Interview by Samuel Elliott
Prior to focusing full-time on penning books, Laura Greaves spent twenty years in journalism, earning several illustrious awards for her work throughout her career. Ever influenced by her lifelong love of dogs, fused with her unquenchable passion for writing, Greaves utilised her contacts and experience as an editor for Dogs Life magazine to commence producing a series of books catering to fellow doggy enthusiasts. In addition to her books focusing on amazing real-life dogs, she has also produced three romantic comedy novels. The card-carrying, self-proclaimed ‘crazy dog lady’ is the proud human of two Tollers (Nova Scotia Ducks Tolling Retrievers, a boy and a girl).
So, aside from being a proud ‘crazy dog lady’ – what initially drew you to the writing of Dogs With Jobs? It’s not your first foray into all things doggy-related is it?
No, it’s not, not by a long shot. [Laughs]
I wrote a book last year called Incredible Dog Journeys and, as the title would suggest, that was about dogs that have done incredible things and made incredible journeys. In the course of writing that book, I encountered so many amazing dogs that weren’t suitable to include in that particular one, but the stories were so amazing and uplifting that I knew I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to compile them and place them in another book.
What really struck me was the amazing jobs I found out about in the course of my research, not just the ones we tend to immediately think of, such as guide dogs and military police, although they are in the book for sure, but all these other jobs that I couldn’t imagine, like the dogs that chase birds away from planes, or the tiny Australian terrier that detects blood sugar in people with diabetes.
So did you venture out all around the world to find these remarkable stories? Or did people start coming to you to tell you about their amazing pooches?
It was a little bit of both to be honest, I’ve been involved in the dog world for quite a while now and that’s helped immensely. I was the editor of Dogs Life magazine and it was a great environment where I built connections with so many people united in all things doggy, lots of breeders, lots of people working in welfare and animal rescue, all of them, the loveliest people you could hope to meet, and I put the word out through this network and a lot of stories came in that way.
There was a lot of Googling too, but the weird thing I found with writing these books, was that once I started writing it, the universe started delivering these stories for me, maybe I was just more on the lookout, but a lot of them came to me in really serendipitous ways. Just when I was thinking there couldn’t be another amazing dog story, I would come across another one, it was really cool the way in which they all appeared like that.
Aside from having such a long history together, why do you think that humans and dogs have formed such a tight bond?
I mean, I think the loyalty factor is certainly one of the main reasons. That’s a quality that has been built up over thousands of years. Plus, dogs are incredibly intelligent for a start, and there’s really no end to what they can do if they are trained properly. So, from a human perspective we appreciate what we can see from a dog, because history has proven that any job humans can dream up, dogs can do, their potential is truly limitless.
But that said, I find myself often asking what it is that dogs get out of it? Because they really seem to get so little, compared to us, I think that there is some inherent part of them that wants to please and I think much of it is based on companionship, so I do think it is a mutually beneficially relationship, but that we definitely get more out of it.
Do you think that humanity has started to love and appreciate dogs more in recent times? Or has it remained the same since they were first domesticated? What do you think has changed, if anything?
I think it’s probably more acceptable now to really love your pets and being unashamed and unapologetic about loving them. Certainly in years gone by, dogs were not so much a part of the family but more of a utility, not that different from a draught horse or a cow for milking for a farming family. In years gone by, dogs were kind of just there to work, although, the funny thing is, we’ve always had them as companions.
Also, the pet industry has really grown exponentially really in the last fifteen, twenty years, like a staggering amount, which has been really beneficial in a few reasons, particularly that it’s increased the attention on the treatment of dogs, and yeah, even the spoiling of dogs. [Laughs.]
I think this change might be also related to the changing of the size and dynamics of the average family too. Many families are smaller now, people aren’t necessarily marrying and having kids, so dogs can provide a certain companionship and friendship and love really that previous generations might’ve pursued or tried to obtain through the more traditional methods. Plus, dogs give us that unconditional love and who doesn’t want that?
I think in maybe the past few years we’ve just come to really notice how great they are. It’s difficult to judge though, because I’ve always been a crazy dog person. [Laughs]
I think it’s just now more cool and acceptable to be an out and proud crazy dog person.
With stories such as that of Figo, who selflessly dived in front of an oncoming bus to save his human – do you think that in many respects dogs are equal to, or even superior to humans in terms of their disposition and what they are willing to do?
I don’t know if I’d say that exactly. But, I do believe that dogs are more present and in the moment, they don’t analyse things from every possible angle the way humans tend to do, they operate more on instinct, so they will just throw themselves into a situation without necessarily thinking through the consequences, but that’s again all underpinned by their love for us.
Some people argue dogs don’t love, but I don’t think that’s true, I think it’s a combination of being more present, not having the myriad of distractions that humans have every day and having that animal instinct of being less hesitant of throwing themselves in a situation. You could argue that that is a dopey way, as there are more dire consequences, but for me, I think that shows that they are innately built with this all-encompassing sense of love and loyalty which I wish more humans had too.
Plus, they are really cute and that helps.
Can you tell us a bit more about this relatively new practice of children reading to dogs? Have you found this becoming a widespread institution within Australia?
It’s an amazing concept and it is happening all over the world! Yeah, it is still relatively in its infancy as a concept, but it has definitely been catching on.
So, one of the dogs in my book, Holly, is a Story Dog and what they do is go into school and sit there with kids who are struggling with literacy and the thinking goes that a dog is really a non-judgemental, friendly figure. They aren’t going to harshly correct you if you stumble, or don’t pronounce a word properly, they aren’t going to embarrass you in front of the class, they are just going to sit there and show you affection in their unique doggy way.
What has been shown to happen with this, is that the children are able to react in a truly positive way to a dog’s presence and their reading has been improving an astonishing amount. It’s just having that kind of calm, non-judgemental presence that has really helped and the results have spoken for themselves during the course of my research and beyond – kids have progressed in leaps and bounds because of this.
Story Dogs has really taken off in Australia and the impact is great not only just for the kids, but also for the dogs, because many of them that have been hired in this role are rescue dogs that haven’t had the best lives. I always love hearing stories of dogs getting a second chance and with them benefiting children in this way, it’s awesome, it’s a win-win.
In regards to Truman the running dog, you make mention of how his owner carefully monitors him during the lengthy (50+ km runs) to make sure he is not only coping but happy – do you think that owners should be careful about not putting too much of a strain on their pooches? What would constitute this?
Yes, yes definitely. Owners really need to be mindful of their dogs. It is not recommended by experts that you run with any dog before they are 12-18 months of age, because the growth plates are not yet fully matured and that can seriously injure them, really cause irreparable damage, not to mention serious pain. I recommend that any owner should consult with their vet before they start running. That said, the owner of TruMan (Petra) is hyper-vigilant about the health and well-being or TruMan – they are a shining example of an attentive doggy owner that really not only adores their pooch, but takes the best care of them too.
Definitely, definitely consult with your vet to make sure your dog is healthy and up to the task before ever considering running distances, long or short, doesn’t matter, please. There’s no harm in consulting a professional and a lot of harm in not doing so.
Since the advent and immense popularity of social-media, do you think that it has proven beneficial to both dog and human alike, such as the case with Rowdy bringing awareness to vitiligo?
Yeah, for sure. I think social media has been fantastic for a number of causes that dogs are involved in and it’s not just about raising awareness of really important, sometimes really confronting issues but there’s also the fun factor and the sweet factor.
Like Tuna [another dog featured in Dogs With Jobs], he doesn’t have a huge social media presence because he’s championing any particular issue or cause, but because he’s cute and goofy and it’s nice to have a nice moment and appreciate a sweet dog in your day. I honestly think that even just seeing cute animals, cute dogs, really improves someone’s day and brightens their outlook and that can be contagious, spreading through everyone’s day and really have a lasting benefit to society anyway.
Yeah, dogs like Rowdy with those kind of causes are doing great work, because there is still negative perceptions around rescue dogs and so these dogs out there doing these amazing things also really dispels these sort of myths, showing them, bringing them to the public eye through social media.
It’s allowing for great change.
Out of the 24 astonishing stories that you’ve covered and compiled into Dogs With Jobs – was there anyone in particular that was your favourite and if so, why was it your favourite?
I do love Truman, because I’m a runner myself. But in terms of probably one of the most memorable and amazing, purely based on what they have achieved, I think that might go to Molly Polly, the diabetes alert and mental health support dog.
She’s like this tiny, 5kg dog and she’s absolutely tireless, working around the clock, non-stop for such a good cause. Plus, she loves what she does and I think that that’s amazing, that such a tiny dog has had such a beneficial impact on those girls lives, it’s so great. A true testament to the beautiful spirit of dogs.
Do you have any particular favourite breed of dog? If so, why?
Well, naturally I am partial to Tollers [Nova Scotia Ducks Tolling Retrievers], because I do have two of those. But I grew up with West Highland terriers, my family always had them, and they are lovely to. For me though, it’s not really a particular breed per se, but just a dog’s unique personality, so that can mean anything, be they mix breed or a rescue dog, anything. I really dog love them all!
If you could pick one characteristic innate in most doggies and implant that into human beings – what would it be?
Wow! I think it would be that presence, that selfless presence that they have. It’s just the fact that dogs are so untroubled, by the wrath of stuff that humans wind themselves up about, they are free of all that emotional baggage, they live in the moment and love life to its fullest.
Like when I go to the park walking with my dog, I feel guilty about not writing emails or not being at work, whereas they don’t. So just that ability to be in that moment and enjoy the joy of that truly, without being distracted or thinking about something else, that would be nice.
How did find the writing of Dogs With Jobs compared to some of your other work, such as your romantic comedy novels?
For me, writing non-fiction is easier than fiction, even though there’s definitely much more work involved in terms of interviews and research. The stories themselves are easier to write and I think that’s because I’ve been a journalist for twenty years, so writing this book is like writing twenty-five feature articles.
Whereas, fiction writing can definitely be harder for me and slower going. I do love writing both, and each has their own challenge, but the non-fiction definitely flows more easily. That could all be traced back to loving dogs and not finding it a chore to write about them non-stop!
Are you working on anything at the moment?
Yeah, I sure am. Maybe it’s unsurprising by now, but I’m writing another dog book, I know, who would’ve guessed? [Laughs]
It’s called The Rescuers andit’s all about stories of mutual rescue, with that meaning dogs that were rescued and in turn rescued someone else. Again the stories I’m finding are like – wow, I can’t believe dogs would do this for people! It’s really h