“How do your dogs inspire you?” Waggleview™ with author Shonna Milliken Humphrey
The Dog Owner: Shonna Milliken Humphrey, author
Shonna Milliken Humphrey’s nonfiction has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Salon, and Down East magazine. Her forthcoming book, Dirt Roads and Diner Pie (Central Recovery Press, 2016) chronicles a month-long road trip through the southern United States as she and her husband struggle with the long-reaching effects of the child sex abuse he experienced as a student at the American Boychoir School.
Shonna’s debut novel, Show Me Good Land was a semi-finalist for the VCU Cabell First Novel Award. Shonna holds an MFA in Writing and Literature from Bennington College. She lives in Maine.
Dog type and Name:
Waylon, 3-legged Pyrenees & Golden mix
Willie, Wire-haired Terrier & Toller mix
Q: Why did you choose these dogs?
It’s a funny story about Willie. I love Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers. My husband Trav and I are kid-free, and I always said we’d make the final decision about parenthood when I turned 40. Trav and I would discuss the merits of “Baby or Toller puppy,” and just before my 40th birthday, I read about an available young Toller mix living less than one hour from my house. It felt like a sign. It turns out that Willie is much, much more Terrier than Toller, but that’s ok. Willie is a better match for our family than any baby or purebred Toller.
Waylon came to us by way of a Tennessee highway this past June. He’d been hit by a car, brought to a shelter, rescued by Big Fluffy Dog Rescue (www.bigfluffydogs.com) and, ultimately, had surgery to remove his busted leg. We have a soft spot for critters with special needs, so when Trav saw this enormous beauty on the Big Fluffy Dogs website, we knew he was meant to be ours.
Q: Do you talk to your dogs? If so, what do you talk about?
Willie and I often talk about his excellent qualities, which include his handsomeness and long list of skills. He is very vain and his regular beauty treatments with the comb provide us the opportunity to discuss these important topics.
Waylon is less vain, but much more esoteric. He’s interested in Buddhist philosophies, so we often talk about stillness and positive energy.
Q: If they could talk to you, what would they say?
Willie would first express his disappointment about limiting his off-leash beach runs to Sunday afternoons, the backyard stockade fence that restricts his travels, and our family’s negative reaction when he snacks from the litter box. Willie has very exacting standards, with precise expectations. Then he would request more cheese. Willie is very much like a cat.
Waylon? Waylon would probably ask to go for a ride.
Q: If your dogs had a job or career, what would they be doing?
Waylon would be a massage therapist and Reiki practitioner. He has an uncanny talent for making people feel good, releasing stress and tension, inducing mindfulness, and raising positive energy levels.
Willie would develop a career as a music and theater critic. He would probably rate our home situation just three stars on Yelp.
Q: What lesson in life have your dogs taught you?
- If you are interested, introduce yourself.
- When you love something, really roll around in the experience.
- Family matters most; Protect family.
- Intention is important. So is forgiveness.
- Stuff is replaceable.
Q: How do your dogs inspire you?
Both Willie and Waylon had traumatic physical and emotional injuries before becoming part of our family, but with time and patience, they eventually felt safe enough to be happy. That is, interestingly, one reason why I wrote Dirt Roads and Diner Pie: to help people know that even after experiencing humanity’s worst, with time and patience, life can get better.
Q: Where is your dog’s favorite place to go with you?
Higgins Beach in Scarborough, Maine. Dogs are allowed off-leash after Labor Day, and for Willie and Waylon, it is the best of Disneyworld, the Bunny Ranch, and Burning Man all in one location. It’s basically their Xanadu.They ride home exhausted and generally take a few days to recover.
Q: Who or what do your dogs find the most interesting?
Willie is a natural traveler who appreciates a good fence challenge. If he was to complete an online dating profile, he would note his squirrel-chasing skills and talent for hearing the sound of cheese unwrapping from anywhere in the house.
Waylon’s passion is chewable objects. Notable chews include cereal boxes, an expensive leather wallet, a heart-shaped Modern Love essayist bracelet from Daniel Jones’ book tour, and a pair of shoes I once laid out on the evening before a morning funeral.
Q: What is the most annoying thing other dog owners do?
This is easy: Expecting little kids to interact with our dogs at the beach or dog park. It is a HUGE pet peeve. While Willie and Waylon are generally ok with small people, nobody likes being touched by a stranger who is shrieking and flailing their arms around. I wish parents—particularly parents who also have dogs—would enforce basic rules. It would help keep everyone safe. We leash the dogs up when we see children, and I often wish parents could take a similar approach.
Q: What does being a responsible dog owner mean to you?
Responsibility is such a loaded phrase, but to me it means providing high quality and abundant food, access to regular medical care, basic grooming and cleanliness, love, and exercise. Also, an understanding that a dog is family, and family does not get left behind or abandoned, either emotionally or physically. Trav and I have been responsible for dogs with epilepsy and diabetes, a biter, and an arthritic dog with mobility issues—none of these were “easy,” but we accepted the responsibility and did right be each of these pets, to include the heartbreaking process of a pain-free, peaceful, doctor-assisted death.
Q: Do you ever dress up your dogs? If so, as what?
Oh no. Willie is a purist with sensory issues, and he feels like his fur is beautiful enough, as is. For amputees like Waylon, plus-sized dress-up options are tough to find. Also, Waylon prefers the freedom and flexibility of a nude lifestyle.
Q: How have your dogs changed your life?
Before having dogs, neither Trav nor I ever used to pick up poop from the ground and carry it with us in little bags.
Q: Does your dogs have a philosophy of life?
Focus on what’s around you and within you in the present moment. Start there.
Q: I love my dogs because they represent everything that is fundamentally good and kind. They strip the bullshit away and reduce life to the essentials: good food, warm and comfortable shelter, rest, and play. That’s their purpose, and that’s all we really need. That’s also—fundamentally speaking—love, isn’t it?
Q: Have you ever made dog treats for your dog? If so, please share your recipe.
Slicing mozzarella sticks probably doesn’t count.
My mother-in-law stuffs plastic Kongs with peanut butter, freezes them, and gives them to Willie and Waylon before bedtime. They love visiting.
WAGGLEVIEW™: These interviews are focused on woman leaders in business, the community, or at home. My hope in doing this is to present remarkable and respected women in their community with their beloved pets. Who can resist reading about dogs and what these women do? This is a platform for women to display their talents; their own business, a new book, a deeply loved passion for a charity or their own job. It also shows their love for their dog!
Thank you Shonna for taking the time to participate in the Waggleview™.
Please comment below.
How do your dogs inspire you?