September 27, 2016 – If you love animal stories and especially ones about pets, you won’t be able to put down Fiona Harrison’s debut novel A Pug Called Percy. It’s a very contemporary, heartwarming… ‘tail’… of an adorable rescue pug and his new family. Pet News Today caught up with Fiona to find out a little more about her, and how she created her canine character.
Did a particular animal you met when you volunteered in animal shelters inspire Percy’s character?
“There were so many wonderful characters that I met, I have to be honest and say I frequently wanted to take them all home with me! There was Max the spaniel who liked to perform tricks for treats, Cassie the terrier who yapped every time you spoke to her, convinced she was talking to you. Then there was Sheba the tabby who was a real mother hen, taking care of the cat she shared a ‘room’ with by ensuring he ate before she did! Then there was my own cat Pico, who I was matched with through software that’s similar to the technology used in dating websites. The moment I met him I was bowled over by the love and affection he showed to humans, resting his paw on their arm as if to hold hands melted my heart I’m afraid, and he just had to come home.”
Why were you drawn to writing about a pug?
“Because it’s impossible not to look at a pug without going awwwww! No, in all seriousness I’ve come across many pugs and always loved the fact they are known for being companion animals. They like company, love humans and are known to do anything for their owners, which made them the perfect breed for this particular story. Other than that I later found out that they’re fairly curious creatures, known for being a bit stubborn but they’re very clever, affectionate and resilient. There’s a pug who lives near me called Angel who suffered a spinal injury that affected her back paws. As a result she’s been fitted with a sort of makeshift wheelchair that supports her hind legs. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than seeing her run around the park, a determined look in her eye not to give up as she plays with her doggy pals.”
Recent surveys have revealed that pugs, along with other so-called ‘flat-faced’ dog breeds, are at a higher risk of being abandoned or given up by their owners. Was this something you observed while volunteering?
“It was definitely something I was aware of while researching this book. As I understand it people often overlook the wonderful qualities pugs have because they are concerned about their gasiness and breathing difficulties. It’s true pugs have these issues, but many pure breeds have health complications, and in my opinion I’m not sure other breeds are tarnished in the same way as pugs. The key to it all, as one pug owner said to me, is to do your research and set aside the time to deal with those issues. For example, pugs will need to have the folds in their faces regularly cleaned which in turn will help with the breathing, they also can’t get too hot or cold in the winter but they do like a good run around so you have to think about fitting all that in, such as the best time to walk them and so on. Just as with any pure breed though, this is where health insurance can pay dividends.”
Do you think enough people do enough preparation before getting a dog, eg research into a particular breed or cross breed to ensure it fits with a person or family’s lifestyle, getting adequate pet insurance, looking at potential health issues that many pure breed dogs have?
“No I really don’t and I have found myself becoming quite frustrated with this, particularly as I carried out research for Percy and looked at why dogs were being abandoned. Many pure breed dogs had been abandoned because families failed to consider the particular quirks of that breed and the care they would need as a result. Dogs are such wonderful, intelligent creatures they deserve the very best love and attention and when people fail to recognise that and throw them away because it simply gets a bit too much, I’m afraid I do get rather cross. We have relationships with our animals and they deserve our love and respect because they simply cannot advocate for themselves. I will say though that the shelters are absolutely wonderful as they never ever judge anyone for dropping an animal off with them. As far as they’re concerned there’s simply no point getting cross with someone for abandoning an animal as that way they may be tempted to leave them on the street or worse. At least this way if people can take them to a shelter they can be properly cared for and I know many shelters where they want to encourage this message. I’ll just get cross on their behalf!”
I understand you currently have a cat… do you have conversations with your cat the way Percy’s new family did with him?
“Yes, I have a cat that I adopted from Battersea and my husband jokes that I love him more than him! His name is Pico, he’s a black and white moggy, about four years old, there is nothing pure bred about him and I would say he’s my very best friend. I always talk to him about anything and everything, and he inspired a fair few plot ideas too! I’m also fairly confident that he understands what I’m saying. Pico is also incredibly affectionate, and there have been occasions when I’ve been going through a tough time and he’s slipped his paws around my neck and given me a proper cuddle just when I’ve needed it – he’s amazing.”
Percy’s health didn’t come up in the book, despite pugs’ predispositions to breathing problems, was there a particular reason you decided not to introduce that?
“I do mention the concerns people had about his gasiness etc before he was adopted at the beginning, but in all honesty I felt there were so many health concerns for that poor family to cope with. I didn’t want to throw anything else at them but a key message was about how families support each other through sickness. Also, through my research I discovered that although breathing problems etc can be an issue for pugs it’s not always a problem and I wanted people to try and see them as normal dogs rather than problematic dogs.”
How did Percy’s story unfold as you wrote it? For example, did Percy sit by you and did the story write itself, or did want to highlight how healing having an animal in a family can be?
“Percy became incredibly real to me, and actually still is! When I sat and wrote his story it was a bit like watching it all play out in front of me as if it were a film and I just knew what this little character wanted to say and do. As the book evolved, it became important to me to highlight certain issues such as how wonderful animals are, how they are important members of a family and should be treated with nothing but care and respect. I also wanted people to think about how the animals themselves might feel when they find themselves in a shelter, and the potential issues they may suffer as a result, such as fear of abandonment. Animals do more for us humans than people give them credit for and it’s time to pay testament to that.”
Are you planning to write a sequel or other animal books?
“I adored writing Percy’s story and would jump at the chance to write a sequel. I have already got a number of ideas but I think we’ll have to see if the great British public love him as much as I do.”
A Pug Like Percy by Fiona Harrison is published on 3 November (HQ, £9.99) and is available to pre-order now.
Main photo: Fiona and Pico.