A fictional haven called Dog Island is the setting for Don Katnik’s story, “The Stepping-Off Place” (Bark, Summer 2010 ), which was one of three finalists in our first-ever fiction contest. A wildlife biologist, Katnik shares his 200-year-old home in Maine with his wife Misty and dogs Copper “The Rocket” and Jedzia Dax. Katnik, 44, took a break from writing, home-improvement projects and dancing (ballroom with Misty, free-style with the Jedzia and Copper) to answer a few questions about Dog Island and fictional canines.
TheBark.com: How did you get the idea for Dog Island?
Don Katnik: So often now places advertised as “dog friendly” are really just “dog tolerant.” It is becoming harder to find places where they are truly welcome. Dog Island was inspired by a real island (pictured in the photo) near us that is one of the few places our dogs can be off-leash. Sadly, there are plans to put a marina there, which will ruin it for the dogs. I wish I could buy it and make it a real Dog Island, but I can’t so I wrote a story about the idea instead.
Have dogs shown up in any of your other stories?
Yes, usually as characters with roles rather than just props for the humans. In a novel I’m working on, Edge (based on a real-life search and rescue dog) plays a pivotal part in solving a quadruple homicide. One of the first stories I ever wrote was about an elderly man who crashes into a steep, forested ravine. He lingers for three days, then succumbs to his injuries and isn’t found until his canine companion—who refused to leave while his old friend was still alive—goes back up to the road alone. It’s called “Temporary Road” and is based on something that really happened in northeastern Washington.
Have you had your fiction published before?
Yes, but I fear short fiction is a dying art.
What sort of dogs are Jedzia and Copper?
Spoiled! Jedzia is a Shepherd-Boxer-something mix. She came from an animal shelter in Washington State. Copper is a Golden Retriever, but a little guy. We got him from a rescue organization in Massachussetts.
Do you have a favorite dog character in a novel, story, movie or painting?
I love the dog in Andrew Wyeth’s “Master Bedroom” painting (and was even inspired to have a local artist do a knock-off sketch substituting Jedzia on the bed). It’s a pretty fair representation of how she spends much of her time!
Who is your favorite writer?
Have to go with Stephen King. I love how he captures life’s little truisms, like in The Body: “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, did you?” Simple words, but profound in making you recognize one of the biggest differences between being a grown up versus a kid.
Have you ever entered a fiction contest before?
A few, but they were literary contests more interested in prose than plot. I didn’t do well.