Author David Rosenfelt gives out treats to some of his 16 dogs at his home on Damariscotta Lake. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

If mystery writer David Rosenfelt is expecting company at his home on Damariscotta Lake, he asks visitors to call him when they are 10 minutes away.

He meets guests outside and give them a few terse instructions before ushering them in: “Don’t pet them, don’t stop, keep walking.” When his pack of 16 dogs is somewhat settled, people are permitted to pet and play with them, understanding they will get covered with hair and/or drool. After more than two decades of living and working in a house full of rescued shelter dogs – often more than 30 and seldom fewer than 15 – Rosenfelt’s daily routine is vastly different than that of other authors.

For one thing, his home writing office is usually crammed with as many as 10 dogs. He and his wife make about six trips a month to the vet, administer daily medicine for ailments ranging from epilepsy to diabetes, can’t go out of the house for more than a few hours and share their bed with at least four canines each night. Murphy, a 135-pound mastiff, will whine until Rosenfelt picks him up and places him on the bed.

“People think we do a lot for dogs, but there are many people who do even more,” said Rosenfelt, 70, as a 180-pound mastiff named Ayla sat next to him quietly. “And we get so much out of it.”

Maine author David Rosenfelt’s latest Andy Carpenter novel “Bark of Night.” Photo courtesy of Minotaur Books

One thing Rosenfelt got from his passion for dogs was the theme of his successful Andy Carpenter mystery series, which includes 21 novels dating back to 2002. The stories are about lawyer who runs a foundation to help rescued dogs and solves crimes, along with his dog, a golden retriever named Tara.  The novels usually feature a dog on the cover, have dog terms in the title and almost always begin with some mysterious incident involving a dog. “Bark of Night,” which goes on sale Tuesday, begins with Carpenter’s vet telling him of a healthy French bulldog named Truman who was dropped off to by euthanized by its supposed owner. Irate that someone would want to euthanize a dog for no good reason, Carpenter finds that the dog’s real owner has been murdered.

Though he’s not a lawyer and does not solve crimes, there’s much of Rosenfelt’s personality and passion in Carpenter. Rosenfelt and his wife, Debbie Myers, ran a rescue dog foundation in California called the Tara Foundation, which is also the name of Carpenter’s foundation in the books. Tara was the name of a golden retriever Myers owned when she and Rosenfelt started dating.

Rosenfelt is self-deprecating about his writing, saying he doesn’t spend a ton of time reworking things and doesn’t like the process. He claims a “healthy disrespect” for his own writing and says of “Bark of Night”: “If you like Andy Carpenter books, then this is a really good one. If you’re into Shakespeare, it’s not such a good one.”

But his books, including other mysteries without Carpenter, sell well enough for his contract to be regularly renewed. He recently signed a six-book deal. His book tours often consist of him doing fundraising events at shelter and rescue groups, where he lets readers bid for the privilege of having a book character named for them, or their dog. He also donates book sales at the events. At a June gala for the Golden Retriever Rescue of the Rockies in Colorado, he drew a crowd of 250 and helped raise $183,000, said Kevin Shipley, the organization’s executive director.

“If I went into a bookstore as a moderately successful author, I’d be lucky to draw 50 people,” said Rosenfelt. “But in rescue land, I’m a rock star.”

A ‘DOG LUNATIC’ WHO WRITES

Rosenfelt was a self-described “dog lunatic” before he ever thought up the character of dog-loving Andy Carpenter. Growing up in Paterson, New Jersey, his family had a dog, but never more than one. His ideas about dogs and what he could do for them changed when he began dating Myers, more than 25 years ago. They were both based in Los Angeles, where Rosenfelt was writing screenplays after working for TriStar Pictures as president of marketing. Myers was a senior vice president for the Fox television network.

Soon after they started dating, Tara became ill and later died. The dog’s death left a hole in both their lives. Instead of trying to replace Tara, they started volunteering at shelters around Los Angeles to help other dogs. At one shelter, the couple saw a father and his three children turn in a full-grown dog, which they had gotten at the shelter as a puppy, and ask for another puppy. Myers quickly confronted the man and shamed him into leaving without a puppy.

“All dogs deserve a future and to be loved,” said Myers, sitting in the couple’s living room with two dogs at her feet.

The couple started the Tara Foundation to help fund care and placement for shelter animals, some 4,000 or so over the decade it was in existence. When there were dogs no one seemed to want, maybe because they were too sick or too old, Rosenfelt and Myers would take them into their home. The couple soon found 25 or more dogs living with them at any one time. Over the years, they’ve probably taken some 50o dogs into their homes to live with them, Rosenfelt estimates.

Rosenfelt had worked for years in the movie industry, in marketing. He got his first job with some help from his uncle, who worked at United Artists. He was at TriStar Pictures when that company got sold in the late 1980s. For a while, amidst the chaos of the corporate merger, he had little to do, and someone suggested he write a script. He’s not sure why, but he did, and it sold. So he wrote another. Pretty soon he decided to make writing his career. Rosenfelt wrote and sold screenplays and scripts, including for several TV movies with mystery/crime plots. In between writing TV movie scripts, he decided to write part of a novel, a mystery. He gave it to his film agent, who showed it to someone at Warner Books, which bought it and the rights to a sequel. That novel became “Open and Shut,” the first of his Andy Carpenter mysteries.

Since he never studied writing and never really set out to be a writer, Rosenfelt says he just sort of “blunders” his way through his books, which take maybe six weeks to write if he “goes at intensely.” He writes at least two books a year, but has a deal to do three in 2020 and three in 2021. Besides Andy Carpenter books, he writes other mystery novels and has written two nonfiction books about dogs: “Lessons From Tara: Life Advice From the World’s Most Brilliant Dog” and “Dogtripping.” The latter was about how Rosenfelt and Myers moved from California to Maine about eight years ago with 25 dogs. Many of the dogs were too old or too sick to fly.  So they enlisted people from around the country, including fans of his books, to help transport the dogs in three rented RVs. It took five days.

A HOME IN MAINE

The couple chose to live in Maine because they’re both from the East Coast and saw themselves eventually living here again. They had visited Damariscotta Lake once and fell in love with the area. Their house has three fenced-in acres and 12 overall. The main space of the house is a living and dining area that opens into the kitchen and has cathedral ceiling above. Even with 16 dogs, the space does not feel crowded. Often a half-dozen or more dogs are in Rosenfelt’s office, while the others are in various areas of the house. Soon after moving in, the couple found that in the spring, it rains in their living room. They’re pretty sure that it’s condensation caused, at least in part, by the constant panting of 20 or so dogs.

Rosenfelt and Myers are well known among shelter and rescue folks, so they get called often to take sick or older dogs. They were expecting two more from New Jersey this month.

They’ve taken three dogs from the Memphis Area Golden Retriever Rescue in Tennessee, including one dog with severe storm anxiety and separation anxiety that the rescue group had already been placed in a Boston-area home. The dog, Georgia, was tearing up the home she had been placed in and the Memphis group’s director, Phyl Simons, was desperate to find someone else in New England to take her. She didn’t know Rosenfelt, but knew of him and his books, so she emailed him. Ten minutes later, Rosenfelt emailed back and said he was at a book singing in New York, but would take the dog. The next day, he and Myers rented a car and drove to Boston to pick up Georgia.

Of the dogs Rosenfelt and Myers have now, three have epilepsy while others are dealing with diabetes, hip dysplasia, incontinence, arthritis, thyroid deficiencies, blindness and Lyme disease. They have also rescued one dog who was returned to a shelter because it shed too much for the owners’ liking, and another who was too old to keep up with its master’s brisk jogging pace.

A recent addition to their family is a golden retriever named Hank, who was taken to a vet to be euthanized. The owners said Hank had nipped their child. But with no evidence of a serious attack, the vet refused. They say they have witnessed nothing aggressive about Hank, not even when Myers accidentally stepped on him while getting out of bed.

Because they take in sick and older dogs, Rosenfelt and Myers have seen many of their pets die. But they deal with it by focusing on the here and now, making the dogs happy and comfortable. That includes regular steak nights, when they cook up 10 or so London broils for their dogs.

“It’s never easy, but we’ve realized we have to focus on whatever time we have with them and make sure they are happy and safe and loved,” Rosenfelt said.

Just some of the hundreds of dogs David Rosenfelt and his wife have adopted over 25 years. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer


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