Laney was probably the most unlikely dog I’ve ever owned. Not because she was an Italian Greyhound, I’d already had three others and was used to their quirks, in fact loved them, but Laney was an outstanding example of a neurotic dog, and I chose her.

My then current IG, Allegra, had died of cancer and I vowed I wasn’t getting another dog. I had two, a German Shepard puppy who clients of mine could no longer keep (they’d probably run out of chair legs for her to chew on) and an English Cocker who had appeared in the middle of the street one day, had come home with me and never left.  I had a full time job, a new granddaughter who I wanted to spend as much time with as possible, and was struggling to get my first Ellen McKenzie mystery in print. I didn’t need another dog. Then I went to a dog show. The class was best of breed, the category was toy dogs, and there was an IG  I immediately fell in love with. All the old longing for one came back with a rush. So, when my vet called to say a woman in our town, who bred IG’s, had to sell off some of hers because of county kennel restrictions and was I interested, I was. I scooped up the baby who, for some reason I can’t remember was with me, and we were off.

It was obvious the breeders weren’t anxious to part with any of their dogs, but the lady pointed out three females she was going to sell. I sat down in the middle of her living room floor, the baby on my lap and was immediately surrounded by small dogs, all wagging their tails, all seemingly delighted we’d come, all vying for a change to lick the baby. All except one. A pretty little caramel colored dog circled the outside of the pack. She retreated if a hand was held out to her, instead she stood in a corner and shivered. That she wanted to come over was obvious, that she was terrified to try it was equally obvious. Guess which one came home with us.

Laney was terrified of everything. I thought she was going to have a heart attack in the car going home. Trucks passed us and I could almost see her pale. I made sure the gate was closed when I pulled into our yard as I was sure I would never catch her if she got loose. The other two dogs circled the car, barking a greeting, but she didn’t look convinced it was safe to get out. When she did, she stood still and shook. The only way I could get her in the house was to open the back door, put the other two away, leave a bowl of food where she could see it and hide. Finally, she came in far enough that I could get behind her and close the door. It took a long time before Laney would come in any other way.

However, bit by bit, she calmed down. She and Shea, the Shepard, formed what was to be a life time bond, and she and Ira, the cocker, were almost as close. People took a little longer, but gradually she let me touch her without flinching. We graduated to her sitting on my lap each night to her burrowing under the covers on my bed. I sighed a little at that, but it gave her comfort and she continued to share her bed with me (I’m pretty sure that’s how she saw it) for the next twelve years.

Laney never became a brave dog and she never became one of those dogs who love everyone. However, she adored my mother who lived next door to us and learned not to run and hide whenever a visitor came; she learned that the mailman was her friend, that going to book signings and sitting on my lap wasn’t so bad, that going on book tours was kind of fun, that elevators came to a stop safely, and that she could stay in a hotel room if she had Shea with her and my nightdress to lie on. The circle of people she loved expanded to encompass a lot of my family, our vet and his family who lived next door, and Tina, a special family friend who took care of her and Shea while I spent a month in the hospital recovering from a leg amputation. She especially loved the baby who had now grown into a lovely budding young lady, and her brother who couldn’t remember life without either her or Shea.

Laney had been slowing down for some months. She had a hard time jumping on the bed, slept a lot more than she used to, wasn’t so sure she wanted to go in the car which she now enjoyed and no longer pulled out the toys from her basket. Her time was getting near, I knew, but couldn’t bear the thought. Our vet took blood, prescribed pain medicines, said we had her stabilized but she was now fourteen and the ravages of old age can only be held at bay so long. I hoped they could be held off a little longer as I was leaving for Spain and Portugal on a long planned trip and, although my daughter and the children would stay at my house with her, I worried. Go, they all said, she’ll be fine. About that, I wasn’t so sure. That she would be lovingly and tenderly cared for I didn’t doubt.

I had been gone a week when I got the phone call. Laney had passed away in my granddaughter’s arms that night.

I miss her. We all miss her. However, I think about all of the years we had together, the adventures we had, most of them adventures she would just as soon not taken, but she learned to enjoy them, to enjoy us, to enjoy her life. I will think of that through my tears, and smile.

Catching Up

Milly the mop Lefty the three cornered dog

Catching Up


It’s been a while since I’ve posted on this blog. A lot has happened in my life since then. I’ve left my much loved old house in South Carolina for a suburb of Atlanta where I am nearer to family, have acquired a new dog, actually one and one half new dogs, and a new Ellen McKenzie mystery is out.

First, dogs. I live close by two of my grandchildren, who are now here every day. They wanted a dog, badly, but no one is home all day and it didn’t seem feasible. Then they found Lefty at a local shelter. He is a hound mix who somehow mislaid his left hind leg, young and was in need of a foster home over the 4th. Firecrackers and all that.  The children volunteered me. He never went back to the shelter. He comes to me every morning and returns to spend the night and week-ends with them. In the meantime, a friend of mine, who works dog rescue, sent me a picture of a small black mop of a dog who had been tossed out of a car. I responded with “isn’t she cute”. Yes, she is. I’m not sure how it happened but she now lives here as well. Her name is Millie the Mop, or was until she got a haircut. Now it’s Millicent the Magnificent. Laney, my elderly IG likes them both, or at least tolerates them and the cat has finally decided it isn’t much fun to sulk in the garage and has re-joined the somewhat tumultuous life in the house.

Dogs have been a part of human life since wolves decided to come out of the darkness and share primitive man’s dinner around the campfire. However, through much of history, they were expected to perform a job of some sort to earn their portion of the stew. I did a lot of research into Colonial life for the latest Ellen book, Murder by Syllabub, and it doesn’t seem to have been much different then. Dogs helped in the hunt by pointing out the hapless bird who was destined to be that night’s dinner and then were expected to retrieve it without eating it. They herded sheep, goats, and cattle, pulled carts, and guarded the hen house by night. Not so much today. Most dogs today are pets and expected to do nothing more than be companions. They are quite good at that, at least mine are, but still, it seems they could perform some useful function other than barking at the mailman. I recently broached that theory to mine, even going as far as to read them a list of chores colonial dogs were excepted to complete.

They yawned.

There are two dogs in Murder by Syllabub and they have important roles to play in the story. However, they don’t exactly have jobs. Either of them. Hummm. Upon reflection, I guess barking at the mailman isn’t all bad.




Books on writing often have long chapters on how to develop and present protagonists and antagonists. They should. After all, the struggle between the hero/heroine and the villain is the basis of our stories. But any good story needs more than that. It needs other people, people who are going to support our Hero/heroine, who are going to help find clues, listen as he/she works out the kinks in the plot, and help catch the crook. They ride to the rescue when our hero is in trouble or at least bring in the cavalry, and they give our hero/heroine the support or advice he or she needs to bring the story to a satisfactory close.


I’ve often thought that sidekicks were the underpaid and overworked members of a book’s cast of characters. They’re called supporting actors in the movies, and they get Oscars.  In books, they are the members of the cast that get the least attention, certainly the least credit, but we need them. “Supporting” means just that, and supporting is what they do. They back up the hero, the heroine, and the story.


Where would Sherlock Holmes have been without Dr.Watson? Lord Peter would never have gotten over his war nerves without Bunter. The Lone Ranger wouldn’t have been as adept at catching all those bad guys without Tonto. I’ve long suspected it was Tonto who kept him supplied with silver bullets. It’s Lula who keeps Stephanie Plum supplied with donuts but Stephanie might not catch another bail bond skip without Lula. Of course, she probably wouldn’t get into as much trouble without her either. Well, she probably would, but without Lula it wouldn’t be as much fun.


Because I believe so firmly in the worth of the support staff, the sidekicks, I made sure Ellen McKenzie had one, her aunt, Mary McGill. In And Murder For Dessert, it’s Aunt Mary who saves Ellen from getting stabbed to death with some pretty fancy work with a frying pan. In the latest Ellen McKenzie book, Murder Half Baked, its Aunt Mary once more who, with quirky humor and practical wisdom, helps put Ellen on the path to finding a murderer. But she does more than that. She props Ellen up when she is sagging under the weight of the many problems I’ve thrown at her, and she backs her up when Ellen puts herself in danger. We all need someone like Mary McGill in our lives.


So, writers, let those supporting characters loose. Let them wander through your books at will. They’ll make the story more interesting and your protagonist as well. And, readers. Nominations are open. Who is your favorite Sidekick? And why? Fictional or not, your choice. Let’s hear from you.


Kathleen Delaney

And Murder For Dessert

Murder Half Baked 

Both available in soft cover at an indie bookstore near you.