We’ve had our cat since she was the size of my palm. She’s now almost 12 and, while small for a cat, is much bigger than my palm.
After I rescued her, I worked for one week and then went on a leave of absence during my pregnancy. She got used to having me (or rather my lap) all to herself for 9 months. Then came a screaming ‘thing’ that quickly started to move and chase after her. To this day, the cat still hates the kid. But the cat as been my buddy, and was happy when I left work once again to stay home. She even wrote a post for me once here on Across the Board.
Then, about a year ago, we got a puppy.
We weren’t sure how the cat would react to the dog, but it’s been better than we anticipated. There are even times when the cat will initiate the playing.
Having both in the house has given me the opportunity to observe them closely. I love their little personalities—how in some ways they are very similar but mostly they are very different. I then got to thinking about pets in books. Out of the books I’ve read recently, very few had pets included. When there was a pet, it was usually a dog and only sometimes a cat.
Including pets in fictional stories should not be overlooked. Here are 3 good reasons why you should consider it.
1. Pets add a layer of realism.
According to the Pet Products Association, 62 percent of Americans own at least one pet. That means a good majority of your readers are likely to be pet owners, or at least owned a pet at some point in their life. Giving your protagonist a pet will make them seem more realistic and approachable to your reader.
2. Pets can enhance a character’s personality.
There have been several studies* that look at the personalities of pet owners, which can be applied to fictional characters as well. Using pets can be a very effective way of highlighting your character’s personality using the old ‘show don’t tell’ philosophy. I’ve summarized some of the more common pets below and traits they can help bring out in your characters.
In general, dog owners are considered to be outgoing, loyal, and honest. Dogs also require a lot of attention and responsibility, so if your character is unreliable, a dog is not the right pet to include!
Cat owners tend to be more introverted, adventurous, creative, and sensitive. Give your independent and highly active character a cat. They’re pretty self-sufficient so your busy on-the-go protagonist won’t be tied down.
Fish owners have a reputation for being the most content of all pet owners. They are non-materialistic and optimistic.
3. Pets can add depth to your story.
Don’t just use pets as character enhancements. Get creative and use them to help drive certain plot elements. Have your pets cause mayhem, interject humor, create trauma, provide healing—the opportunities are endless. Some examples for the types of pets listed above are:
- A dog can allow your tougher-than-nails hero show a moment of vulnerability. A loyal dog is a perfect outlet for a character who doesn’t like to let his guard down.
- If you’re going with a cat, use their reputation of sass and an ‘I’ll do what I want’ attitude to your advantage. Maybe the cat pees in the shoes of your heroine’s new boyfriend.
- Fish might seem like a boring add to a fictional story, but throw in a beautiful fish tank and let it lead moments of retrospection for your character.
There are many more pet options available than what I’ve listed here—birds, reptiles, bunnies, hamsters, horses, ferrets . . . Don’t just resort to a dog or cat every time you want to include a pet in your novel. Get into character and figure out which pet is best. Do your research just as thoroughly as you would any other aspect of your book. There’s loads of information online, but you should also consider a trip to your local pet store. Ask the experts some questions, or what they would recommend for someone that fits the description of your character. You might even be able to hold the animal you are considering.
So don’t forget to include a little furry (or scaly) friend in your next novel!