When author and dog trainer Victoria Schade asked the Read it Forward editors if we’d like to have a sneak peek behind the scenes of this year’s Puppy Bowl, we jumped at the chance! Victoria is the author of Who Rescued Who, a novel that centers on Elizabeth Barnes, who, when her life falls apart, never imagines that she’d be rescued by a new friend on four paws. The story is endearing, and Victoria, who has been both behind and in front of the camera on Animal Planet, definitely knows a thing or two about dogs! Read on for our conversation all about writing, social media obsession, and, of course, puppies!
Read it Forward: I am here at Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl with Victoria Schade, author of Who Rescued Who. Thanks for giving us this behind-the-scenes look at one of my favorite TV events, Victoria.
Victoria Schade: Thank you so much. I’m so excited you’re here to witness the joy of Puppy Bowl.
RIF: Besides being an author, you’re also a dog trainer and a dog resource for the media. Tell me about how you got involved with the Puppy Bowl. How many years have you been affiliated with this amazing event?
What We're Reading This WeekGet recommendations for the greatest books around straight to your inbox every week.
VS: It’s been 15 years, I think. I think I’ve been there longer than anyone on the show. I’m the OG of Puppy Bowl.
RIF: Wow! I was fortunate enough to witness you in action today, but, for the people at home, tell us a little bit about what you do with Puppy Bowl and how you get these puppies to look so cute.
VS: Well, I have no hand in them looking cute; that is all nature! But I have a couple of different roles during the taping of the show. I am responsible for ensuring puppy happiness. Making sure that the play between the puppies is safe and fair. I also help with any special requests, like, you know, get the puppy to look up at the camera. Or, if you watch the Star-Spangled Banner at the top of the show, when you see the puppies looking up at the flag—spoiler alert—they’re actually looking at me holding treats, they’re not looking at the flag.
RIF: There are cute, tiny four-legged friends all around us, not to mention the adorable puppy’s face on the cover of your book. I would love to hear a little bit about what inspired you to write Who Rescued Who?
VS: Oh, wow, such a great question. Who Rescued Who is really a different take on my world of dogs because our main character, Elizabeth, is not a dog lover from the outset. So putting myself in her shoes, as you can imagine, was challenging, but in my work as a dog trainer, I have met people that have dogs and are kind of unsure around them. They might think, ‘oh the puppy’s biting me. Does it mean it hates me?’ In my experience dealing with those types of clients, I realized that not everyone comes to the world of puppies from the same place that I do. I thought it would be really interesting to explore that dynamic and how the love can grow between someone who’s not sure about puppies and a puppy who’s like, ‘oh, you’re my person. You are going to love me. I will make you love me.’
RIF: Our heroine, Elizabeth, also struggles with a bit of a social media obsession, which is very fitting in our current culture. What compelled you to put that issue at the heart of your story?
VS: I have some younger relatives, who will remain nameless, that I noticed were kind of living life through their phones. When we’d be together, it would be head down rather than head up and taking in the world.
And it’s not just them. I’m guilty of it too. I think it was sobering to realize that we’re all really looking down instead of looking out, and that there are challenges that can arise from being so focused on getting those likes and hearts rather than developing real relationships.
RIF: And what is it about a puppy that makes you fully present in the moment?
VS: Oh, my gosh. How do you be present with a puppy? Just be in the same room! Between the four paws, the teeth, the peeing and the pooping—they force you to be in the moment with them, which is so necessary and really powerful, too.
RIF: As readers, we get to witness Elizabeth’s journey of self-discovery, and it all really starts with this revelation of a family secret. Can you tell us a little bit about Elizabeth’s relationship with her family, without being too spoilery, of course?
VS: Yes. Elizabeth has a distant father who shapes the way she views the world. And unfortunately, she loses her mother at a pivotal point in her life, right as she is heading into adolescence, when I think most girls really need the support of their mom to help weather the changes. Not having her mom, and having this father who isn’t supportive in the way that she needs, really shapes her view on what family is and isn’t. She goes on to discover new things about what family is and whom family can be.
RIF: One of the parts of this book that I love is watching Elizabeth crush on James, who is this British brewery owner, and her love interest. There’s an instant attraction between them and a bit of a drunken declaration, right? What do you think makes them instantly have eyes for one another?
VS: Well, I think many people, when they’re out having a good time, might have an instant attraction to someone they see across the bar that they think is handsome. And actually, she has seen him prior to that moment in the bar, and then to see him again with the aid of alcohol reduces her inhibitions, which is very unlike her, and makes her more forward than she might be normally. More confident. Doesn’t alcohol do that?
RIF: It does! So we know that Elizabeth finds herself the unexpected owner of a dog. Talk a little bit about the relationships between humans and animals that you tucked into this book.
VS: Oh, well, there are many! It’s not just dogs. I’m glad you said animals because, of course, we have the sheep, Blossom and Rosie. That was such a fun part for me to research because I got to meet sheep and speak with a shepherdess in England, who was one of the most charming subjects I’ve ever interviewed in my life. Everything she said was quotable. She was amazing. I learned about temperamental sheep and how much personality they have and the different types of relationships we can have with our dogs. We, of course, talked about Elizabeth, who is unsure about how to interact with the dog at first. Her aunt is a big help in that. Her aunt is a huge dog woman and really is very confident with dogs, so she was able to model some behavior. And, no matter how you’re coming to a relationship with a dog, you are going to be transformed.
RIF: We know that you have lots of experience with dogs, but were you always a writer? Have you always known you wanted to write books?
VS: I’ve always been a writer; I’ve always been a storyteller, and this is the story I tell all the time. Back in the day, when we used to do sleepovers as little kids, I was the self-appointed storyteller, and my famous go-to series was bloody gut man. You know, it’s dark, and you’re at a sleepover… Of course you have to tell a scary story, so bloody gut man had his guts on the outside of his body.
RIF: I think this is your next novel!
VS: But yes, I’ve always loved telling stories. When I wrote my two dog training books, my favorite part of doing that wasn’t like the how-to, like, here is how you teach sit. It was telling the stories about the people who needed to teach their dog to sit. So writing a novel was a natural progression for me.
RIF: As a reader, what are you reading now, or what’s on your bedside table that you can’t wait to get to?
VS: Oh, my stack goes on and on and on. And it’s funny because, right now, there’s a theme. Not on purpose, but I noticed that the book I just finished, and the two that I’m reading now, have a theme. Let’s see if you can guess what it is.
VS: I recently finished Bringing Down the Duke. I’m currently reading The Testaments by Margaret Atwood and I’m reading a nonfiction book called Feminasty by Erin Gibson. Can you guess the theme?
RIF: I’m going to say a strong woman at the center of the story. Would that be right?
VS: Yeah, really close, or if you want to go a little bit harder, ‘smash the patriarchy.’
RIF: Yes, yes. I love that! Those are really good selections.
VS: I’m enjoying them.
RIF: Well, I’m so grateful to get to talk to you, Victoria, especially at such a fun setting like Puppy Bowl. Congratulations on Who Rescued Who. It’s such a fun read! Thank you for being here.
VS: Thank you. Now let’s get you puppy to adopt. Okay?
RIF: Oh, yeah!
Image credit: Abbe Wright