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7 Things I Learned Writing My New Book, "Medicine Dog"

At times I was tempted to give up, but my dogs' tenacity showed me that quitting on any important goal is simply not an option.

 |  Feb 20th 2014  |   2 Contributions


My new book, Medicine Dog, tells the true story of how a pack of rescued dogs, led by a Pit Bull named Sam, saved my life by leading me to the cure for an illness I’d struggled with for years. The book comes out in March, and I have my dogs to thank for that -- I simply couldn’t have written Medicine Dog without them.

I’ve been observing and chronicling my dogs’ doings for many years now, so I thought I’d learned all there was to know about living the literary life with a pack of pups. Well, I was wrong –- the canine masters still had some important lessons to teach me. Here are seven things I learned while writing my book.

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I commissioned a bronze statue of Sam, my Pit Bull who helped me find a cure for my illness.

1. Veterinary medicine is ahead of human medicine 

If you’re dogless and you care about health and longevity, you’ll adopt a dog, stat. Living with a dog gives you an edge on dogless folks. The reason is simple: Dog owners make regular visits to a veterinarian, and right now in America, veterinary medicine is way ahead of human medicine. Every time you see a vet, you get a dose of the most advanced health care available -- including cutting-edge options such as stem cell regeneration therapy and hyperbaric oxygen.

As Medicine Dog explains, stem cells from my own body fat cured me of an illness I struggled with for years, but I would never have known about this sophisticated treatment if not for my dog’s vet.

2. Dogs are a great cure for writer’s block

I’m very grateful that I’ve never suffered long-term literary blockage. But every once in a while, the creative juices do have a way of drying up. Happily, as any dog-loving writer knows, there’s a simple remedy for this: Get up and go for a walk.

As a lifelong dog rescuer, I’ll jump at any opportunity to plug shelter dog adoption in the media -- and my new book is no exception. As I wrote in Medicine Dog, “If you’re a writer and you’re blocked, here’s incentive to adopt from your local animal shelter: Just walk the dog and watch the ideas flow.” 

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My beloved happy Sam.

3. My literary style is "mutt"

No less a writer than George Bernard Shaw once said, “I like a bit of a mongrel myself, whether it’s a man or a dog; they’re the best for every day.” I couldn’t agree more. While writing Medicine Dog, I learned that the literary genre that suits me best is also a mongrel: one that blends two or more genres to create an offbeat, one-of-a-kind hybrid.

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With my dog Desiree, shortly after treatment. Photo by Daniel Reichert.

Medicine Dog is a mash-up of dog memoir and medical memoir. I haven’t decided what exact form my next book will take, but this much I do know: It, too, will be a mutt. I wouldn’t have it any other way!   

4. Getting published requires dogged determination 

While searching for a publisher, Medicine Dog met with some resistance. Okay, a lot of resistance. My agent initially sang the book’s praises, confident it would start a bidding war. But as publisher after publisher turned it down, the agent changed her tune: “Take out the personal stuff and focus on the science!” I refused; years of living with five strong-willed canines turned me into a “dog with a bone.”

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When I was finally tempted to give up and give in, my dogs wouldn’t let me. Their tenacity taught me that bailing on any important goal is simply not an option, and that underdog status is the greatest badge of courage anyone, human or canine, could possibly have. 

5. Sometimes, a book is a lot like a shelter dog

Like Sam the Pit Bull and so many of the dogs I’d rescued and advocated for over the years, my book was experiencing “black dog syndrome.” No one wanted it, but that didn’t mean it didn’t deserve a chance. All it takes is the right adopter to click with an “unadoptable” dog -– or dog book. At the 11th hour, a prestigious indie publisher gave Medicine Dog a home. The best part: This publisher embraced my book with open arms, exactly the way I wanted.

6. Dogs are psychic friends 

As I neared the final stretch of completing the 240-page manuscript, I began to run out of steam. Then I came across an email plea for a dog at a Texas shelter. This solid-black beauty of a Chow mix was a ringer for the late, great Tiki Bear, subject of my very first Dogster article.

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I rescued Aldo the Chow mix -- and he rescued me by helping me finish my book.

I named this magnificent mutt Aldo and had him transported north. He arrived and lay down at my feet; a powerfully calm focus overtook me, and the manuscript was finished a few days later. Coincidence? Not according to animal communicator Gail Thackray. In a telephone interview, Gail conveyed that Tiki had actually dispatched Aldo to help me out. Whoa! I’ve always believed in psychic phenomena, but even I was astonished. I shouldn’t have been: Dogs do many amazing things to help us humans; Tiki proved it by reaching out to me across time and space. 

7. Muses need to be properly worshipped 

Dogs offer endless creative spark -– however, I soon learned divine inspiration comes at a price. Every day after the morning dog walk, I turned my attention away from my canine muses for five long hours at a stretch. As my eyes became glued to the computer screen, many of my belongings became history. Sheets were shredded; so were books, magazines, and shoes, including the perfectly worn-in Timberland boots I depended on for dog walking.

Lesson learned: Ignore the muses at your peril! Now, before sitting down to work, I get my priorities straight. Tons of tummy tickling and toy-and-treat distribution take place before any writing gets underway. And the footwear gets properly put away, high out of reach!

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About the author: Longtime Dogster contributor Julia Szabo is a pet journalist and reporter. Order her new book, Medicine Dogs, at Amazon, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and her blog

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