Thursday, September 24, 2015

Putting A Hobby to Good Use

Welcome Sheila Boneham to Killer Hobbies today!  Sheila is one of my favorite mystery writers--and an avid participant in animal sports!  Tell us more, Sheila!

Tracy Weber

Janet MacPhail, the 50-something protagonist of my Animals in Focus mystery series, is not me (and I’m definitely not her!), but we do share some common interests, including a love for activities that include our furry companions. I have competed in animal sports since I was thirteen, beginning with horses and “downsizing” as an adult to dogs. Janet skipped the horses, but she does “play” in organized activities with her Australian Shepherd, Jay, and her orange tabby, Leo. (Yes, the cat is a competitor, too!) She’s already started training Pixel, the kitten. Luckily, the man in her life, Tom Saunders, is also into canine sports with his black Labrador Retriever, Drake, and his new yellow Lab puppy, Winnie. If he weren’t, he and Janet might never see each other!

Although we could see each of the disciplines as a separate hobby, I tend to lump them all together under the “dog and cat activities” banner, because Janet and Tom are off to train or compete in at least one of them almost every day (as are many of the people I know who compete, especially with dogs).

Sheila’s real-life Jay retrieving a dumbbell over the high jump in obedience competition.]
Each of the Animals in Focus books gives glimpses of multiple activities, but one or two get a bit more attention in each book. In Drop Dead on Recall, the book that launched the series, Janet finds herself in the middle of a murder investigation after a co-competitor keels over at an obedience trial. The Money Bird takes us to field-training sessions for retrievers—picture lots of wet and happy dogs. In Catwalk, Janet and the critters train and compete in canine and feline—yes, cats!—agility. And in Shepherd’s Crook, new in 2015, Janet and Jay give sheepherding a try. In real life, competitors may occasionally have homicidal thoughts at these events, but animal lovers tend more toward mutual support. But in the books, murder and mayhem seem to have become part of the scene for Janet and her friends!

For the most part, Janet participates in dog and cat sports for fun, and she finds the many hours of training are useful mainly for the chance to share quality time with Jay and Leo, to get a fair amount of regular exercise, and to have the pleasure of living with well-trained, well-socialized animals. But one field of training has turned out to be a life-saver in more than one of the books: tracking.
is a safe sport even for puppies. Here is Sheila’s Lab Lily tracking a “missing person” at 12 weeks. She earned her AKC Tracking Dog title at one year old.
All healthy dogs have powerful schnozzes, of course, so when we “train” a dog to track, we are really teaching her to follow the one scent among many that we want her to follow, and to persist in following that scent even when conditions make it difficult. Most people think of police and military dogs, and search-and-rescue dogs, when they think of tracking dogs, but tracking is also a sport in which dogs can earn titles through various canine registries. I’ve enjoyed tracking with several of my own Aussies and Labs, and as Janet has said more than once, it’s a activity that requires us to trust our dogs completely since we have no idea what their brilliant noses are snuffling up.

That trust becomes essential, and the hobby life-and-death useful, when beloved animals go missing (Leo in Drop Dead on Recall, a very pregnant cat in Catwalk, a Shetland Sheepdog in Shepherd’s Crook) and Jay puts on his tracking harness to search for them. Does he succeed? I guess you’ll have to read the books to find out!

Shepherd’s Crook (October 8, 2015 – available now for pre-order)

Animal photographer Janet MacPhail has just arrived at a sheepherding competition with her Australian Shepherd, Jay, when she learns that two-dozen sheep have disappeared. Police think the animals have wandered off, but Janet is convinced they’ve been stolen. 

Janet knows she should leave the snooping to the police while she attends to her own problems—new living arrangements, her mom’s wedding plans, puppy and kitten antics, and extremists bent on keeping people from having pets. But when a livestock handler turns up dead, the police and a pair of thugs pay Janet way more attention than she likes. Setting out to find answers, Janet puts herself in the killer’s crosshairs.

Buy links: Midnight Ink; IndieBound; Amazon; Barnes & Noble

Sheila Webster Boneham is the author of the Animals in Focus Mystery series. Drop Dead on Recall, the first in the series, won the 2013 Dog Writers Association of America Award in Fiction, Mystery, or Humor, and the second book, The Money Bird, was a finalist in 2014. Sheila is also the author of 17 nonfiction books, six of which have won major awards from the Dog Writers Association of America and the Cat Writers Association. For the past two decades Boneham has been showing her Australian Shepherds and Labrador Retrievers in various canine sports. She has also bred top-winning Aussies, and founded rescue groups for Aussies and Labs. Boneham is a 2015-16 North Carolina Arts Council Fellow and resides in Wilmington, N.C. For more information, go to


Linda O. Johnston said...

Thanks for joining us at Killer Hobbies, Sheila! I love your stories as well as your dedication to animals, especially dogs--and your knowledge about them!

Liz Straw said...

I need to catch up on your books! I'm behind in reading. While i am not into competitive sports, I have a Border Collie mix that is a joy to train. Never had a dog this smart before. He is 5 now and we work on some things every day.

Sheila Boneham said...

Thanks, Linda! I'm delighted to be here!

Sheila Boneham said...

Liz, BCs and similar herding dogs are brilliant and oh so happy to learn and please us. Enjoy your dog! And thanks for dropping by.