Chester a.k.a. ‘Chessie’

The Hanson Family’s pet Jack Russell Terrier whom Ryan and Mark found abandoned as a pup.

When drafting Part 1 of the story back in 2017, I hadn’t really had an intention of giving Ryan and Mark a pet of any kind, simply considering the relationship of the two boys and their struggle to survive their horrid situation in the woeful midst of downtown Baltimore.

Gradually, though, I warmed to the idea of creating a pet for the boys as a means of both showing their naturally caring disposition, but also to introduce a side to their abusive father, Simon. While Simon, throughout the series, is a completely reprehensible character with the way he violently treats his children and his wife, I never wanted him to be a completely one-note personality – just absolute evil and that’s it. Instead, my desire was to show a sensitive side to him that rarely emerges from behind his veil of hate, and those brief shining moments of empathy are aimed not at humans, but at animals – specifically a pet dog. In this, I felt that Simon’s character could be explored a little further than perhaps it could have been without a dog, and that a bit more understanding of how he’d fallen out of love with humanity and society at large for what it had done to him, but still had at least a smidgen of care for creatures that would never mean him the same malice or manipulation.

From then on, I knew a pet would have to be inserted into the story, but what kind?

Well, I’m a dog lover, and so the question was answered almost instantly – but what sort of dog would it be?

My favorite dog breed of all time is the friendly Beagle, a smart and loving hound that I love mostly for its curious personality, but also because it’s a nicely proportioned dog with a good profile and an adorable colour-scheme of black, white and brown. However, as the situation with Ryan and Mark is one of small living and impoverishment, I considered that a Beagle, or indeed any medium to large sized hound, would be a bit too much for their tiny townhouse and lack of income to manage, and so I decided to go instead for the Beagle’s smaller cousin, the Jack Russell Terrier.

Aside from a Jack Russell essentially being just a mini-Beagle, the choice of a smaller dog seemed logical as it took up less space and was therefore a lot cheaper to look after than a larger breed, quietly trundling about the place and doing his own thing rather than being a pet with much more intrusive requirements to which neither Ryan nor his family could devote all their time and resources to look after.

With that, Chester – a name I chose as it could easily be shortened to Chessie, a nickname for the Chesapeake Bay on which Baltimore sits – was added into the story as a friend and companion for the boys, but also to help explore the character of Simon Hanson, indirectly giving additional dimensions to his personality.