Claire McEwen, hopeful romantic.

Dedication

I dedicated my debut novel to my dog.

Now before you panic and click on a different website in an effort to escape the crazy dog lady, please let me explain. I also dedicated my book to my family. I mainly dedicated my book to my family. But I did include my dog, and here’s why.

The right dog is family and Mango was that dog for me. He was a small, runty, rescue puppy who truly was the size and color of a mango when he first crawled onto my lap. I got him in my late thirties, when I thought my chance of having a child was passing me by, and he became my first baby. I loved him madly, took him everywhere and bought him basketfuls of toys. He even had his own special car seat so he could look out the window as we drove.

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When my son miraculously arrived in my early forties, Mango quickly took on the role of big brother. He would sleep by my son’s crib (and later, his bed) each evening and for every nap. When my son woke up and cried or called for me, Mango would dash out of his room and down the hall to get me, the most indignant expression on his face – as if he couldn’t believe what a slacker I was for not appearing the instant the baby needed me. When I look at my son’s baby pictures, Mango is almost always there in the background, keeping an eye on his boy.

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Mango, was also the most wonderful writing companion. I started writing A Ranch to Keep when he was a puppy. I had to remember to stop working every twenty minutes so I could take him to the yard for potty training. I kept writing for the first year of his life with him curled in a small ball on my lap. Then I got busy and discouraged and put the book away.

Five years later, when I found the time to start writing again, there was Mango, sleeping at my feet as I typed, or sprawled on my lap. He didn’t fit there quite as well, now that he was full grown, but we made it work somehow. When an editor at Harlequin requested my manuscript after seeing the first chapter of my book in a contest, it was Mango who sat with me during a week of all-nighters, as I frantically polished my very-rough draft. He hated staying up late and would often get up and head toward the bedroom, looking back over his shoulder with a disgusted expression when I didn’t follow his lead. Then he’d come back and flop down at my feet with a heavy sigh. He didn’t like it, but he stayed with me anyway.

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But life has a habit of throwing the bitter and the sweet at you all at once, and that was the case with my beloved Mango. One morning I received an e-mail from my editor at Harlequin, informing me that they were very interested in my book. I was overjoyed at the news. But I was also stressed because Mango was sick and no one knew why. A couple hours after that wonderful e-mail, I got a phone call from the veterinarian. Mango’s lab results were back and he had cancer. An extremely rare, aggressive form of cancer that had already invaded most of his organs. The vet told me that there was no treatment possible, and that the only humane thing to do was to put Mango down in the next few days, before the pain and discomfort got too bad.

It’s amazing how something as important and life-altering as that letter from Harlequin seemed so trivial when faced with losing my dog. I set my book aside and concentrated on making Mango’s last few days perfect. He ate his favorite foods, slept in my bed, and I carried him down to the ocean every day so he could sit on the cliffs and smell the salty air that he loved.

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Mango was a tough little guy and he stayed with me for ten more days. Then one evening he refused to take his pain pill, and when I tried to make him swallow it, he bit me. This was so uncharacteristic of him that I knew he was trying to tell me that he was done fighting. He lay on my lap and refused to get up, so I sat on the couch and held him for hours. When I finally carried him to bed, he wanted to sleep in my arms, rather than in his favorite spot down by my knees. I lay awake while he slept, trying frantically to treasure what I knew was my last, precious time with my beautiful pup. The next day he was very weak and the fight and spark had gone out of his eyes and I knew it was time to say goodbye.

It took me seven-and-a- half years to write the first draft of my book – the span of Mango’s way-too-short life. I was writing about romantic love, but Mango was teaching me about doggie love, pure and unconditional. Writing is a lonely business, and I don’t know if I would have stuck with it if I didn’t have my Mango keeping me company, making me smile, reminding me to get up from my computer and take him for walks. So when my editor asked me to write my dedication, I knew I had to include my dog, my closest companion on this writing journey, the baby I lost just as my first book was finally being born.

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