The inspiration for Dickens the dog | Eastern North Carolina Now

    Long time Atlanta columnist Kathy Manos Penn has turned her attention to writing cozy mysteries set in the Cotswolds. Find her Dickens & Christie series on her website and on Amazon.

Kathy Manos Penn's new Book is now on sale.
    In my cozy mystery series, the main character owns a Great Pyrenees named Dickens, but not just any Pyr. Hers is a dwarf, and they do exist, just not in great numbers. You can't go out and find one at a pet store or at a breeder's. They're anomalies.

    Because my dog Banjo is part Pyr, I've grown to love the breed's temperament, and I've learned a lot about their traits. Banjo may weigh only 70 pounds and have a black coat instead of a white one, but his personality is pure Pyr. As I thought about my books, I knew I wanted a dog and a cat as sidekicks for my character, and I thought, "Why not a Great Pyrenees?" That way, I could use Banjo as the model for the fictional dog's shenanigans.

    The answer to that question is they're just too darned big. My books are set in the Cotswolds, and I wanted Leta, the protagonist, to be able to take her dog everywhere she went by train or by car. At 140 pounds, a full-sized Great Pyrenees seemed a bit too much to handle. What about a mini-GP? I thought. And that's how I discovered there's no such thing. There are miniature poodles and mini-doodles, but no mini-Pyrs. I did, however, stumble across the existence of dwarf Great Pyrenees.

    Breeders don't set out to breed smaller Great Pyrenees, but occasionally a dwarf Pyr is born from a healthy set of parents. In years past, these smaller dogs were hidden or culled.

    Everything I read about these smaller versions of the majestic breed made me smile. They range in size from 13" to 18" at the shoulder and can weigh 35 - 50 pounds. Some of the dwarfs have hearing problems or are completely deaf. I had to laugh at one owner who said he wasn't sure whether his little one was hard of hearing or simply had the breed's tendency toward selective hearing. Banjo has that tendency, and he's only part Pyr.

    As you might expect, they can also have skeletal and/or joint issues, but then so do many labs and goldens and other large breeds. I've read everything I can find about these small dogs, but I don't pretend to understand the science behind the study underway to determine the cause of dwarfism in Pyrs. I've been more interested in the unbelievably cute photos I've found on Facebook.

    I corresponded with one or two owners on Facebook and was able to get permission to use a photo of one little guy as the model for Dickens. His name is Bailey, and I think he's precious. Naturally, in my book, Dickens is a huge hit. Everyone who meets him recognizes he must be a Great Pyrenees, and then they wonder how he can be so tiny. Is it any wonder that Dickens has a bit of a complex about his size and is quite sensitive about "little" comments?

    And yes, in case you're wondering, Dickens talks to Leta a la Dr. Dolittle, but she's the only one who can understand him. He's a happy go lucky little guy who likes everyone he meets, and he adores long walks and car rides and belly rubs. I did mention he has Banjo's personality, right?

    "Bells, Tails & Murder" is available on Amazon and "Pumpkins, Paws & Murder" will be released March 27. Visit her website for information on the series and her writing journey. Contact her at
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