Author shares her love of malamutes in debut book

The Garden Island newspaper on Friday, January 13, 2012

LIHU‘E — Mary Lu Kelley’s fondest memory of her companion dog, Lilly, is a evening ritual they had shared for years.

“Lilly used to jump up on my bed,” Kelley explained. “She would position herself to stretch across where I would sleep. … When I crawled in, I would say, ‘Where am I supposed to sleep?’ She had a sense of humor; she would hog the bed, and at my request, move over.”

Of course, being an Alaskan malamute with a thick, full coat more appropriate for sub-zero temperatures than tropical Kaua‘i, Lilly didn’t care to sleep on the bed and opted to snooze on a cool spot on the floor.

It’s vignettes like these that inspired Kelley to write her first book, “For the Love of Lilly, Living with Malamutes in Hawai‘i.”

“I’ve always been a writer,” Kelley said. “My kindergarten teacher told me I wrote my first book in kindergarten. I did a rewrite of‘Little Red Riding Hood.’”

Most of Kelley’s writing pours out of her as poems and journal entries, but when Lilly died in 2007, she found writing was cathartic as she dealt with her grief.

“As I wrote about Lilly, I wrote about her littermates, her mother and the first malamute we had,” Kelley said. “I was just enjoying writing about it so much, I just kept going. I spent about two years writing it, editing it and organizing it. I forgot where in that process I decided to turn it into a book.”

The book is a memoir about seven malamutes Kelley knew and what the animals taught her.

Besides detailing how to feed, groom and exercise malamutes in a tropical environment, Kelley also discusses how to respect animals and what she has learned about interspecies communication.

“The book is my attempt to explain how amazing these malamutes were at communicating,” Kelley said. “Communicating both what they wanted and interpreting what they got from me and other members of my family.”

Any dog lover already knows what Kelley means — our canine friends seem to know exactly what we are feeling and thinking. Animals teach us about unconditional love, how to grow old gracefully and they force us out of the house.

“Having dogs is so good for people, because they get you outside,”Kelley said. “They get you out in the morning so you can see what type of day it’s going to be. At night, they get you out to see the stars and smell the sky. I never regret any time Lilly wanted to take me outside.”

Kelley’s love for animals started as a child. While Kelley’s mother refused to have a dog in the house — as a child, Kelley’s mother was attacked by a pack of dogs — Kelley soaked up the visits she had at her grandparent’s house and their German shepherd, Otto.

“My grandmother’s dog was just an amazing companion for her and they had a wonderful relationship,” Kelley said. “I knew as soon as I got married, I was going to have a dog.”

Good on her word, Kelley got two dogs when she married. When she moved to Kaua‘i in 1987, she discovered malamutes, whose intelligence and temperament stole her heart.

Kelley is currently working on a children’s book about shearwaters, which she hopes to publish.

“My intention behind the book and my website is that all animals are to be treated with love and respect and supported in living, long happy lives.”

“For the Love of Lilly” is $15, and may be purchased at Talk Story Bookstore in Hanapepe and at Blue House Booksellers at Small Town Coffee Shop in Kapa’a. The book is also available online at Kelley’s website, or through Amazon or Barnes & Noble’s websites.

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