Shepherds CrookThings have gotten a little crazy around here in the past couple of years. I’m Janet MacPhail, and my life used to be rather routine and quiet. My animal photography business has grown steadily over the past decade, and I’ve shared my home in Fort Wayne, Indiana, with my happy family, meaning Jay, my Australian Shepherd, and Leo, my orange tabby. I’ve loved many animals in my life, but I have to say these two are my “heart companions.”

Besides the usual cuddling and petting and other pet stuff, I train and compete with both of them. Leo has been to a couple of feline agility trials now, and he’s brilliant! And at home he has even tried his paw at some of the doggy obedience exercises—he jumps and retrieves, lies down and rolls over. Leo is also a good citizen—he is a certified therapy cat, and volunteers (with me) at the Public Library. The program used to be called “Read to a Dog,” but because of Leo, “dog” is now “pet.” The kids often ask me what Leo’s favorite story is, and I tell them it’s a toss up between Puss in Boots and The Cat in the Hat! Now I’m training Pixel, my kitten, but she’s a much more independent sort. Isn’t that the way with girl cats?

And then there’s my handsome Jay. He’s blue merle, a sort of silvery mix of gray and black with a few big black spotches, with copper markings on his cheeks and legs, white tootsies, and a beautiful white ruff. He is a beauty, but it’s his eyes that take my breath away. He also volunteers in the library program, and one of the kids once said Jay has “heartbreak eyes.” I suppose he does, but I’ve come to think of their warm brown as the color of love. Don’t imagine he’s just a pretty face, though. We train and compete together in canine obedience and agility, and Jay has earned several titles. And both my animals are as brave as they come—they’ve saved me and other people from more than one nutjob bent on injury, or worse.

Jay and I also do some tracking, meaning he uses his schnoz to follow scent trails and I tag along at the far end of a longline. His tracking skills have made him a hero several times. A couple of years ago, Jay found a missing child at the Indianapolis 500 Museum, and last year he found newborn Pixel along with her sister Amy and brother Totem, and, of course, their mama, Gypsy. She had gotten out of her owner’s house and holed up in a neighbor’s shed to have her kittens. Most recently, Jay helped search for Tom’s Labrador puppy, Winnie. Our training club was invaded by wackos who turned a bunch of the dogs loose, baby Winnie among them. Sorry, I can’t tell that story without tearing up, but it’s all written down in Shepherd’s Crook if you want to know more.

Speaking of shepherds, our most recent sporting venture has been herding lessons and our first herding trial. Well, it was a herding test, really, which is not competitive, although in my opinion the sheep think it is in same category as boxing. I have the hoof-print shaped bruises to prove my theory!

All this is furry chaos is, of course, normal in my life. The crazyness I mentioned? Wedding planning, for one, which involves too many people with opinions they aren’t afraid to share. Luckily, my brother-in-law loves this stuff and has picked up a big part of the load, but every day still seems to bring a new crisis. All this while I’m crazily reorganizing my house for Tom’s impending move-in with his black Lab, Drake, his yellow Lab puppy, Winnie, and, of course, all his stuff. I’m more than a little nervous about giving up my decades-long independence, even if he is the love of my life.

And on top of all that, I’ve once again stumbled into a police investigation involving people I know, or thought I knew. This time there seem to be multiple crimes involved—stock rustling, extortion, loan sharking fraud.

And the ultimate crazy. Murder.

You can read more about Janet in Shepherd’s Crook, the fourth book in the “Animals in Focus” mystery series published by Midnight Ink. The first book in the series is Drop Dead on Recall, followed by The Money Bird and Catwalk.

GIVEAWAY: Leave a comment by noon eastern on Thursday, October 22 for your chance to win one copy of any book in the series, either a print or an e-book. The print giveaway is open to U.S. residents only. The e-book giveaway is open to everyone.

About the author
Sheila Webster Boneham writes the Animals in Focus mystery series. Best-seller Drop Dead on Recall, the first in the series, was an NBC Petside Top Ten Dog book of 2012 and won the 2013 Maxwell Award for Fiction from the Dog Writers Association of America. The Moneybird was a Maxwell finalist in 2014. Sheila has been involved with many sides of the animal world and has written seventeen nonfiction books about dogs and cats, six of which have won major awards. You can find Sheila at, or at her Writers & Other Animals blog at, or on Facebook.

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