I rushed him to the vet. A blood test revealed he had a virus of the digestive system, Parvo, often fatal to young puppies. When told that Russell might not survive the night, I held my breath until I ran out to the car then burst into tears.
Glad that the boys were at home with their dad, I lay my head on the steering wheel and cried. "I hate Parvo," I said. "Parvo is terrible." Hmm. I sat up. The word had a certain ring to it. Said it aloud several times. It could be a name for a bad guy, say, a terrible no good mean ugly pirate.
I drove home in the rain, worried for Russell but now eager to reach my desk. At the time I was writing a novel for Scholastic: The Stowaway: A Tale of California Pirates. It was based on the true story of the French privateer Hyppolyte de Bouchard, who raided the California coast in 1818. He was the cruel captain of the 42-gun frigate, Argentina. I'd been trying to come up with a name for one of his swarthy crew members. Nothing seemed to fit until that trip to the vet.
So in the story Parvo met an untimely end, but back in the real world our sick puppy survived. Russell was to be our family's gallant companion for 13 1/2 years; there's even a photo of the two of us on The Stowaway's original cover from 1995. What a good friend he was.
PHOTOS: [left] Russell, age 13, inspecting our tomato garden; [above] cover of The Stowaway: A Tale of California Pirates, edited by my favorite pirate editor Regina Griffin.