Kathleen Kinsolving knows that inspiration can come from strange places. In 2000, she was helping a friend move when she came upon a trunk full of books, including Carlo D’Este’s biography of Gen. George Patton, “Patton: A Genius for War.”
“I started looking through the book, and saw a photo of Patton’s bull terrier Willie, laying next to his foot locker and briefcase after Patton has passed away, and it was one of the most moving things I had ever seen,” she said. “I thought the story of Patton and Willie might make for an interesting, short book.”
That photo eventually led to Kinsolving’s second book, “Dogs of War,” which was released Tuesday, Nov. 20. The book tells the story of three historic figures of the last century, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower and Patton, through the eyes of their dogs.
D’Este even wrote the forward to “Dogs of War,” calling the book an example of how “the unconditional love and devotion of these dogs created an oasis of peaceful energy for these great leaders, each of whom occupied exceptionally demanding positions.”
THIS IS THE SECOND NOVEL written by Kinsolving, who also teaches English at Centreville High School and lives in Reston. The first was a biography of her father Les, a former pastor who became a journalist and a senior member of the White House Press Corps.
Being an admirer of Roosevelt and knowing the stories of Fala, his famous Scottish terrier, Kinsolving figured that would be a natural pair to the stories about Patton and Willie. But when she submitted the work for publication, agents told her it was too short, and to try and add a third pair.
“I wasn’t too sure about Eisenhower, I didn’t know too much and frankly, wasn’t sure that there would be too much to write, but then I called his library and they recommended the two memoirs published by Kay Summersby,” said Kinsolving, referring to Eisenhower’s chauffer and secretary and is rumored to have had an affair with the president. “In her books, there were a lot of stories about how they raised a Scottie named Telek, and it turned out to be quite a romantic story.”
Kinsolving, who says she has always had a “strong attachment” to dogs, said she enjoyed learning anecdotes about how the dogs could provide levity to the leaders, even as the future of the world often rested on their shoulders.
One such anecdote is about Eisenhower, who in 1943 was a general staying at the villa of Gen. George C. Marshall, when Telek briefly escaped from Eisenhower and Summersby and ran upstairs and urinated on Marshall’s bed.
“There are so many stories like that, that show how these animals were a part of these men’s lives even as they were at the heart of these massive events,” Kinsolving said. “They’re stories that will appeal to people of all ages, I even made sure to censor General Patton’s colorful language when needed.”
Ranny Green of the Seattle Kennel Club praised “Dogs of War” for its “kaleidoscope of funny, frustrating and even fiery accounts of each celebrated dog’s role in its owner’s life.’
THE BOOK also includes a contemporary afterword, the tale of Cairo, the dog that was with Seal Team Six as they killed Osama bin Laden.
Kinsolving says she is working on several projects for the future, including a few screenplays. She said she hopes to bring the same type of anecdotes to a project about her son, who is 8 years old and autistic, and her experiences raising him.
“I have a need to look at things and try and find something funny, something to laugh at, something to lighten people up,” she said. “In my experiences with my son, I’ve found that a lot of people don’t really know how to react, I’ve seen people wriggle, squirm, patronize, and I’ve thought, ‘maybe that’s how I would react if I didn’t know what I know.’”
The book is available online and in stores starting Tuesday, Nov. 20.