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To these scribes, writing about dogs isn't for the dogs

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NEW YORK -- Ranny Green knew he was onto something back in the 1970s, when a story he wrote for his newspaper in Washington state garnered more phone calls and letters than anything he had done in his journalistic career.

It was about dogs.

Decades later, Green has left sports, news writing and editing behind to focus on dog writing, a craft that the Dog Writers Assn. of America says is rarely appreciated by those who don't practice it.

PHOTO GALLERY: Westminster Kennel Club

"I've told many young journalists, someday you're going to have to write a story about a dog," said Green, who has written more stories about dogs than he can count.

One assignment had him embedded with the pet-rescue charity Noah's Wish in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. He came home from Slidell, La., with plenty of stories and a dog named Abbe, one of the rescued pets whose original owners had never come forward to claim her.

Even if you don't like dogs, it's impossible to ignore their pull among those with a weakness for them, and the tales that draw dog fans in are not necessarily the light and happy ones.

Consider this:

A video posted to YouTube showing a loyal dog beside the casket of his Navy Seal master who had been killed in Afghanistan received more than 8.1 million views.

A 48-page nonfiction book about an abused dog, "Nubs: The True Story of a Mutt, a Marine and a Miracle," spent more than three months on the New York Times' children's picture book bestseller list after it was published in 2009.

Coverage of the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, has included dozens of stories of the roundup and alleged euthanization of stray dogs. Even though Sochi officials said the dogs were being "relocated," not killed, at least one athlete, silver medal winner Gus Kenworthy, decided to try to adopt some to keep them safe.

The story of a British military dog dog-napped by the Taliban this month has received widespread attention.

And who can forget the ruckus surrounding the tale of Seamus, Mitt Romney's late hound, whose ride atop the family car during a vacation in 1983 became an issue during the 2012 presidential campaign? (For the record, Seamus, an Irish setter, survived the trip in his specially outfitted dog carrier, and Romney declared that he loved the dog.)

"Lassie," the TV show about a collie, ran from 1954 until 1973, making it one of television's longest-running prime-time series.

Still, dog writers say it's a struggle to be taken seriously.

"A lot of my friends, even now, don't get it," said Michelle Maskaly, the editor-in-chief of Pet Age magazine, who left a career in hard news two years ago to focus on animals. "People hear pets, and they think; 'Oh, it's just funny.' But it's a huge part of our economy, and our relationships with our pets are so emotional."

Many of the awards given out by the Dog Writers Assn. of America at its annual banquet this month were for scientific blogs or stories, or for work looking into research on such topics as how to prevent collar strangulation, and dog cancers. The banquet came on the eve of the Westminster Kennel Club dog show, which many association members covered.

Green, who was inducted into the association's hall of fame last year, won for an online piece he wrote for seattlekennelclub.org in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Conn. The December 2012 shooting killed 20 first-graders and six school employees.

The more than 50 awards also were given to educational blogs, online columns, newspaper stories, books, and calendars.

"I like to think that maybe there's someone out there who read something I wrote and put it to practice with their dog," said the contest's chairwoman, Elaine Gewirtz, who has written several advice books for dog owners and aspiring dog-owners. "That's really what this is all about."

 

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