Sleuths and Guide Dogs: The Many “Eyes” of Joani Ascher, Part II

Author and Seeing Eye puppy raiser, Joani Ascher

In Part I, I introduced you to mystery writer and Seeing Eye puppy raiser, Joani Ascher. In this section we hear more from Ms. Ascher about her personal pets and those who have, and someday might, grace her fiction.

CM: You had mentioned that there’s a black Lab in your series and that you wrote the first book before you started raising puppies. You also mentioned you put the dog in to make the character different from you. Can you explain that? Was there a point in time dogs weren’t a part of your life?

JA: We hadn’t planned to have a dog when I started the Wally Morris mystery series. We were cat people, although as a teenager I had a Scottish terrier. My goal, when I created Wally, was to make her interesting. Since I didn’t particularly think I was, I thought giving her opposite characteristics would be a good idea. I made her a good cook with a full refrigerator while I am a so-so cook at best and when the refrigerator is opened in my kitchen people can see the back. She is short of stature while I am tall. And while I don’t think the opposite of cat is dog, I do think cat people and dog people have different pet experiences. Few people can walk a cat. (Although our cat has followed us on walks, which makes me very nervous.)

There was one immediate benefit to our taking a Seeing Eye® puppy; I found I got a lot of writing done when there was a warm puppy asleep on my foot.

CM: What is the dog’s name in your series? Does he/she belong to Wally and does he/she help solve the mysteries?

JA: Wally’s dog’s name is Sammy. He actually had a different name before my series was published, but I decided I liked that for another character in another book, so I appropriated it. I get most of my character names from a database I keep of puppy names in our 4-H club, which also includes their parents’ names, giving me a surprising selection.

Sammy doesn’t help Wally solve mysteries, although in the fourth book he was quite useful in getting a dog fancier to spill her secrets. That is actually the principle behind the way many therapy dogs do their work. Dogs are not judgmental, they just want to love, and their presence in difficult times is comforting. Misty has been part of Read-to-Me programs, where children read to dogs, who never correct them, to build their confidence.

My character, Wally Morris, has many talents; one is that she is as easy to talk to as a therapy dog. She sits quietly, encouraging people to share their concerns just to fill the void of Wally’s compassionate silence. And she can sniff out the truth with the ease of a bloodhound.

CM: Do any of your mysteries involve Seeing Eye dogs?

JA: I don’t plan to put any guide dogs into my books. Seeing Eye® has strict privacy policies, and I respect them. I have been thinking about saying that Sammy was a guide dog school drop-out, but I don’t even feel comfortable doing that. It is tempting, though, because a trainer could be working with a dog and see something that a criminal might do, not knowing it’s a trainer and not a blind person working with the dog.

CM: Among the pictures on your website I saw a cat named Smudge. Is he/she currently with you? How does he/she get along with the dogs?

JA: Our cat, Smudge, endorses with a head butt all the dogs who have passed through this house with the exception of two: our first, Yoko, who was here and gone before we got Smudge, and our third, Idette, which showed he has very good judgment. Without doubt his favorite is Misty, who was a ten-week-old puppy when we got Smudge from the animal shelter. But every one of the puppies that has passed through here loves Misty the most. She is incredibly patient, even when she’s having her ears chewed. When it’s cold, all the dogs crowd around her to go to sleep, and Smudge is right in the middle.

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