Dorris Heffron, author of City Wolves, answered our five questions.
IFOA: City Wolves is about Canada’s first female veterinarian, Meg Wilkinson, who becomes the notorious “Dog Doctor of Halifax,” tending sled dogs during the Klondike Gold Rush. What sparked your interest in her story?
Dorris Heffron: All my life, I had had dogs from the farm or dog pound. When our youngest daughter went off to university and our beloved Frausie dog died, living long enough to bark at the postman leaving the contract for my previous novel at the door, I was bereft. I didn’t want to carry on without kids or dogs in the home. I wanted an indigenous Canadian dog I could ski or swim with. The Newfoundlander was vetoed on account of its size by my husband. Not knowing what he was getting into, he agreed to my second choice, an Alaskan Malamute, which is actually an indigenous Canadian sled dog, directly descended from Arctic wolves. We named her Yukon Sally.
I was so fascinated by Yukon Sally’s wolf-like traits, I researched the history of Alaskan Malamutes, which led me to research wolves and then to decide to take Yukon Sally to the land of her ancestors. By this time, I was following Yukon Sally, not leading her, she so intrigued me. She led me round the Yukon and Klondike Gold Rush trails, including Skagway, Alaska. Clearly, my next novel would be about wolves, malamutes and the Klondike Gold Rush.
Then Yukon Sally and Jake, the companion we knew she wanted, kept leading us to the vet. I thought it was to get their porcupine quills removed so they could carry on teaching porcies not to mess with malamutes. Then I clued in. Yukon Sally wanted my main character to be about a woman vet, an extraordinary woman vet, like hers, but one who would go to the Klondike. Thus, I researched the history of veterinary medicine and came up with Meg, the Dog Doctor of Halifax.
IFOA: What is your favourite memory from that time in the Yukon with Yukon Sally?
Heffron: When we lived in Toronto, Yukon Sally was always running off down the street to play with her pal Sacha, a Siberian Husky. I feared that when we went camping in the Yukon, she would run off with wolves, abandon us. No way! She slept by our tent and came into it at night. She escorted me everywhere, making sure I was safe as I walked off to fetch water, wood, go to the toilets, anywhere. When we ate in restaurants in Skagway or Dawson City, Yukon Sally would wait patiently outside and pose regally while tourists took photos of her. In the land of her ancestors, she became a model show dog. Other sled dogs deferred to her.
IFOA: You and your husband sold your home in Toronto and bought 52 acres in Beaver Valley that you named “Little Creek Wolf Range.” What is a typical day like on the Range?
Heffron: I have an easy life now, my children raised, my parents laid to rest. On an ideal day (no chores, meetings or emergencies), I rise with the sun to let out our malamutes, now Yukitu (which I say is aboriginal for Yukon Sally the Second) and Ikey, and feed them. After my mug of tea and checking out the blizzard of emails that came through to me as TWUC Chair the evening before, I hike our trails with Yukitu and Ike, down to the pond, through backwoods and up Sunrise Hill, back to our home on the Wolf Range. I go to my desk for the rest of the day, taking breaks to go outside and watch the “wolves” sport with each other, wrestling and leaping over each other. At 4pm, I swim or play tennis. In the evening, we say goodnight to the sun, settle in for some reading by the fire, the malamutes up on the couch with me, until it gets too hot for them and they retire to their beds in the garage for the night.
IFOA: As the current Chair of TWUC, why would you encourage other authors to join The Union?
Heffron: So that they might enjoy the company of Canada’s renowned professional writers and join in advocating for copyright enforcement, good contracts and learning how to better promote their own writing in this age of digital and other technological innovations. So that they can help ensure the continuance of payment for the library and other use of their work, and to take advantage of all the programs TWUC has put into place for promoting Canadian writing and insuring health benefits for writers. Mainly, so that they can build upon and give back to the only national organization of professional book writers.
IFOA: Finish this sentence: I feel most inspired when….
Heffron: ….I see or hear about something that happened in the real world I can’t stop thinking about. When I’m dogged by an important reality, I feel the need to explore it further in a novel.