Charli and Robin Burcell : Pet Spotlight

For years I wanted a giant poodle. I even wrote one into one of my mysteries (Face of a Killer) as a subliminal message directed to my husband. The message failed. We were boxer people. He wasn’t about to let one of those—and I quote—frou-frou dogs in our house. Unfortunately my kids sided with him.

I knew nothing about standard poodles, except they were really cool looking, especially without the frou-frou haircut. What I couldn’t figure out was how to convince my family. After a long search on the internet (when I should have been writing), I found a parti-poodle puppy—a multi-colored poodle, in this case black and white. I felt certain she looked nothing like a real poodle. My family would have no choice but to fall in love with this 4 pound fluff ball before judging her by her breed. Of course, it helped that no one in my family had ever seen a standard poodle puppy. Even our boxer, Pepper, was fooled when I brought Charli home. (And while I’d like to take credit for Charli’s name, like trying to channel Steinbeck, who also had a standard poodle—named Charley, no less—the truth is, my kids named her.)

Lucky for Charli (and me), she charmed everyone, because like most puppies, she was a chewer. So when she chomped through the seatbelts in my SUV, turning a seven seater into a three seater, all we could do was smile as I whipped out the credit card and paid for four new seatbelts at 200 dollars a pop. I mean, look at her. How can you be mad at that?

She is also the little boy my husband never had. She must have felt sorry for him, being the sole male in the house. She never grows tired of chasing after the ball or playing Frisbee. And if there’s a rat or squirrel in sight? Watch out. Who knew poodles were such good rat catchers? But she also makes the perfect writing dog (maybe Steinbeck’s Charley is channeling through her after all?) by hanging out with me in my office while I work.

Fortunately, poodles are very smart, because when I brought her home, it belatedly occurred to me that not only was I on an extremely tight deadline, trying to finish The Dark Hour, but I was going to have to potty train her. How on earth was I going to do that when I was supposed to be working? Not to worry. Charli took matters into her own paws. I’d be writing in my office, totally losing track of time, and she would give a little bark at the back door, telling me to let her out. Amazingly, she potty-trained herself in about ten days, with only two accidents—a good thing, since I was pretty sure my editor wasn’t going to buy the puppy-ate-my-manuscript excuse for being late.

If you’re wondering how this relates to mysteries, well, taking a walk with Charli in public is like taking a walk with Lee Child or Harlan Coben at a mystery convention. You’re not going to get more than two feet before people stop you, especially if Charli’s just been groomed. They want to touch her and take her photo. A lot. And like other A-listers, she is used to posing for the camera. (Poor Pepper is like the rest of us mystery writers standing next to the likes of Child and Coben. You get in the photo by default!) Inevitably, after the photo shoot, there are the questions: What is she? A poodle. Is she purebred? Yes. How’d she get that way? She was born that way. Did you breed her with a Dalmatian? Uh, did we mention she’s a purebred? What I need to figure out is how to capitalize on her popularity. Maybe next time she goes in for a grooming, I can have them take the clippers and trim in her fur, something that can only be seen in the photos… like that subliminal message thing.

Robin Burcell worked as a police officer, detective, hostage negotiator, and forensic artist. The Bone Chamber is her latest international thriller about an FBI forensic artist. The Dark Hour debuts December 2012 and The Black List January 2013. Visit her at, or follow me on, and