Van Sylvia, and finally brothers Simba and Mittens. The last two came into our lives as kittens in 2006, a month after Sylvia passed away at the age of 20. Both would up being large 🙂 Simba passed away in 2019, but Mittens is still going strong at 16.

    In fiction, I like seeing characters’s bonded to cats and dogs like I have in real life, with the pets being part of the family, emotionally, and being included in the storyline. I’m actually fine with the cozy trope of the cat or dog that helps, at least indirectly in solving the crime.

    Have a wonderful weekend.

    • Thanks for your comments, Dale. Your comments reminded me that people’s response to animals says a lot about their character. I can see that you have done a lot of character building with all your pets. And that is reflected in your preference for characters that are bonded to cats and dogs.

      Hope your weekend is a wonderful one.

  8. I’m at my daughter’s who has 5 cats and yes, there is an alpha cat and his name is Junior. lol There’s also a three-month-old kitten who pesters him to death. Right now I have two rescue cats and while I love the male, a tuxedo cat, I REALLY love the female, Suzy Q, who likes to sleep on my chest.

    Right now my WIP has a K-9 dog, Gem, and I’m enjoying the research on training an air-scenting search dog.

    • Thanks for your comments, Patricia. Isn’t it interesting how dogs or cats cuddling strengthen emotional attachment? Our youngest son has a Chihuahua, Queso, who loves to snuggle on our legs when we put them up on a coffee table to watch TV. What a cutie.

      Sounds like interesting research on training an air-scenting search dog.

      I hope your weekend is filled with joy and pets.

  9. Great subject, Steve. Like others here, I love our four-legged friends. I find them to be honest, affectionate, and dependable.

    My favorite pet was my American Saddlebred horse, Dixie. I bought her when I was working on my first job after college. It was the fulfillment of a childhood dream since my parents didn’t have the means to satisfy my equine-sized desire when I was growing up.

    Dixie and I had some wonderful, and occasionally scary, adventures. I wrote about one of them on TKZ:

    Dixie was dependable alright. I could depend on her to refuse a jump or shy away from just about anything that she decided she didn’t want to be around. But she was a beautiful bay mare, and it was a special season in my life. I treasure the memories. (And the fact that I came away from those years unscathed is proof of divine intervention.)

    • Great comments, Sue. Reminds me of my father’s love of horses. He grew up in an era where they farmed with horses, and had some great stories to tell. When we moved from town to the country. He wanted to have horses. I fixed the fences. My dad had fun with the horses. My, how those horses always thought the grass was greener on the other side of the fence.

      That was a great post back in July of last year. Glad you escaped those years unscathed.

      Have a great weekend.

  10. My little brother was allergic to fur and feathers, so my childhood pet was a box turtle named Spot. He won first prize as the Ugliest Pet at the local day camp. As an adult, Don and I have cats. My favorite was a rescue calico named Elsah. (We found her on the road near Elsah, Illinois.)
    Pets are problematic for fiction writers. The detective has to run home to feed them, and exercise their dogs and horses. Animals who solve mysteries are popular, but they are not my cuppa tea.

    • Thanks for your answers, Elaine. I hope Spot wasn’t permanently scarred by being picked the ugliest pet.

      Good points about the challenges of having a pet in the story. I ran into that problem with a pet dog in my teen fantasy stories. Unfortunately, sometimes the pet has to be left home and doesn’t get to go on the mission. And I’m reading some of Lawrence Block’s Bernie Rhodenbarr series. His cat is causing him some major problems.

      Thanks for your thoughts.

  11. The best dog I was ever owned by was a female Doberman named Tedell the Nightengale. We called her T. Bear. When she arrived at 12 weeks old, she immediately took charge of all she surveyed: house, yard, four other adult dogs, and us. She was highly intelligent and loved everyone–unless they behaved aggressively toward her or us. Then she morphed into a devil dog, all snarls and teeth.

    One day, I heard yelling in the backyard. Out the window, I saw my husband shaking the ragged end of a garden house at Bear while he cursed. He came in the house to tell me he was headed to the hardware store for a hose mender kit so he could fix the hose and water the horses.

    Bear remained outside until she heard his truck return. Then she came in through the dog door, jumped on the couch beside me, and snuggled in, clearly waiting for something. My husband cut through the house, hose kit in hand. Moments later, he stormed back in, shouting the roof down. While he’d been gone, Bear had chewed the entire 100 feet of hose into 2 foot sections. I laughed so hard I nearly fell off the couch. My husband gave up disciplining the dog and made sure to pick up the hose after each use.

    I’m a fan of Spencer Quinn’s Chet and Bernie mysteries. Chet’s a police dog washup (there was a cat involved), and Bernie is an ex-cop PI. The stories are told from Chet’s POV. Quinn does a great job capturing dog behavior and personality. The writing is excellent, and the mysteries are solid.

    The strangest animal story I’ve read is the post-apocalyptic novel Of Flesh and Feathers by L M Pierce. The story is told from the viewpoint of a chicken. A flock of chickens must follow a hen who has visions to a place of safety. They are accompanied by the loyal farm dog. It was weird seeing chickens make The Hero’s Journey, but it worked.

    • Great story about Bear, KS. Sometimes our pets train us. Bear sounds like she really ruled the roost. You had me laughing, seeing those two-foot sections of hose spread all over the yard.

      And thanks for the tip on Spencer Quinn’s Chet and Bernie series. Sounds very interesting.

      Thanks for your comments.

  12. Parents pick your favorite human child! I’m like Joe. That’s pretty dang impossible to pick my favorite animal. I’ve been without pets for years for several reasons, but I’ve had dogs, cats, and a horse. I miss the companionship but not the responsibility.

    For those of us who don’t write cozies or other stay-at-home novels, main characters with pets are awkward. You can’t go out and have adventures or solve crimes when you have a dog that needs walking or a cat who needs to be fed. Nothing irks me as a reader more than the pet suddenly vanishing from the plot when inconvenient to allow the character to do stuff. And God help the writer if they kill a pet.

    • Good comments, Marilynn. If you love them enough, you can’t pick a favorite.

      Your answer about how pets restrain or handicap a character are good things to contemplate before you give your MC a pet. Sounds like, if you add a pet, you better add a housekeeper to care for the pet while the MC is away solving crimes.

      Thanks for bringing up an important point.

  13. I love dogs; cats, not so much. But there was a time when I couldn’t bear anything in my life that might die before I did. I haven’t had a pet, since, not even an amoeba.
    So no surprise that there aren’t a lot of animals in my stories. And, as someone said the other day, a pet takes away 40% of one’s options. That’s as true for a character as it is for me.
    Thus my only story pet was one central to the plot. It was, of course, a rhinoceros. A puce one named Zaka:
    It was a very long, sad week. I’d bought the rhino…oh, pardon me, rhinoceros, several months before through a chap in Nigeria whom I’d met via a personal email letter. Someone had recommended me to him for my love of animals and my good business sense… ―My Last Rhinoceros

    • Good comments, JG. That loss of 40% of options is why my wife and I don’t currently have any pets.

      Now I could see adding a rhinoceros to a story would make things really exciting. I wouldn’t want to have to repair the fences. You’d need a welder, rather than hammer and nails. And, I don’t think I would want to be in the enclosure with him. Sounds rather explosive.

      Thanks for your thoughts.

  14. Great post, Steve, and wonderful comments. I agree with all . . .

    I’ve had many dogs and cats, parakeets, and various insects as pets. (My niece-in-law, in Montana, and the two-footed children in their household have been bonding with tarantulas the last couple of years . . . !)

    I’ll put it this way: my favorite pet is the one living with us at any given time. I can’t choose. Each dog, cat, or mantid has a personality all their own.

    One of my current WIPs has a huge black lab named Max in the story. I think he’s a composite of every dog I’ve ever owned. Personality plus . . . or maybe multiple personalities!

    And speaking of . . . I’m a firm believer that there will be animals, insects, birds, and fish in heaven. In fact, I know that to be a fact.

    How do I know? It says in the Bible that Jesus will come back on a white horse. ‘Nuff said . . .


  15. My favorite pet was Iddy, the iddy, biddy, python. He changed the school policy on pets in dorm rooms. The RA said he had to go. I said you move him. New policy. Pets in containers are OK. He was pretty but didn’t solve crimes or cuddle.

    For a time it seemed every fictional detective needed a pet, usually a dog. Didn’t do much for me.

    • Of course, a pet can serve as a sidekick, a buddy the tec can bounce ideas off.
      “I don’t trust Mr. Vreeblefetzer, do you, Odie?”

  16. Thanks, Alan, for your story. Don’t those pythons get BIG? I wouldn’t have wanted to be your roommate.

    Maybe it’s time for fictional detectives to have a python companion. I hear they have plenty of them in Florida. Couldn’t you see the suspect’s eyes get big when the detective set his python on the table in front of him.

    Have a good weekend.

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