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2 April 2012 ·

Artists and Animals: Cheryl Rainfield & Petal

I got to know Cheryl Rainfield not long before SCARS came out, when she asked if I would read and possibly endorse it. I hate being asked to endorse a book, because I know how hurtful it is if I have to say No after reading. She’d also told me how much PEELING THE ONION had meant to her, so I knew I would feel doubly cruel if I didn’t like the book. However, I needn’t have worried. SCARS is a very powerful book, and as well as being a great, page-turning read, it gave me a much deeper understanding of issues such as the psychology of self-harm. I was only too happy to officially endorse it, and have been delighted to follow its award winning progress. 

As Cheryl and I have become friends, we’ve also traded pictures and stories of our dogs…
Cheryl Rainfield is the author of the award-winning SCARS (Westside, 2010), a novel about a teen sexual abuse survivor who used self-harm to cope; HUNTED (WestSide 2011, Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2012), a teen telepath on the run from government troopers; and STAINED (Harcourt, 2013), a teen who’s abducted who must find a way to rescue herself. Cheryl is an incest and ritual abuse survivor, feminist, and queer, and an avid book reader and book lover. She both writes and creates art. Cheryl lives with her little dog, Petal.

Have you ever been inspired by an animal, or animals in general, in your life or art?
Both of my dogs have inspired me by their incredible, unconditional love. Willow, my first dog, was so incredibly sweet and loving. She was scared in the world, and so was I when I got her, and we were both gentle and kind, so we were a perfect match. Petal, my new little dog, is also incredibly sweet and loving, but she’s also very playful and outgoing. She thinks everyone loves her (and she’s usually right!)–and she fits more with how I am now, welcoming more people into my life. I love how both would follow me around everywhere, sit with me (or lean against me) in the long hours while I wrote or edited my books or worked on book promotion, and then got up for cuddles or play afterward. Petal also interrupts me when she thinks I’ve been working too long–she climbs right onto my lap with her toy or a chewie or just herself and demands that I pay attention to her. (laughing) It’s good for me because otherwise I work too hard. 
I hadn’t had unconditional love in my life until both my dogs and one wonderful therapist I found, and both are so heartening.
Did you have pets as a child? 
I didn’t have a pet until my early teens (which I think is a good thing since my parents were abusers), when I got a cat. Amazon lived a long life with me–23 years! I didn’t think I was a dog person until I experienced the utter sweetness and unconditional love of my own dog.  
Do you have an animal companion now? How did it get its name? 
I learned to love dogs through my first little dog Willow, who was very dear to me. Now I have Petal, who’s just as sweet as Willow was, but is more outgoing and lively and happy. She loves chasing after the leaves in the wind, “catching” bubbles with her mouth, catching balls or sticks, hugging people (she wraps her front arms around my leg or someone who she likes), and following me everywhere. I named her Petal because I love the beauty of nature (I used “rain” and “field” to create my own last name), and because as a tiny puppy she looked so delicate. But she’s not delicate at all! She’s lively and full of energy.
What would Petal tell us about you?
Petal would say that I love her very much, that I often work too hard and too long and then she has to interrupt me by jumping on my lap with her toy or a treat and staying there until I pay attention, and that sometimes I get very sad and she fixes that by making me play with her or snuggling with me until I laugh. And while I probably give her more treats than most human dogs she wants more.
If you were an animal, what would you be?
Part of me likes the idea of being a dog, to snuggle with their human–but dogs usually don’t have any choice in who their human is or how they treat them. So maybe I’d want to be a bird, to be able to fly away when I need to, and to have the freedom of flying.
Any advice for people wanting a pet?
Research the pet to make sure it’s the kind of animal you want around you. Different breeds of dogs have different temperaments, and some will fit you better than others. Know that your pet is dependent on you for love and healthy food and good treatment, just like a child is. Love your pet, have fun with your pet!
Favourite animal books?
One of my very favorite animal books that I’ve read over and over again is Haiki the Shetland Pony by Kathleen Fidler. I love that book; the bond that Adam and Haiki have is beautiful. I also love Babe by Dick King-Smith and Charlotte’s Web (though it makes me cry) by EB White.
And here are a few videos of Petal in action: (Warning: high cuteness quotient!) 
Petal having fun catching the ball:
Petal running happily in the snow:


  1. Jessica Capelle I know Cheryl through Twitter, and it was fun to get to know her better through her animals. That unconditional love they provide is so amazing- my cats have helped me on my journey through illness, so I understand completely. Great post! Thanks to both of you for sharing it!
    April 2, 2012 at 5:03 pm · Reply
  2. Cheryl Thanks so much for doing this interview with me, Wendy. I've loved getting to know you, too!

    Jessica, hi! So glad you have cats that have helped you through!
    April 3, 2012 at 10:07 am · Reply
  3. Wendy Orr I'm so glad your cats have helped you too, Jessica.

    When I started this interview series, I just thought it would be fun and tied in well with the Rainbow Street Shelter series/Rainbow Street Pets. It's been so much more than that: it's really meant a lot to hear some of the stories and learn how much animals have meant to many of us.
    April 3, 2012 at 10:13 am · Reply
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Wendy Orr is a Canadian-born Australian writer. Her books for children and adults have been published in 27 countries and won awards around the world. Nim’s Island and Nim at Sea have also become feature films, starring Jodie Foster and Abigail Breslin (Nim’s Island) and Bindi Irwin (Return to Nim’s Island.) Her latest book is Cuckoo’s Flight, a companion to the highly acclaimed Bronze Age novels Dragonfly Song and Swallow’s Dance. Read full bio