Friday, January 8, 2016

The Dogs of War: How K-9 Units Inspired Me to Write Bravo: Apocalypse Mission

I'm currently in the midst of writing a brand new adventure series called The Bravo Saga. It takes you on a journey with a loyal, stalwart German Shepherd bomb dog named Bravo, who becomes separated from his handler and friend when the apocalypse descends upon the world. 

Cheery stuff, I know. 
That's how I roll. 

Anyway, when I was around ten years-old, I was able to watch a demonstration of a law enforcement canine tracking and attacking a criminal. It was the highlight of my year, let me tell you. Watching that German Shepherd, in all of his furry glory, streak across a parking lot and sink his teeth into a planted "criminal," was a lot of fun. I was obsessed. German Shepherds - and working dogs of all kinds - became my secret (and by secret, I mean NOT SO SECRET) love. 

I've had a story about a dog brewing in my mind for a long time. I adore animals, and I've always felt that they are done an injustice in the literary world, in that there really aren't a lot of books starring the dog. Even my own Zero Trilogy features a dog as a supporting character. 

I was slightly afraid, at first, to branch out and write a series that starred a dog - and only a dog. A series in which the supporting characters are the humans, and the dog takes center stage. How do you get into a dog's head? How do you see what he sees, and feel what he feels? How do you make that experience realistic and gritty? 

First of all, lots of research. My dad has been working in law enforcement since before I was even born, so I was naturally raised with a deep appreciation for K-9 units. I've talked to dog owners, K-9 handlers and trainers, and seen canines trained and walked. I've done all that and more. 

But honestly, when it comes to understanding the mind of a dog, the best thing you can do is just spend time with one. Nobody is more loyal than a dog. You can learn a lot about a canine by watching and listening. My approach to Bravo the bomb dog was fairly simple: what matters to a dog? I asked myself that question constantly. I wanted to write a very adult, very realistic look into the inner world of a canine. It was one of the most educational experiences of my life - and it still is, because I'm not finished with the book yet! 

The most fascinating part of Bravo's book was the research into the training procedures for K-9s bred to go into the field, be it law enforcement or the military. There definitely is a difference between how a police dog is trained and how, say, a dog in the Marines is trained. BIG. 

These dogs are dangerous, loyal to a fault, totally selfless, talented and willing to die to keep their handlers safe. They are the dogs of war, and they kick (or bite!) major butt. Canines bred for work like this are raised in an environment that fosters loyalty to their handler. A dog will bond with their handler, too, so it is important that the dog be trained by the same person he will be going into the field with. They will learn to trust each other, to love each other. In many cases, the dog actually lives in his handler's house and protects his family, too, even when he's off duty. Talk about selfless! These dogs are amazing. 

By extension, I think it's important to note that canines in law enforcement and the military are not bred to kill. They are bred to protect and save lives. They're heroes! Remember Diesel, the working canine who was slain in the Paris Terror Attacks? Dogs deserve just as much recognition as their human counterparts. 

I cannot wait to share Bravo: Apocalypse Mission with you guys. The release is scheduled for this Spring, and I am feverishly trying to get everything done to prepare for it. Wish me luck - because I'm going to need it! 

I would encourage anyone reading this post to check out the Warrior Canine Connection, an organization who "enlists recovering warriors in a therapeutic mission of learning to train service dogs for their fellow veterans." It's really an amazing concept. Wounded or recovering vets are given a dog to train for other veterans, and in the process, the dog provides much-needed therapy for a soldier suffering from PTSD or any form of injury.

I would also like to recommend The Wounded Warrior Project. I'm sure you already know all about these guys, but they do really great working helping our wounded servicemen and women, and by reaching out to their families, as well. 

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