No good story should be without a charming and furry, secondary character who generally tries to steal the show. There are more than enough reasons for this, and I’m sure you’ll agree.
Pets humanize our characters. Any protagonist who is loved by a dog or a cat can probably be redeemed by the end of our story. After all, animals are discerning and if they love the hero or heroine, so will we, eventually. Don’t however use your animal as a prop. Your character must interact with the dog or cat. Just like real animal owners, pets are considered part of the family and are treated as such. Your characters interact on that same intimate level with their cat or dog. An occasional woof or meow isn’t animal character development.
Dogs and cats bring something to our stories that often humans do not. Unconditional love. They care nothing about religion, sex, politics or color. Another reason why you should add them to your story.
Be very sure to match the animal to the story character appropriately. A cowboy herding cattle will have an active dog and not a fancy diva dog. A character who spends long hours away from their animal may be an ideal cat person. No walking the dog needed. Be realistic when you choose that animal partner. When you do your character interview ask your character the history behind that pet.
Let your reader believe that history.
Other ways to use pets in our stories.
Dogs and cats provide that straight man relief for our characters. They are in effect, the side kick. Our protagonist can talk to them, providing a break from narrative. This is the perfect opportunity to share backstory or for your characters to reveal internal or external conflict.
Even a dog or cat can depart pearls of wisdom, simply by their discerning behavior. Animals don’t lie. They can spot the villain or the person in the love triangle that needs to be eliminated far earlier in the story than our hero or heroine. They let our hero or heroine know when they’ve messed up as well.
Our protagonists start their journey with much to learn. Animals can help you weave that growth into the story arc.
One way is with touch. Touch conveys many things such as compassion, empathy, sympathy, care, gratitude and unconditional love. Your protagonist expresses that and more when they are depicted touching an animal. A closed off character can learn to touch, to hug, and ultimately to love by first caring for an animal. What a terrific character arc.
Animals know how to work hard, but they also teach us how to play and how to relax, opening up a myriad of scene opportunities that can bring our hero and heroine together.
By the way, we can learn a lot from a cat nap. Cats have boundaries and they can teach your Type- A personality character about how to take time to rest. Like the trope where a protagonist is left with a baby, having your character forced to care for an animal for a period of time can also bring many wonderful scenes of character growth.
A final word of warning. Unless absolutely necessary to moving the plot forward, please don’t let story animals die. (Please don’t let it be an animal we’ve become attached to either). There’s actually a website that warns about movies where animals die.
What’s your opinion? Is an animal the perfect secondary character for a story? Do you love animals in romances?
I leave you with some thoughtful cat and dog quotes.
A cat has absolute emotional honesty: human beings, for one reason or another, may hide their feelings, but a cat does not.”—Ernest Hemingway
“Way down deep, we’re all motivated by the same urges. Cats have the courage to live by them.” —Jim Davis
“A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself.” ― Josh Billings
“Handle every stressful situation like a dog. If you can't eat it or play with it, then pee on it and walk away.” ― Unknown.