Saturday, May 14, 2011

Dog Gone It!

One writer’s writing has gone to the dogs. Specifically, it’s gone to the White House dogs. Dorothy St. James agreed to stop by today and talk about the dogs in her book, Flowerbed of State. Dorothy knows her dogs and politics since she’s worked in all branches and all levels of government including local, regional, state, and federal. She even spent time during college working for a non-profit environmental watchdog organization.

Please welcome Dorothy St. James.

Chasing after the Commander-in-Leash

One of the best things about researching life at the White House for my new book series—the White House Gardener Mysteries—has been learning about the presidential dogs. I’ve always been a dog nut. (And a cat nut, too.) So it was only a given that a presidential pooh would show up in my cozy mystery.

Milo, the president’s naughty puppy in Flowerbed of State.
Milo, a goldendoodle mix rescued from a shelter, was a gift to President Bradley and his wife, Margaret in Flowerbed of State, the first book in the White House Gardener Mysteries. Milo quickly becomes a favorite with the White House staff. At the same time, he’s all puppy who keeps my tireless heroine, Casey Calhoun, on her toes as he digs up rose bushes and rushes toward the gates whenever they’re open.

Historically, the White House gardener has served as caretaker for the presidents’ pets. The current White House Horticulturalist, Dale Haney, has cared for every White House dog since King Timahoe, Richard Nixon's Irish setter. For the past 40 years, when the First Family was out of town, Haney becomes the unofficial dog walker.

Bo Obama under a Japanese magnolia in the Rose Garden
(Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)
Barney Bush fielding questions in the Press Room
(Official White House Photo by Alex Cooney)
Having a gardener care for the family’s dog(s) makes sense since the “commander-in-leash” spends much of his time romping across the lawn and following behind the gardening staff.

Dale Haney often personally washes off muddy paws using a hose on the north lawn. You can’t let a muddy puppy tromp through the state rooms ruining historically significant oriental rugs.

Using this research, I’ve breathed life into my fictional president’s new puppy. Milo quickly became one of my favorite characters and a talented scene-stealer.

I didn’t realize how realistic I had made the rambunctious Milo in Flowerbed of State until I volunteered to take in a few foster puppies from a local shelter. These two have exhausted me as I’ve chased after them to keep them from digging up, chewing, or rolling over my vegetable plants and flowers. Recently the pair of angels has turned their attentions to lopping off all the blooms on my blanket flowers.

My two foster puppies (Onslow and Rosie) diving into my garden.

Like Casey, I’m happy to do it. These little scamps can melt my heart with one soulful look.

What puppy antics have you tolerated? Do you have any suggestions on encouraging these two young puppies away from my vegetable garden?

Thank you Dorothy!

Dorothy St. James (wildlife biologist and paper pusher) is the author of the White House Gardener Mysteries with Berkley Prime Crime. The first book in the series, FLOWERBED OF STATE, has been called “spunky” (Library Journal), “fast-paced” (Publishers Weekly), and “it quite simply blew me away” (Criminal Element).

Before you zip away to pet your own dog or pet, leave a comment or question for Dorothy.


  1. my rule is - no dog in the book - not worth reading! Dogs don't have to be the main thing but I do look for them. I just went to a poetry book launch of my pal, Sue Goyette's. She had lots of folks reading her poetry which was different and swelled the ranks of the party for sure. She noted when she got up that she wasn't aware of how many dogs were in her book! I recall, back in the day ahem, that I wrote a paper on the importance of dogs in the poetry of Michael Ondaatje. There is a dog in each of my manuscripts. In my mysteries, the female cop protagonist has an old dog called 'Spam'.
    Thanks for this look into your book, Dorothy, and thanks for hosting another interesting guest, Helen.

  2. Uh-oh, Jan. There's no dog in the book I'm writing. Although the protagonist does mention a dog from your youth and she keeps a little stuffed dog as a reminder.

    "Spam" is a cute name for a dog.

  3. What a sweet-looking puppy! No advice on the anti-destruction scene...I'm currently coping with my own Tasmanian Devil.
    Great post, Dorothy and Helen!

  4. Laura, if someone else had said they were struggling with a Tasmanian Devil, I would have laughed. But knowing you, you probably are doing exactly that (in your writing).

  5. No dogs for me, in writing nor in our house. The only pet I would consider is a turtle. I like their slow type of life.

    I guess it's obligatory for US presidents to have a dog? Haven't seen Obama's before, but Barney Bush was about as famous as his owner, and would probably been as good as president >:D

    Cold As Heaven

  6. This is such a great series, and it's nice to hear a little more about Haney, too--I didn't realize that the horticulturalist was unofficially helping with the first dogs (and for so long, too!)

  7. It's fun to see where research can lead us!

  8. Bo Obama has got huge!

    So interesting to hear about the White House horticulturist who cares for the pets. Luckily, HRH Theodorable has doting grandparents who care for her regal self when her slaves, er, when we're away. (HRH is a cat, by the way, even the cute Milo couldn't convert me into a dog person!)
    Judy, South Africa

  9. Cold As Heaven, I love turtles. Don't know why, but I have always loved turtles.

    Judy, Love the name HRH Theodorable!

  10. "Heaven is the place where all the dogs you've ever loved come to greet you." (I don't know who wrote that but I have the plaque hanging on my wall.)

    I'm a fellow dog lover who includes canines in my books, both fiction and nonfiction. I've had a number of breeds, but Aussies are my favaorite (my current dog).

    Which breed is your favorite, Dorothy?

  11. Hi Jean. Dorothy said she's be coming by later in the day.

    I put a dog, sort of a walk-on role, in my latest book. He's a miniature Schnauzer, like my husband and I had.

  12. I love dogs as well. I had an almost ex-puppy once that dug holes everywhere including gardens. I finally broke him of that by giving him his own sandbox. I bought a small molded plastic pool, punched holes in the bottom for drainage and filled it with play sand. To let him know it was his, I buried a whole bag of pig's ear chews at different depths. I had a few with just a little bit of it showing. I then put him into the pool and showed him one of the chews. I no time he had it down. The minute he went out the door, he would run and jump into the pool and start digging to see what he could find.

    No more digging. He was now saved from being an ex-puppy. As well as giving everyone a great laugh watching him.

    Pamela Jo

  13. Sounds like so much fun! I love all kinds of animals - and reading about them is fun :)

  14. Pamela, I love that! What a brilliant idea.

    I like reading about animals, too, Jemi. In the book I'm working on, there's a dog, but he doesn't belong to the protagonist.

  15. Darling dogs, lol. Fun feature, thanks both of you for sharing. I use animals sometimes in my books. They can add a domestic familiarity and homey feel to settings. Then of course, there's Lassie-level canine main character stardom - which I stay away from.

  16. Yeah, agree with you on that, Marvin. Clearly, dogs do rescue people, but Lassie was just a tad over the top.

  17. What a lovely idea for a story. I agree, a book is not complete without a doggie companion.

  18. Thank you for inviting me to hang out on your blog, Helen.

    Sorry to be late. I went to a book festival over the weekend. I'd been told that I'd have internet connection at the festival. Well, there was internet connection, but it didn't actually connect me to anything!

    Ah well, I'm back home now. I love hearing all the dog/cat/turtle/Taz Devil people's comments. My sister had a turtle when I was a child. I was very jealous of her because of it. He would lounge all day underneath a plastic palm tree in his terrarium.

    I don't have a favorite dog breed. I suppose my favorites have always been the ones who are currently running my life. I have a papillon now along with the two border collie mix foster puppies. Iona, my papillon, is a little tyrant. But I love her to pieces!

    Jean, I had an Aussie growing up. He was a deep red color, almost the shade of dark chocolate. So we named him Hershey. What a great dog. He kept our cat in line.

    Jan, I think "Spam" is a great dogs name. Wish I had come up with it. I once met someone whose dogs were named "mo go" and "gai pan." So creative.

    Since I live in the Lowcountry of SC, I was thinking a little while ago that I should have an apricot poodle and a creamy white poodle and name them "Shrimp" and "Grits."

  19. Sounds like Milo needs to spend a little time with Cesar Millan!

  20. He does, Christopher, and so do I! :-)

  21. Sorry I missed his on Saturday, but glad I popped over today. Having a cat or dog in a book always makes it a bit more fun for me. I imagine researching all the "first dogs" was quite interesting.

  22. Great post! I love dogs of almost every type, which is strange since when I was a kid I was deathly afraid of them.

    One of these days our dog, Rascal, will get her own story, but she has to wait in line for some of my other books to be finished first.

    Morgan Mandel

  23. Dorothy, I totally agree that a dog runs things!

    With a name like Rascal, he must have tales to tell, Morgan.

  24. How fun! Love the pictures! I don't have any dogs, but they are among the animals featured in my children's book about mixed up animal sounds. Thanks for sharing the enjoyable post!

  25. Hi Morgan, I hope you do write a story about Rascal. I love dog tales! And tails! My family adopted our first dog because my sister was afraid of them. My parents wanted to help her get over that fear. I'm so glad they did get the dog. We named him Bingo. (We were all less than 5 years old. I was only 6 months.) Bingo was a great pup! He grew up with me and survived throughout my childhood.

    Today's a bittersweet day. The foster puppies go back to the shelter to find their forever homes. My husband and I have to decide really, really soon if we want to keep one. And which one. I highly recommend the fostering experience. These little pups have bloomed before our eyes.


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