A Puppy You Could Die For: Hunting Elf

by Harvey Karp

(January 18, 2007) Larchmont, Mamaroneck and other nearby locations fill the pages of Hunting Elf, a new novel by local author Dave Donelson. The book tells the story of Elf, a Silky Terrier puppy with uncontrollable wanderlust, and a posse of murderous dog fanatics in hot and hilarious pursuit through many thinly-disguised Westchester spots.

ElfThe novel is based on the escapades of a real pup named Elf, who ran away from Mr. Donelson’s former Mamaroneck home a few days before he was to be a Christmas gift. Despite an arduous days-long search by friends, neighbors, family members, and a few people Mr. Donelson didn’t even know, the little terrier stayed lost until Christmas Eve, when he trotted back into the house on Stuart Avenue as if nothing had happened.

“Elf’s return was either a miracle or an omen,” Mr. Donelson says. “We didn’t know whether to kiss him or strangle him.”

Mr. Donelson, a writer who now lives in West Harrison, didn’t do either one. Instead, he turned the story into a fictionalized account of a Silky Terrier with Westminster-champion blood lines acquired by hapless Dan McCoy, a suburbanite who didn’t really want a dog in the first place. He added a cast of nefarious dognappers, a couple of off-camera murders, a few goofy in-laws and neighbors, and Hunting Elf grew into a comedic adventure novel that ends when the whole gang chases Elf into the middle of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

elfAlong the way the little pup dines in the shoe department at Nordstrom's in the Westchester Mall, hides out in the fictitious town of "Harrington," and scampers through several other locations perhaps quite recognizable to knowledgeable Westchester readers. Among them are "Shampoodle," a dead ringer for popular grooming shop "Shampooch" on Palmer Avenue and the "Harrington Diner," which greatly resembles the Mamaroneck Diner on Post Road.

The heart of the story, though, is how the first-time dog owners, Dan and his wife June, learn to live with the rambunctious Elf. According to Donelson, “Imagine Groucho Marx at a Hunter S. Thompson New Year’s Eve party — that’s Elf. He has the heart of Rin-Tin-Tin and the table manners of Grendel’s mother.”

Drawing on his life in a house with several champion show dogs - his wife, Nora Guzewicz, breeds and shows Bichon Frises — Mr. Donelson filled the novel with experiences recognizable by anyone who has ever raised a puppy. Elf lifts his leg in all the wrong places, chews on everything from an heirloom Oriental carpet to the CATV cable, and has an uncontrollable urge to dig up and eat delicacies like kitty paté, which gives a whole new meaning to the term “doggie breath.”

While the McCoys try to survive their adventures in puppydom, two rival breeders do their best to snatch Elf. Both are aided and opposed by a double-crossing, two-timing handler with secret plans of his own. It makes for a delicious romp through the suburbs of New York.

Hunting Elf first came out in 2006 as a free audio book on a website the author designed, www.huntingelf.com, and requests for a print version started pouring in. When over 6,000 episodes of the book were downloaded in the first four months, Mr. Donelson published the 276-page trade paperback, which is available at www.lulu.com or other book sellers.

Mr. Donelson writes for numerous publications, including the Christian Science Monitor, Disney's FamilyFun, and Westchester Magazine. A Westchester resident for nearly thirty years, he also serves as President of the Westchester Library System Board of Trustees.

Harvey Karp is a writer from Riverdale currently completing a murder mystery set in Central Park.