There are many wonderful books out there speaking to all variety of things “dog, whether a plethora of training books, dog as road trip companion novels, photography books to grace the coffee table, and so forth. But once in a while, a story comes out that gives one pause to consider a subject in a way even the most devout canine advocate may come away touched to the core.
Shadow, written by Aris Austin, tells the tale from the dog’s viewpoint in a way that is engaging, thoughtful, offers humor, and brings to life how an animal in a shelter may view their world. Of additional note, the hero of the story is a senior dog who has been returned to the same shelter from which his owner rescued him some eleven years earlier.
We had the opportunity to chat with Aris about Shadow and learn more about the why’s behind this powerful story. As well, the beautiful animals featured throughout this story are from Love and Second Chances and links with information about each dog is under their photo. To learn more about Love and Second Chances, please visit their website and Facebook page.
Life with Dogs: What inspired you to write the story? Was it a particular incident or experience? Something else?
Aris Austin: The idea for the story actually originally came from a viral photo on Facebook. This senior dog had just been abandoned at a shelter, and she was just standing there, staring at the last place she’d seen her family. You could see the tension in her posture and her face, and it was just so heartbreaking. A few weeks later, I was daydreaming (in the middle of class–oops!) and the beginnings of an idea for a story came to me. I had a limited outline scribbled into my notebook by the end of class that day, and I built the story from that outline.
LWD: As Shadow is the center of the story, how did you imagine his voice? What he felt and said?
AA: I always sort of imagined Shadow’s voice as distinctly dog-like, but filled with all the wisdom and intelligence he’s gathered in his life. He always has this innocent and naive aspect to his personality, but it’s tempered with a lifetime of accumulated knowledge.
LWD: Because the relationships between the characters are central to Shadow, how did you choose the characters you wanted to develop? Did you find the relationships naturally developing as you wrote? Did you model any of the characters, including Shadow, off people and animals you know or had seen and imagined their own stories?
AA: The relationship between Shadow and Annie is actually one of my favorite aspects of the book. During the writing process, it grew into so much more than I had originally outlined. I originally had a pretty vague idea of a shelter worker growing really close to Shadow, but I didn’t plan on all the times Annie really poured her heart out to Shadow. It turned into something where she needed him as much as he needed her, and it was so much fun to write.
Shadow definitely took on a life of his own, but parts of his behavior were pretty heavily based off of my partner’s dog, Kira. She had this wonderful smile, and walks were one of her favorite things in the world. Plus, if your face was anywhere close to being within her reach, you could guarantee she was going to lick it.
LWD: Did you experience any particularly poignant moment(s) during your writing that elevated the entire experience for you, as a author?
AA: My favorite part about writing is when the story decides to take things in its own direction, and that happened quite a bit with Shadow. Working from such a general outline gave me a lot of wiggle room for the story, and there were quite a few days where a chapter ended up differently than I intended. That kind of experience was so special to me while writing, because I got to see the plot unfold as I went–just like a reader would.
LWD: What was the feeling when you finished the the novel? Did it have an impact on you, personally?
AA: I absolutely cried while writing Shadow. I actually think I cried on the rough draft and the first two times I went through to edit, even though I knew what was going to happen. I think I had a little bit of a soft spot for senior dogs before, but writing this book made that spot bigger than I ever thought possible. Imagining how Shadow really felt at different points in the story forced me to come to terms with how awful some of the things we do to dogs are–even though they’re supposed to be our best friends.
LWD: When people read the book, what are the expectations you have of what they will take away?
AA: My biggest hope for this novel is that readers will want to make things change! I hope they’ll choose to help senior dogs, either by adopting them from shelters or by talking with their friends and family to change the conversation about dogs. My big dream is that Shadow will become popular enough to cause a cultural shift, with the help of readers who choose to challenge the idea that a younger dog is somehow more valuable, and that animals are simply objects we can dispose of when we’re tired of them.
LWD: Is there anything unexpected that came out of your writing either on a personal level or for others who may have contributed? You also have a mission tied to this story. Can you share a bit about what that is and how you came to choose to donating a portion of the proceeds?
AA: Like I mentioned earlier, a lot of unexpected things came out of this book. I expected it to be shorter than it ended up being, but I found myself more and more dedicated to the story as time went on. It grew my love for senior dogs in ways I never expected, which is how I ended up deciding to donate a portion of the book’s proceeds to Love and Second Chances. I want the story to change the way society thinks about dogs, but I also realized that I could use sales to generate money for an organization dedicated to directly changing the lives of dogs. It’s a smaller-scale way to cause change, but helping even a few dogs is meaningful to the dogs it helps.
LWD: Perhaps the most important question…do you have a dog?
AA: I have actually never lived with a dog! My mom was allergic growing up, and since leaving home, I haven’t lived anywhere that allows dogs. I’ve been close to different dogs throughout my life though, such as my childhood friends’ dogs. I’ve also spent lots of time with my partner’s dogs, Kira and Kashi. Kashi is actually on the cover of the book, with some photoshopping to make her look older. She always looks sad when she’s sleepy, so I took a picture of her one day while she was getting ready for a nap. I love animals of every species, so I certainly plan to adopt a wonderful senior dog as soon as I live somewhere that allows them!