Posted in Home

Agility With Coco by V. M. Burns

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away I used to compete with my dogs in canine performance events. It might not have been a different galaxy, but it feels like it. I had a toy poodle, Coco Chanel who was full of energy. Poodles are considered one of the smartest breeds, which is why they were often featured in circuses. Smart dogs are great, but they need a job. A smart dog without a job can get into a lot of trouble, and Coco was a smart dog who got into trouble. She needed an outlet for her boundless energy. That’s when I found Agility.

Agility is a sport where the handler (me) has to help my dog navigate through a timed obstacle course. To make things more challenging, dogs run off leash and the handler isn’t allowed to touch either the dog or the obstacle. In addition, no toys, treats or other incentives are allowed.

Agility consists of obstacles including things like jumps open and closed tunnels, weave poles and contact obstacles. Each dog/handler team must complete the course in order, within a predetermined time which varies by dog height and experience level. Novice dogs have easier courses which may not include more challenging obstacles like weave poles. Continue reading “Agility With Coco by V. M. Burns”

Posted in Creativity, Home

Your Furry Valentine by V.M. Burns

Valentine’s Day is a time for lovers. Heart shaped boxes of candy, flowers and greeting cards abound during this time set aside to celebrate the ones we love, but let’s not forget to show love to our four-legged companions too. Our pets provide love, comfort and amusement all year and deserve a little love too. Dogs don’t appreciate flowers or greeting cards (at least mine don’t) and chocolate is poisonous to canines. However, the THREE T’s, will win your pet’s heart every time.

TREATS – Everyone loves getting a treat on special occasions. In THE PUPPY WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, Lily Echosby and her canine companion, Aggie, start obedience training. Lily is instructed to bring treats that her dog will “sell her soul to get.” It may seem surprising, but not all treats are created equal. Carrots aren’t even in the same league as cookies in my book. For Valentine’s Day, kick things up a notch and swing by your local pet store and go for the good stuff. Or, better still, make your own. Baking dog biscuits can be surprisingly easy and your dogs will love them. Let’s face it, most dogs aren’t known for being particular and will eat just about anything. So, even if you’re not the world’s greatest chef, chances are good your dog will still eat whatever you bake.

TOYS – Like humans, most dogs enjoy toys. Whether it’s a new tennis ball for a retriever, or a new stuffed animal which has yet to be gutted and the squeaker removed. New toys can be a source of entertainment for your pet for anywhere from fifteen minutes to weeks, depending on the breed and the toughness of the toy. Similar to children who play with boxes rather than the toys that came in the box, dogs can be easily entertained without spending a ton of money. My poodle, Coco (Snickers in the Mystery Bookshop Mystery Series) enjoyed playing fetch for HOURS when she was a puppy. Continue reading “Your Furry Valentine by V.M. Burns”

Posted in Creativity, Home

Halloween Memories with Pets by V.M. Burns

Stories of razor blades in apples and tampered candy were prevalent when I was a kid and before individually sealed candy. My mom only let my sister and I eat candy from the homes of two or three neighbors whom she knew and trusted. Dressing up to visit three houses was hardly worth the effort, so I have no childhood memories of Halloween costumes (and no photos). As an adult, I found pleasure and created new memories of Halloween with my pets.

My first poodles, Coco and Cash were registered therapy assist dogs. What’s a therapy assist dog? It’s a dog that has been tested and certified by Therapy Dogs International, as having the temperament to go into hospitals, nursing homes and other institutions for companionship. Therapy assist dogs aren’t the same as highly trained service animals like Leader Dogs for the Blind. A therapy assist dog is tested to insure it can follow basic commands, won’t be skittish around crutches, wheelchairs or canes, isn’t aggressive and will allow people to pet them. Most times, the dogs provided comfort, nothing more. To a sick child in a hospital, comfort may be just what the doctor ordered.

Coco and Cash along with a few other dogs from Echo Dog Club went into nursing homes, hospitals, and other facilities weekly. We entertained people with a few tricks, Coco played a toy piano (well, she banged on it with her paws). My dog trainer’s dog rode a skate board. After the show, that’s when the petting, hugging and general dog love started. When those visits were near Halloween, the dogs wore costumes. A friend made Coco a pink poodle skirt. Continue reading “Halloween Memories with Pets by V.M. Burns”

Posted in Home

K-9 Police Team Blog by V.M. Burns

I’m Not A…

I’m not a doctor, but I play one on television was a catchphrase from a commercial that first aired in 1986. An actor from daytime soap opera, General Hospital, endorsed a cough syrup. The idea being that the actor didn’t have a medical degree, but you should still trust his recommendation because…well, he was a doctor on television. Seems ridiculous, but when I was asked to write a blog about a K-9 police unit, that commercial popped into my head. I’m NOT part of a K-9 police team, but I write about one in my new Dog Club Mystery series. So, if I’m not a K-9 officer, why should you believe what I write? Where do I get my facts? The answer is, research.

A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to attend the Writers Police Academy (WPA), an annual workshop specifically designed for mystery and crime writers. Classes were taught by police, FBI, CIA, Firemen and Paramedics. It was held at a community college where law enforcement officers and EMS were trained. I attended the workshop because I wanted to write cozy mysteries and I wanted to get the details right. At the time, I had specific questions about a different book. However, one of the presenters was Corporal Moser and his Canine partner, Rico, with the Greenville County Sheriff’s Office. I learned a ton of great information about K-9 units and that’s when the idea to include one in a future book first took shape.

In addition to the WPA workshop, I spent many years as a member of Echo Dog Club in Southwestern Michigan. Most of my time at the dog club was spent training and competing in performance events. However, one of the club members also did Canine Search and Rescue. One of Echo’s missions is to educate. So, the club often participated in demonstrations which allowed the public (or interested club members) to ask questions. I was intrigued to learn that search and rescue teams did not have to be members of the police force (at least not in Michigan). At one time, I even contemplated going through the training with my toy poodle, Cash. He liked to track and poodles are retrievers, so I thought he would excel at search and rescue. Unfortunately, Cash was hindered by an owner who is a coward when it comes to trekking through fields and streams where there are snakes, mice, spiders and…nature.

Continue reading “K-9 Police Team Blog by V.M. Burns”

Posted in Home

Why fall looks, sounds and smells like mysteries to me by V.M. Burns


I grew up in northern Indiana which experiences all four seasons. Although spring and summer are often short, too short; here and gone before you know it. Winters can be long (and bitterly cold). However, fall is perfection. It’s my favorite time of the year. Why do I love fall? Let me count the ways.

Fall, more than any other season, touches all the senses. The days start out cool, but warm up as the day progresses. Its sweater weather and sweaters hide a multitude of sins (aka lumps, bumps and belly rolls). There’s nothing like a nice, warm cable-knit sweater to conceal where the shorts and sundresses of summer exposed every inch of unwanted cellulite. As the weather cools, the sight of the leaves changing from shades of green to the darker hues of orange, burgundy, gold and even brown are a thing of beauty. The aroma of apples and cinnamon or pumpkin spice fills the air. The taste of fall is earthy and spicy and comprises a mixture of spicy chili, hot chocolate or the nutty flavor of pumpkin spice lattes, only available for a small period at this time of year. In my hometown, South Bend, Indiana, fall sounds like the crunch of fallen leaves under foot as you walk and the roar of the crowd from a Notre Dame Football game. On a clear day you need not watch television to know when ND scores. Continue reading “Why fall looks, sounds and smells like mysteries to me by V.M. Burns”

Posted in Home

Why Poodles? by V.M. Burns

When I was a kid my sister and I begged our parents to let us get a dog. We promised to feed, exercise, and care for the dog. We even promised to take on countless additional chores to sweeten the deal. While my dad was onboard with the idea, my mom was not. Eventually, we wore her down and she agreed to allow us to get a dog. However, there were conditions. The only breed of dog my mom would even consider was a poodle, a toy poodle.

The reason? Poodles don’t shed. My mom hated dog hair and absolutely refused any breed of dog that shed. So, given a choice between a toy poodle and no dog, we anxiously accepted. Our first poodle was a white toy named Candy. Candy was ten years old when we got her (toy breeds tend to live longer). She was smart and loving and everything we could have asked for and more. She wasn’t in the house one week before all of the rules (eg no feeding the dog table food, no allowing the dog on the furniture, etc.) were tossed out the window. It wasn’t uncommon to hear my mom in the kitchen telling Candy to bark if she wanted hamburger or chicken for dinner. Candy stayed off the furniture when my mom was home but wasn’t able to straighten the mussed bedspread where she would lay when left home alone. Nor was it unusual to find us sitting in the car outside of our house looking at Candy as she stood on the arm of the chair so she could look out of the window to watch for us after church. It wasn’t long before Candy became more than a pet to us. She was a member of our family. Continue reading “Why Poodles? by V.M. Burns”