Some of my favorite secondary characters in books have been pets-not all of which are actual animals. Not every book needs pets, but they can occasionally provide great moments. A pet can provide comic relief, reflect the state of relationships going on around them, or provide great insight into a character.
You do have to be careful with pets though. I’ve heard many authors warn that your hero can do anything and be forgiven as long as he doesn’t kick the dog. Just think of the movie Alien with Sigourney Weaver. Would you have forgiven the filmmaker if he’d allowed the cat to die? Alien is also a good example of how pets can soften a character. Bestselling author Joan Johnston says if you need to build sympathy for a tough to love character, have them save a puppy early in the story. The character of Ripley was actually a pretty tough and pushy officer and the cat did give her a softer edge (whether or not, we need to soften female characters is a whole other discussion).
In Jess Granger’s Realms Beyond series, the Elite women warriors of Azra each have a ‘scout’ to fight by their side. These small fierce creatures act as an extension of the warrior characters and provide a bit of softening to contrast against their controlled personalities. Cyn, a character that runs through both books and is the hero of the second, has a miniature flying-saucer-like mechanical pet called bug. Bug is hilarious and adds a dash of the fun side of sci-fi to these novels.
C.J. Barry is another author I think is brilliant with secondary characters of all types. Her space pirate adventure, Unmasked, features a flying light orb called Nod. The name seems perfect since he occasionally powers down spontaneously as if nodding off. He also has tendency to overwrite his memory to accomplish a new task, all to great comic effect when he forgets something important as a result. The passionate way Torrie Masters defends her creation/pet says a great deal about her own character.
These are some of my favorite authors who use pets in sci-fi romance, but I’m sure there are others who do it equally well. If you’ve read any books that featured pets to good effect, I’d love to hear about them!