Nicholas Sparks has written some of the most popular love stories of our time, and he has woven very memorable canine characters into several of his best-sellers. More than half of his 17 novels, including The Notebook, also have been made into movies.
Soon, one lucky reader’s real-life rescue pet will get to join the ranks of fictional dogs who have captured our hearts in Sparks’ tales.
Through the “Fall Into a Nicholas Sparks Love Story Contest,” in partnership with PetSmart Charities, the author is inviting readers to submit their adoption stories. The winning pet will make a cameo appearance in his next book.
Sparks took some time out from writing recently to answer questions about his own rescue dogs.
Dogster: You have three rescue dogs in your family — Bo, Boomer, and Susie. Can you tell us a little bit about each of their rescue stories?
Nicholas Sparks: We’ve been so lucky to adopt three of our dogs — two we found at rescue shelters, and one we first found on the side of the road and eventually took in. Susie, our Shih Tzu mix, is incredibly sweet and very low-maintenance –- she loves to nap. Susie was two when she joined our family and was the first of our pets to be adopted. Our second dog, Boomer, had terrible heartworms in the shelter and was fighting for his life. We were able to adopt him when he was two or three years old and get them treated right away. Now, he’s active and loves to swim. Finally, our mixed-breed Bo was about six months old when we first found him on the side of the road. He’s great and has really bonded with my son Landon.
As the father of five kids, what lessons do you think the younger generation learns when a family adopts a rescue pet?
One of the rewarding parts of adopting dogs has definitely been what the experience has taught the kids. Caring for pets teaches responsibility, since kids need to help walk, feed, and clean the dogs. I also think that when a family adopts a rescue pet, kids are able to see firsthand the difference they can make in a pet’s life. They are giving a pet a second chance at a loving home, and they realize they are making an impact on reducing the number of homeless pets in the world.
You’ve talked a lot about your German Shepherds, Rex and Lara, in the past. When you purchased Lara, she was already highly trained. How did adopting rescue dogs differ from that experience? What kind of challenges did your family face when adopting rescues?
As I mentioned, Boomer had terrible heartworms before we decided to adopt him. So, we dealt with some of his health challenges early on. But, he’s stronger and happier than ever now and loves to go swimming in the lake by our house. Training rescues is similar to training any other dog -– it requires patience and practice.
You’ve said the character Zeus in The Lucky One was inspired by one of your own dogs, Rex. How much of the late Rex do we see reflected in Zeus? Are they different in any way?
The thing that both of them have in common, definitely, is their loyalty. Rex would often sit at my feet while I was writing, and he was just incredibly faithful, which is the dynamic I tried to recreate between Zeus and Logan Thibault in The Lucky One.
Many of the dogs in your books and your life are larger breeds. Did you ever picture yourself adopting a small dog like Susie?
It’s funny that even though my family and I have been drawn to larger dog breeds, sometimes adopted pets pick us and not the other way around. Susie was one of those dogs. She is so sweet and easygoing. While we’ve always liked large dogs and have two larger dogs in our house currently, it doesn’t mean we also don’t like smaller breeds. I can’t imagine our lives without Susie.
The film adaptation of your novel The Choice is underway as the first independent feature film for your production company. One of the novel’s protagonists is a veterinarian, and dogs play a big part in the plot. We’ve already seen some shots of the animal actors on social media. Are these dog actors what you imagined when writing Molly and Moby?
Yes, in that these two dogs are both incredibly loving and bring a real warmth to the set, just as I imagined Molly and Moby doing. That said, I must say that the dogs on set are better trained than almost any dog I’ve ever seen — and my own dogs are quite well-trained! I guess even actor dogs have to be at the top of their game to make it in Hollywood!
On your website (in the Book FAQ for The Guardian) you wrote, “Also, it’s worth noting that in American literature, as opposed to movies and television, the dog almost always dies.” Why do dogs so often meet tragic ends in literature? And will the contest-winning pet have a happy ending to their cameo?
Well, I can’t spoil the ending for my book — but as for why dogs so often die in literature, I imagine it is just a reflection of life: Dogs have much shorter lives than people, and literature has never shied away from the harsher truths of the human experience. So often we take these dogs in and fall in love with them knowing that, most likely, we will outlive them.
What will you be looking for in the story that wins this contest? Do you have any tips for contest entrants who will be writing their own love story?
I’m really looking for those unique, heartwarming adoption stories that can show why you fell in love with your adopted cat or dog and how they’ve made your life complete. A descriptive story, along with a high-quality photo of your pet, will make for a great entry.
Enter your pets’ story with a photo and/or video before Dec. 14. The winner will be announced Jan. 12, 2015. The winning story will also be published on NicholasSparks.com, with an introduction written by Sparks.
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About the Author: Heather Marcoux is a freelance writer in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but Specter the kitten and GhostBuster the dog make her fur family complete. Heather is also a wife, a bad cook, and a former TV journalist. Some of her friends have hidden her feed because of an excess of cat pictures. If you don’t mind cat pictures, you can follow her on Twitter; she also posts pet GIFs on Google+.