Recently at the Random Writers Workshop in Bakersfield, Calif., we held a little creative nonfiction contest. Nothing big. I just promised to let the winner hijack my TNB account!

I got a stack of entries and carefully read through them. I wrote lots of chicken scratch in the margins. I crossed out phrases. I offered advice. I even begged for more detail and storytelling from some members.

One piece stood out. Joyce Kennedy’s “The Dog Whisperer” grabbed me as not only an interesting read, but one that enlightens us a little about who she is as not only an author, but someone who has special powers over talking to the beasties of the world.

I’ll let her tell you about it. Let the hijacking commence…


I’m known as an animal whisperer to my friends.

So I wasn’t too surprised when a friend stopped by one afternoon with a pet carrier. “Please, take her,” she begged. “No one seems to be able to do anything with her.”

Opening the carrier door, I looked in at a raggedy mutt that not even its mother could love. I wondered how anybody could mistreat such a small bundle of trembling flesh. The poor thing was so frightened that we had to drag it out by brute force.

It was such a skinny little mite, that overpowering its timidity wasn’t all that hard.

Now, I already have two dogs and two cats, so having another animal to communicate with wasn’t high on my list of things to do. Besides, I had just brought my old Tom, “Duke,” home from the vets after surgery. It seemed he’d been “catting” in one of the neighbor’s yards who owned a Pit Bull that managed to tear his face and throat open.

“I can always put him down,” the vet said when I complained about the cost of surgery.

“Over my dead body,” I stormed. “This is my ninja cat. He took out an intruder who broke into my house. I won’t let him down now.”

My time was already taken up with caring for Duke. But who could resist those terrified, owl eyes that looked up at me from the tattered remains of a puppy now stripped of all its fur. It had been so filthy and matted, nothing else could be done.

She fell at my feet, too frightened to stand or move.

I’ve always been a softy, and I didn’t disappoint my friend this time. I reached for the trembling bundle and cuddled it up under my chin. “I won’t hurt you,” I whispered. “Do you want to come live with us?”

About this time Tiger, my two-year-old, tailor-clipped Maltese, had to have a closer peek. His curiosity had him bounding waist high to get a better look. He kissed her face, checked out her badly infected ears, and greeted her with a few encouraging nudges.

“I think she’s deaf,” my friend explained. “She doesn’t respond when you call her. And she won’t mind. She’s just a bad girl.”

“Well, it’s obvious you don’t understand poodles,” I said. “They’re a vain animal and she’s in disgrace with all her hair cut off, but I can fix that.” Rummaging through my storage closet, I located the box of critter supplies, and pulled out several small sweaters. “Okay, little girl,” I coaxed her, “Which one do you want to wear?”

She timidly rose and checked out my offerings and finally indicated she liked the orange sweater. “But of course,” I exclaimed. “She has a new orange collar. Told you she was a special lady.”

Her ugliness now covered, she rose to follow my boys about the room, although she didn’t seem to understand the art of playing. She didn’t understand much of anything that was happening. When I called her name, she stepped toward me, then stopped. Her big questioning eyes kept looking at me.

With mind-melding ESP, I listened to her mind chatter, but I didn’t understand her thoughts any more than she understood mine.

“What kind of a home did she come from?” I asked.

“Well, my neighbor kidnapped her from his grandparent’s back yard,” she explained. “They hadn’t been feeding her, or allowing her in the house. She’s had nothing but a bare, dirt kennel to live in. And they’ve never brushed or groomed her. He just couldn’t leave her there.” She also said four other people had taken the dog in.

I listened to the young poodle’s mind chatter again.

“Of course, she doesn’t understand what we’re saying,” I said, realizing the problem. “She doesn’t know any English. She only knows Spanish.”

Joyce Kennedy writes as JoEllen Conger with her twin sister, Joan Powell. They have released seven books including two historicals, “The Queen of Candelore,” (2003) and its sequel, “The Future King,” (2009). Their latest book is a “true lies” type adventure. “Freedom to Ride the Wind (2009). Although they live far apart, their writing career keeps their twinship active.

TAGS: , , , , , , , ,

NICK BELARDES is illustrator of NYT Best-Selling Novel by Jonathan Evison West of Here (2011), author of Random Obsessions (2009), Lords (2005), and the first literary Twitter novel: Small Places (2010). An author, poet, and screenwriter for Hectic Films, Belardes turned TV/online journalist overnight after blogging his way to success. His articles and essays have appeared on the homepage of CNN.com and other news sites across America. You can find Nick on Facebook and Twitter.

111 responses to “She Is ‘The Dog Whisperer’”

  1. Thanks for writing this piece, Joyce. With all you have been through, a new animal friend had to be welcomed. Especially when you are the DOG WHISPERER!

    • Joyce Kennedy says:

      Makita and I couldn’t understand each other, but we spent many hours holding each other crying for our lost families.

      • Sometimes you have to do that. You have to let out the tears. Stuffed animals don’t work the same. And some people won’t just listen. But a great pet is perfect as long as you don’t squeeze too hard.

        • Joyce Kennedy says:

          Each of my four-footed kids have their own stuffed toys, so when we have a love fest we make a huge pile of alive and stuffed huggers. Someone once asked me how I was doing since I know slept alone. I looked at her in surprise. “What made you think I’m sleeping alone?” Between the puppies, kittys and stuffed toys, sometimes I have to fight for space for me.

        • Joan C. Powell says:

          *** Nice story twin-let. I only have one cat these days, and a stuffed tiger. But, hey, we two have been talking to the animals since we were little. And didn’t know that most people can’t do this. What a discovery!
          Your other half. :>***

  2. Patty Wonderly says:

    Oh Joyce! How can you end it there? I want to know about this sweet new friend! What a satisfying read! As a fellow animal lover I connected to this essay on many levels. My husband and I are ‘softies’ as well, and you certainly exhibit a heart of compassion in this piece. I’m glad you won. You are an inspiration!

    • I might even have to get a pet again after reading Joyce’s Dr. Doolittle sort of piece. 😀

      Oh wait, I’m about to go live in a Vegas casino. Probably a bad idea.

    • Joyce Kennedy says:

      It’s hard to tell the whole story in 700 words. My (other ) friends have begged me to write a book about my little Makita and how we learned to love each other.

  3. matildakay says:

    Great story Joyce! Congratulations on your win and subsequent hijacking of Nick’s TNB account! It’s a great place to hang out for a while and mingle with other writers.

    You’ll have to teach me that Dog whispering ESP trick. Maybe I can apply it to humans, especially of the male persuasion, life would be infinitely easier then.

    I think Poodles are just as vain as people and once disgraced we want to cover up our flaws and regain a little self esteem and self respect. Pass over an orange sweater for me too! 🙂

  4. Lee says:

    The voice is so present and so natural. Clearly, you deserved to win. Yours was far better than mine. I now have an example I resonate with as to how to write creative non-fiction. I had too much non-fiction and not enough creative. Everything about yours works. You read it and it ends and you’re glad for the trip. Congrats on your win!!

    • I had fun editing Joyce’s piece. She had a little bit more after the end. But I thought it ended so well on the line about the dog speaking Spanish. lol!

    • Great way to put it. Not enough creative in your piece, Lee. Had really great potential as a sort of apocalyptic look at urban decay in the Salton Sea.

      • Lee says:

        Creative non-fiction is an oxymoron to me. At least it WAS. I was truly out of my element and did not expect to win, but I knew I needed to get in the game if I was ever going to crack the code so to speak. I “get it” with what Joyce did. It’s so “duhh” simple. I revised my piece and that’s as far as I’m taking it. I plan to write some C-N-F about Bakersfield.

    • matildakay says:

      I agree with you Lee… Joyce’s piece really stood out as a great example of creative non-fiction among the contest entries. Now we all have someone to emulate in class!

  5. Connie says:


    What a wonderful story, I read every word in trembling anticipation. I have three rescue cats and have been accused of being a “rabbit whisperer” by family members but not sure I would have figured out the dog only understood Spanish.

    Looking forward to reading more of your works.

    ps. sorry I am so late, has a million errands to run today.

    • Lee says:

      I could relate to it because our 3 dogs and 2 cats are all rescue animals. They are the best and Joyce’s piece epitomizes that wonderfulness of rescue.

      • Connie says:

        My dad is an ANIMAL whisperer extraordinaire, I have a way with cats and rabbits, not dogs however.

        Animal rescuers are great ppl

    • Rabbit whisperer? What the hell? You talk to Peter Cottontail? What does he say???

    • Joyce Kennedy says:

      I had a rabbit too for a few years. One of my cats brought him in. I saw him coming in through the pet door carrying the 4# bunny in his mouth. I snagged him by the neck and he dropped the rabbit. Then it took us an hour to catch it.

      • Connie says:

        Rabbits can be extremely loving, loyal and fun.

        • Joyce: Now that’s a funny story too! I did write one on here called the Magical Pig of Akron about watching a pig on the loose at a gas station. The squealer was later served at an Italian eatery.

          Connie: Rabbits loyal?? I’ve never heard of such a thing. They make me sneeze to no end. I’m getting the sniffles just thinking about rabbit fur.

          Not even their feet are lucky for me. Achoo!

        • Connie says:

          I am so sorry you are allergic to rabbits, my Boopie would gallop through the house, sounded like a herd of elephants coming down the hall, get close to my chair, thump then sail onto my lap and oust the cat.

        • Boopie? You still have Boopie? hahahaha. Boopie. Heh.

        • Connie says:

          Unfortunately Boopie passed away not long after we moved to this house. One morning I got up, went outside to feed Boopie and she had passed away during the night, I ran into the house crying ” My baby is dead, my baby is dead”. Hubby got up and we went outside, wrapped her in a blanket , all the while i am wailing, “My poor baby!!” and buried her in the flower bed.
          We stumbled back into the house, both of us crying, when it occurred to me that my new neighbors might think we actually buried a “baby”

        • Joyce Kennedy says:

          Now that’s funny. Not the dead bunny, but the neighbors getting the wrong impression. Good thing they didn’t call the police for an investigation. I’ve lost 7 babies since I came to town 18 yrs ago. All from old age. But being an optimist, I chose new babies to fill up my life. I never understand people who say they’ll never get another pet. I don’t want to live without one –or two–or three.

        • Connie says:

          Everytime I lose a pet I think , never again, this usually lasts about a week.

        • Who knew people loved their rabbits so much? I have two horrible rabbit stories. But they’re not for the comments section. I will write short stories one day…

  6. Connie says:

    I wonder if Duke Haney would appreciate a ninja cat sharing his name? Somehow I think he would.

    • I thought about that too. Duke’s imagery is everywhere. He’s sort of a torn up cat. Just kidding Duke if you read this.

      • Joyce Kennedy says:

        The Duke (John Wayne). had nothing compared to my double-fisted fighting Ninja Cat. I bet if it came down to a showdown between the two of them, my Duke would have come out of the fight with the bloodiest paws.

  7. Jeannie says:

    I loved it Joyce. I loved the ninja cat my tom cat is very protective and I almost had to put him down after he was attacked by a dog. Over my dead body indeed!

    • Lee says:

      Wasn’t the flow just so natural? Didn’t we all just react intuitively? GREAT writing.

    • Mean dogs. Battered alley cats. Evil vets. ESP writers. Dig it.

    • Joyce Kennedy says:

      My Duke still guards me every night. About midnight, he comes to my cyber room to tell me it’s time for bed, then after smoozing on me to say goodnight, he sleeps on the foot of the bed looking down the hall. If he hears an unrecognized sound, he runs down the hall growling. I’d hate to be the unexpected intruder.

  8. Irene Zion says:

    What a lovely story, Nick.
    I’m glad you were able to meet this half of the twin set.

  9. Joe Daly says:

    Well done, Joyce. Communicating compassion without coming across as gratuitous can be challenging for writers but you did it effortlessly. Very nice style, very nice read. Congratulations.

    Good choice, Nick!

    • Thanks Joe. Joyce has a nice writer’s voice that carries over from her ability to hold encouraging and passionate discussions about the rules of writing.

      I agree, sometimes people who write on such topics get way too mushy. Trim the mush. But not all of it. Leave just enough for people to tap into in a real way…

    • Lee says:

      The thing is that the reader knows Joyce by the balance she struck. This is how she is.

      • Balance is everything. I edited for balance too. She gave me great material to work with. I appreciated Joyce saying she liked my “tweaking” of her work… 😀

  10. KK says:

    That was cool. I was getting ready for the Spanish version.

  11. Jude says:

    Your title pulled me in. Anything to do with dogs and you have a willing reader.

    This was a great story – very inspirational. I’m so glad there are people like you in the world – you make up for all the nasty shits that are out there every day abusing animals.

    What a neat ending – nice twist. In the end though it doesn’t really matter what language you speak – if you speak love, they speak back the same.

    Thanks Joyce – bless you.

    • I hope Joyce comments on your kind words.

      You’re right about people and animals. I was talking a few days ago about a news tip I got once about gangbangers killing rivals dogs and stuffing them into red or blue bags (depending on whether a crip or a blood was being humiliated). The bags were constantly dumped in the same abandoned field…

    • Joyce Kennedy says:

      I think they’re more softies than cruel people out there. At least that’s been my experience. Maybe love and kindness just draws more of the same to itself. Even wild animals respond, and maybe I’ll get a chance to share a few of those stories with the group.

      Studying oriental beliefs and healing methods has taught me to love all things, even the ugly. It is truely amazing what love can heal.

      • Love and humor can heal. I’ve seen it happen.

        Wild animals do respond. I remember my dad used to feed a squirrel that came into his house. I would be afraid of catching a disease if a squirrel tried to come in. But he used to think it was cool.

      • Lee says:

        And sometimes we make allowances for cruel people by not calling them right out by their names. There is no excuse for cruelty.

  12. Lorna says:

    What a great story. I always say you can judge a person’s character by how they treat a dog. You, my dear, are okay in my book. Thanks for sharing.

  13. Mary Richert says:

    This is so cool. I want more!

    • Joyce Kennedy says:

      There will be more. Even before “Yesterday’s Widow” is completed, my present project under construction, my fingers will be doodling notes about my little girl, Makita.

  14. Patty Wonderly says:

    I agree with Lee about seeing creative nonfiction in a new light as a result of this piece. It made me think of at least ten stories I can tell right now. Let’s get busy writing them so we can Rock the Bako Lit Scene!

  15. Julie Landes says:

    I am so glad I was invited in to read Joyce’s story. I had heard the tale before, but seeing it in print made it even more real for me.
    I’ve known Joyce all my life (she’s my Mom) and have always enjoyed her writings and her special talent for being a storyteller. She makes it so easy to “see” the story.
    Thanks to this tale about my baby sister I picked up my own pen again. Thank you for that Mom and Nick. I just wish we had a writers group in Humboldt county.

    • Joyce Kennedy says:

      Glad you dropped by. Your comments made me feel good. Love you Babe. Hope somebody from Humbolt County reads your comment and has a contact for you.

    • You’re welcome. It’s great to be inspired. I’ve been inspired about the Random Writers Workshop and many of the writers here on The Nervous Breakdown. Awesome folks. Great writers. Inspiration at every click of a mouse…

  16. Simon Smithson says:

    Oh, Nick, what a cool idea! Way to bring the two worlds together…

    Joyce, have you heard the stories about Sandra Bullock sleeping in a bed with seventeen dogs?

  17. Cfarley says:

    Very well and cleverly written. Especially liked how you integrated conversation into the telling–hard for most writers to accomplish. Here is an aside–for what it’s worth. I used to show dogs. I particularly liked obedience and a tricky kind called utility. The dog “degrees’ are CD, CDX, UD for companion dog, companion dog “excellent” and utility dog. We used to laugh that the ranks were BA, MA and PhD. When I would work a dog, the senior trainers told me that dogs cannot process “words” but can read “images” or pictures in the mind. So when I work with dogs I draw a detailed mental image of what I want them to do and then “transmit” it to them. However of all the dogs, typically Poodles are considered the “smartest” and are “circus dogs” or stars. Sounds like you have a hidden star of your own–best wishes, Cherylanne

    • I always thought Border Collies were the keenest of canines…

    • Joyce Kennedy says:

      My inroad to understanding Makita and she understanding me was I asked her to not make words but to share her feelings. She presses her topknot against me and emotes.I read her feelings and emote to her. But when she gets excited she still chatters in Spanish.

      I use hand signs with my pets. Amazingly Makita is picking up the hand signals faster than the new English words. I have to laugh when she doesn’t understand me and mimics the boys hoping whatever they’re doing is what I asked of them. How’s that for adjusting to new situations?

  18. Joyce Kennedy says:

    No I hadn’t.Either they’re super small dogs or she has a giant sized bed. I have to fight for MY space with just four critters in bed with me. Of course, when the neighbors pup digs out and stays overnight, that’s one more to shuffle through. Fortuneatly, one cat purrs me a good night solo than sleeps in a basket on my bedside table.

  19. Phillip says:

    Great piece! Lately, I’ve been struggling with a couple of creative nonfiction pieces of my own, mainly due to my inability to find my “voice.” This piece is good example of how to tell a story in a natural and appropriate voice. Congratulations, Joyce! To be featured on such a high-caliber site as TNB is a real honor!

    • Lee says:

      If the music industry is any indication (i.e. “no one” buys CDs anymore), books etc. will be going the way of the download which makes so much “sense” even if we lose the tactile relationship with the paper book. That said, it begs the question as to which entrepreneurial publishing company will take the market by storm by identifying authors to be published that are of appropriate caliber but who have not been able to get past the roadblock of paper publishers who refuse to read manuscripts without an agent and an act of God and Oprah? There’s a change a comin’

      • Joyce Kennedy says:

        I couldn’t find a mainstream publisher because I didn’t like writing to their formula driven publishing. Wings e-books was a godsend to Joan and I. All our books can be downloaded, or in paperback. When we met, they were new kids on the block, and so were we. It’s been a good marriage although I wish we received more in royalties. I really do think ebooks will far outsell paperbacks, but that’s because they’re more open to writing style and voice.

    • Phillip: Voice comes when you just tell your story. Just say what happened. The voice will come. At the same time don’t forget you need a hook and a sort of point or moral to the story, even in nonfiction. When I focus on all those things then I usually get some kind of piece worth sharing…

      Lee: You really think books in print format will disappear? I don’t think they will completely disappear. But rather, become more rare. The next twenty years will be interesting…

      • Lee: Unless of course there are holographic books. Not real but digital illusions of reality.

        • Connie says:

          I hope paper books never disappear, I prefer the feel of the paper , the smell of a book, the ink, marking pages with scraps of paper.

        • Connie says:

          I also love finding used books in 2nd hand stores or yard sales for CHEAP, books that I would otherwise never buy. Discover a new author , a new genre, or perhaps an old friend.

        • My used bookstore days ended long ago. I really want an iPad and to start building a digital library.

      • Lee says:

        I’d say reduced by at least 80% minimum. Ebooks would be a godsend for schools for libraries and textbooks for example. I prefer paper but I see the writing on the screen. 🙁

    • Joyce Kennedy says:

      The honor of winning and being showcased on such a site really made me feel special. Sometimes when your books don’t sell by the thousands you start to doubt your ability to tell a good story. The validation of my writing voice is grately appreciated.

      • Don’t forget to read some other stories on here and comment. Doesn’t have to be mine. I would appreciate if you shared some of your wonderful kindness in that way. You would probably really like the work of Irene Zion. She’s a hoot!

  20. Joyce Kennedy says:

    When the neighbor’s dog, Bitsy was having trouble delivering her last pups, she dug out and came to my house for help. I had to work the pups out by massage. And nobody teaches puppy mid-wifeing. Well, for over ten years now, she’s been digging under our joint fence to stay at my house. She dashes in through our pet door and leaps into my arms. My daughter says I’m the dogs REAL owner, and the neighbors are her kidnappers. It’s true, little creatures know where to find love and acceptance.

  21. Jordan Ancel says:

    I am such a softie when it comes to anything animals, especially dogs. It breaks my heart when I see mistreated and abused animals. I just don’t understand how anyone can do it.

    Thanks for sharing this, Joyce.

  22. Joyce Kennedy says:

    Hurrah! we made it to our proposed goal. now 100 + comments. Thanks for the interest and support.

    It just occured to me you’all might like to read snipits from my published books. If you do, check out my website: http://www.congerbooks.com. It introduces each book with a short read. And the cover art’s not bad. They didn’t always give us what we asked for, but the longer we were with Wings the better quality cover they offered.

    Russo’s Book Store has a few books in stock, but I don’t think Mike has ordered any of the newer ones yet. Of course, he didn’t know about the newer ones until I joined The Randon Writers Workshop.

    Nick’s been urging me to hold another book signing gig. I’ll have to give that some serious thought.

    • Julie Landes says:

      I think having another book signing is a great idea. If it’s out of town you will have to find a babysitter or just leave them alone for a very long day.
      I think Nick wanting you to promote yourself is exactly what you need and it will be a useful skill that you can then share with everyone else.
      Hmm, shall we put forth a challenge?

  23. Sam Everett says:

    The story we got was great! And the allusions to some other, possible future stories (like the Ninja Cat!) were really enticing! Hope you get a chance to write those next!

    I know…never satisfied. Sign of a good author! : )

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *