By James Dorsey
Thirteen years ago I fell in love with a white ball of fur that wagged its tail at me from behind the bars of a city dog pound.1 I was about to quit a steady job to follow my dream of becoming a travel writer， a potentially disastrous2 idea about to be compounded by adding another mouth to feed—not to mention an animal that would need care during my long absences. I never gave it a second thought.
She had me at the first wag.
Layla quickly made the connection between seeing my bags spread across the bed and my leaving on a trip. She was adept3 at conveying her displeasure with her body language. For my homecomings we soon established the ritual of my spreading the contents of my bags across the patio for her to roll in and revel in the exotic smells of faraway places mixed with my own travel stench.4 Her disappointment at my departures was more than compensated for by our reunions.5
And when I sat to write my stories， she would station herself on the daybed next to my desk and we would have extended （often nonverbal） conversations about where Id been and what Id seen.6 We communicated with each other as only animals and those who love them can.
I would read aloud to her what Id written and she would cock her head or wag her tail in dissent or agreement.7 Sometimes shed offer a“woof” for emphasis. If she turned away to concentrate on cleaning a paw， I knew I had to start over.
Of course she didnt understand what I was writing. But this exercise with her was my means of self-editing. It was the way I strove to push a story to a higher level. Assigning a voice to Layla in this process turned a task into a joy.
She became my muse and my virtual partner in my travels.8
Watching her reactions to my work forced me to modulate my voice and pay attention to nuances.9 Not only was I bouncing ideas off her， I was also telling her the story as though she were a reader. This helped shape what I put on the page. Having such a ready and patient audience， and critiquing10 my writing through her voice， made me a better writer.
Telling her my stories took me back to those places in my mind. It allowed me to relive my experiences and scour them for the details that could make the story soar， details that sometimes get lost in the larger telling but are， in themselves， tiny gems of experience.11