More often than not, we receive stories from people who write about their pets after the beloved companion has died. Although these stories are wonderful tributes, we wonder if the person might have written while their pet was still alive. Note: Leaf (dog), Sunshine (bird), and Speedy (cat) are featured in the images in the blog.
The process of writing causes the writer to become aware and observant. It brings the past and future together in the present. Although it has been cathartic for us, too, to write about pets who are no longer with us, there is something immensely satisfying when we take the time to be present to our pets right now.
In the present moment we can express our gratitude for the joy they are bringing to our lives. When Allen wrote his New York Times bestselling memoir A Dog Named Leaf, it was emotionally fulfilling to be able to take a walk with Leaf, photograph him playing at his favorite dog park, and tuning in to who he is to us today.
There is always a tinge of sadness in writing about animals, even while they are living. We know their life spans are shorter than ours. We know this immensely good thing will someday end. But writing and sharing
stories about them, while we can still pet and play together, replaces fears of loss with admiration and gratitude for the blessings.
Let’s see what new and inspiring stories bubble to the surface as a result of living in the present and rejoicing in the blessings of now.
“Anatole France said, ‘Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.’ We agree with that statement. And we heartily invite you to join us in exploring the world of Angel Animals.”
The truth of the matter is – we are working too hard and putting in too many hours on the next books. But we have barometers in our home who tell us that. They are named Leaf, Cuddles, and Sunshine.
A Dog Named Leaf
Leaf, our dog, brings his ball and drops it at our feed and tells us to throw it for him. Cuddles, the little cat, vocalizes with a scolding tone of voice. Sunshine, the bird, screeches more than usual but also sings his song if one of us spends quality time with him. He is giving us positive reinforcement to play with him too.
Everybody joins in the chorus to let us know that it is time to rest, time to take a break, time to play.
Who is in charge of keeping you in balance when your life fills up with too many to-do list items?
As we approach the Christmas holidays and New Year, we want to thank everyone who has been part of our lives in 2014. We feel deep and sincere gratitude for friends and family who have been at our sides during challenging times as well as with us to celebrate the highlights of this year.
One of the big highlights was co-authoring ANIMAL STARS: Behind the Scenes with Your Favorite Animal Actors with Dr. Robin Ganzert, CEO of American Human. What an exciting experience that was for us.
Animal Stars: Behind the Scenes with Your Favorite Animal Actors by Robin Ganzert, PhD
The book features a behind-the-scenes look at the lives of Hollywood’s favorite animal actors. It features moving stories from Julia Roberts, Steven Spielberg, animal trainers, and more!
We travelled to Hollywood to meet and interview trainers who shared their personal experiences with the animal actors featured in the book. The trainers and American Humane Association’s Film & TV Unit were all very gracious and welcoming. When we visited the trainers’ and animals’ homes, ranches, and facilities, we observed that animal actors and their people showed a deep love and respect for each other in what appeared to be much more than a merely professional relationship.
Robin Ganzert Hosting the Hero Dogs Awards
Another 2014 highlight was our visit to the ANIMAL STARS book launch party at Fox Studios in Hollywood and the American Human Association’s Hero Dogs Awards at the Los Angeles Beverly Hilton. What amazing events. Wow! As you can see in the images, we had a blast with hundreds of people and heroic animals who attended.
ANIMAL STARS Book Launch
ANIMAL STARS Book Launch
ANIMAL STARS Book Launch
ANIMAL STARS Book Launch
The New York Times Best Seller — A DOG NAMED LEAF
A DOG NAMED LEAF – “Didn’t see that coming!”
What if something really good happens, totally unexpected, and gives hard-working writers hope that anything is possible? Well, something did happen to us in 2014.
Our 2012 memoir A DOG NAMED LEAF about Allen and our rescued cocker spaniel facing life-threatening challenges together made it on to the December 21, 2014 New York Times Best Sellers list!
A DOG NAMED LEAF was very personal book for us to write (and live). We wondered how people would respond to its deeply spiritual experiences and themes. It was our truth, though, and we shared more of our personal lives in this book than in any other writing we have done or that has been written about us.
Linda and Leaf
Leaf and Allen
To give a glimmer of the gratitude readers of this book have expressed, below is one of the over 60 Amazon.com 4- and 5-star comments.
“My vet gave me a copy of this book. I started reading it and couldn’t put it down! I’m a groomer, and the story told about Leaf and his visits at the groomer’s always comes to mind when I am grooming a difficult dog. (I groom a lot of rescue dogs.) I have loaned my book out to many people and also recommended it to many people. When they read it, their response is always the same as mine: They couldn’t put it down either! This book would make a great gift. I’m buying a second book to donate to our next silent auction to raise money for our local rescue dogs! Hugs and smooches to Leaf!” –Pam
We appreciate Lyon’s Press/Rowman & Littlefield Publishing for the creative work and strategies they used to make it possible for a whole new set of readers to find our book.
The New York Times Best Seller — A DOG NAMED LEAF
Thanks to those who have read A DOG NAMED LEAF. We love it when you share your thoughts and reactions to the book in emails, social media posts, and customer reviews at online booksellers.
“Oh, my God! There’s a dog in the tree!” one of three teenage girls yelled with disbelief, as the trio walked past us. When they saw the dog, the other two teens called almost in unison, “Oh, my God!” as they all gawked upward.
Our cocker spaniel Leaf and we were at our regular Saturday morning spot, sitting on the soft white sand, viewing the great Mississippi river as it slowly flowed past. This was our quiet time to reflect on our week and what lay ahead.
Our Saturday spot is in the middle of 12 acres of a heavily wooded forest with many walking trails–all existing for dogs. It has an official name, but we call it DOG PARK HEAVEN, the BEST dog park ever.
Near where we always sit on the beach, a large fallen oak tree with ample branches thrusts toward the river. The incline is low enough that Leaf feels comfortable climbing upward, high onto its limb. Upon reaching his destination, he lies down on the thick branch. Then he places his most precious procession, an orange bouncy ball, between his two front paws. With the ball in its proper place, he relaxes and observes all the activities beneath him. This is HIS spot where no dog or human can reach him.
As the people and their canines strolled down the beach one Saturday, some, like the teenagers, noticed Leaf. Most of the time people made their statement about the dog in the tree in a monotone voice as if trying to be cool about such a strange sight. It was as if they were saying, “The tree has leaves.”
Some asked, “Is that your dog?” Linda replied, “Yes, he likes heights. He must have been a cat in a previous life.”
A Dog Named Leaf in a Tree
With those additional details each person continued to stare at Leaf as he or she slowly approached the tree. With a slight moment of hesitation, they continued walking under the branch while Leaf looked down at them, probably thinking, “They won’t get my ball.”
A few times, passing dogs would also look skyward and see Leaf. Some glared at him when they realized he was not a squirrel. The big dogs looked horrified that a smaller dog would dare be higher than they. “It’s just not natural,” they seemed to be thinking. Other dogs noticed that Leaf had something between his paws. Could it be a ball?
With perfect timing, suddenly and with purpose, Leaf repeatedly showed the dogs that he, in fact, had his own ball. “See! Look at me! Mine!” While he actively chomped on his ball, no canine considered taking the challenge of climbing high to swipe it.
Maybe people were double-checking to make sure what they saw was real and could now be part of their expanded worldview of what dogs do. Maybe the dogs looked back at Leaf to ponder a day when they might get the ball Leaf guarded. After all, it was as if he was mocking them by proudly displaying his prize.
As it turns out, Leaf had a plan of action outside of teasing the dogs below him with a ball they could never capture. He wanted to show off how macho he was or maybe display his intelligence. Using advanced strategic planning, he carefully evaluated potential foes. With amazing timing he threw his ball downward to the beach as his chosen mark approached.
Leaf chose dogs who were totally unaware of his presence above them. With delight and ecstasy, the dogs couldn’t believe their good luck. A ball had dropped from the sky, a gift from the heavens, a toy to enjoy. This was truly DOG PARK HEAVEN!
At the chosen one’s moment of greatest gratitude and vulnerability, Leaf swooped down from his high perch, also appearing to have fallen from the sky. Eye-to-eye with the chosen canine, he quickly chomped on the orange ball and ran with it back up the tree. There, he safely watched the dog’s disappointment and bewilderment that the unexpected gift had been taken away only seconds after being offered.
As we relaxed at our spot on the beach, watching The Leaf Show, dogs slowly walked over to us to say hello. We gentle caressed their heads or ears and told each of our visitors how beautiful he or she was.
This game Leaf played with unsuspecting dogs continued for weeks until one Saturday when we all experienced a profound change. As usual, Leaf displayed his total joy in being back at Dog Park Heaven. We slowly walked down the long winding trail to the Mississippi river and found our regular spot. While we sat in the soft cool sand, Leaf climbed his tree, holding his orange ball in his mouth and rooting himself into his high spot. All was right with the world.
Soon after we relaxed, one dog, then two, then four rushed over to scale Leaf’s exclusive tree branch. Word had gotten out. Was this a dog version of text messaging or inner social media, ending up with a flash mob? Leaf’s personal domain now had uninvited visitors. Big dogs, small dogs, wet and dirty dogs of all sizes formed packs and were invading HIS tree. Tensely he gripped the ball in his mouth, guarding it against those who dared occupy his branch of safety and personal refuge.
A Dog Named Leaf in a Tree
Consciousness had expanded. The traditional dog park with noses sniffing close to ground had vanished. Traditional canine experience was no longer limited. Humans were delighted and amazed that their dogs could now go high. With nervous laughter they said things such as, “Look at her! I didn’t know she could do that!” Placing limitations on their companions was no longer as easy as previously.
Leaf too had to become accustomed to a new dog park reality. Observing the world from above can be fun but his high spot was no longer unreachable. As a result, he began coming down to earth more often to mix it up, play with other dogs, and have us throw his ball to chase and retrieve.
What did the three of us learn?
Sometimes life breaks through seemingly unbreakable boundaries we have place upon ourselves — fixed notions of what individuals are capable of doing and being. Yet neither dog-made nor man-created limitations are absolute.
What have the animals in your life taught you about possibilities?
As we are nearing the five-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina hitting New Orleans and the Gulf Coast on August 29, 2005 and the city’s levees breaking on August 30, a new book takes us back to the largest animal rescue operation in history. ORPHANS OF KATRINA by Karen O’Toole is a remarkable account of the author’s experiences while spending four months volunteering as an animal rescuer. She also served for several subsequent months by helping evacuees find lost pets.
Karen writes, “No one asked what it felt like to walk through vast suburbs, thick with homes, yet never find another person, never see a car move, never hear a bird chirp. No one asked what it was like to sleep on the toxic hot pavement of a parking lot with armed military guards all around so that you wouldn’t be killed at night. And most importantly, no one asked what it was like to live in a city full of entombed, dying pets unseen in the houses and apartments surrounding you. It was a citywide guessing game and we were losing. What was it like? What was it really like? No one asked.”
Karen has answered all those questions and many more with a book that has the pace and drama of a thriller. It chronicles in gripping narrative and through compelling photos the highs and lows of her gritty experiences. It truly is a book that every animal lover will want to read.
For our book, RESCUED: SAVING ANIMALS FROM DISASTER, we interviewed Karen and hundreds of others who searched for animals and reunited them with their families. We were able to touch upon many aspects of the animal rescue operation that was marked by chaos and passion. People who went to serve on the Gulf Coast told us that by reading our book they learned things about what was going on in other parts of the disaster area that they hadn’t heard while working down there.
Karen’s book, however, goes into great depth about the experiences of these animal rescue heroes. It takes readers on an unforgettable journey of a lifetime. Karen is an excellent, award-winning writer. Her book will keep you turning the pages.
We applaud Karen for telling and sharing these stories of animal rescue. Books like this make it less likely that animals will ever be left behind again. ORPHANS OF KATRINA deserves to be read widely. It will help to bring about changes in policy and practice. The book compellingly illustrates that it is imperative for human and animal families to be kept together through disasters and emergencies.
We continue to look for ways of doing more to help animal rescue and animal welfare organizations. While we already donate a portion of all our proceeds to nonprofit charities, send baskets of books for silent auctions, and speak at fundraising events, we want to expand our outreach and support.
We’re looking for corporate sponsors that want to reach the animal lovers who follow our work and read our books. Our goal is to find like-minded people in the corporate world who would get involved with us in helping nonprofit animal charities. If you have contacts in major corporations who might want to support Angel Animals in its charitable outreach goals, be sure to email us with your suggestions and ideas.
As we write, we’re being watched (coached?) by our rescued cat, friend, and co-worker Cuddles. She curls up and observes with her loving eyes gently focused upon us. Throughout licking her paws and stretching, Cuddles continues to be steadfast in her presence. We dearly love her.
Is part of her spiritual mission in this life to support ours? We believe it is.
We, as do others, have important messages to bring to a world where there is so much suffering, turmoil, and loneliness. We long for people to understand that the bonds of divine love between people and animals, and among animals for each other, transcend fear, anger, rivalry, and isolation. Repeatedly, it is the animals who teach a better way to all of us. We recently visited New Orleans to give a presentation about Angel Animals and the heroic efforts of animal rescuers on the Gulf Coast after Katrina.
We gave our talk to the veterinarian technicians for whom we have the highest regard and respect. They were attending a reception at the American Veterinary Technician Association’s annual conference. Our talk was meant to be a reminder about the necessity of cherishing the spiritual connection with animals.
In our book “RESCUED: Saving Animals from Disaster,” excerpted below, we tell the story of a man who witnessed the heroics of an animal during the worst conditions. This man marveled at a dog who loved his mate more than he valued his own safety and comfort. His story sets the tone for our book. With the retelling of this heart-opening experience, we pause to remember that animals often fulfill the spiritual mission of showing people how to be more compassionate human beings.
“Days after the levees in New Orleans broke, Chris Cutter, communications director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, worked on a boat that maneuvered through toxic water. No one, human or animal, would have wanted to spend a minute more than necessary in it. Chris recalls, ‘We saw a dog swimming in the muck.’ Chris’s boat steered toward the dog. Instead of allowing the rescuers to help him into the vehicle, the dog turned around and swam away from the boat. That is when they heard barking coming from inside a house.
“The rescuers steered to follow the dog. He led them to the back of his house where a female dog, ‘his girlfriend,’ as Chris calls her, was trapped inside. Only after the rescuers freed the female dog did this big, shaggy husky allow the rescuers to haul him into the boat.
“As the boat moved away one of the rescuers petted him, saying, ‘You’re such a good boy.’ Her hand jerked suddenly off the dog’s head, as if she had touched a sizzling stove. ‘My hand is burning,’ she told Chris.
“‘The dog could have saved himself,’ Chris says. ‘Instead, he swam off so we would find his girlfriend. When you are dealing with things like that, it is hard not to think that there is a validity in what you are doing. That there is something bigger going on.'”
This dog made a conscious decision and was acting with purpose to save a life. Thank goodness for Chris and the animal rescuers. They listened to their intuition and inner guidance and decided to follow this brave dog back to his barely surviving mate.
In the August 26, 2007 issue of this newsletter we published Annette Fisher’s story about her rescue of Janice the pig. The story, “Inspired by a Pig” brought a lot of response from our readers. The story is reprinted below the photograph of Janice the pig.
Annette gave us an update on Janice.
“Janice is still hanging in there with us! She enjoyed some fresh grapes earlier today and has three new duck friends who sit around her at times and keep her company. We keep thin sheets over her during this muggy weather and fly season, and she is ‘pretty in pink’ with fly ointment smeared around her ears to keep the flies away from her face. It figures that every time I go to buy the fly ointment, they are out of the clear and only have the pink kind left.
“Janice has a new photo of herself in this month’s edition of our Happy Trails August newsletter, which can be seen at our website at www.happytrailsfarm.org, if you want to check it out.
“Thanks SO much for sharing her (our) story again – Janice is an inspiration to me and has helped such a tremendous number of animals through Happy Trails that it amazes me every time. I sit with her and think about what she accomplished by simply being here in this world as a once-neglected pig.”
INSPIRED BY A PIG
By Annette Fisher
Six years ago I met a lady who was selling horse equipment at a tack swap. We were comparing notes on how difficult it was to go on vacation and have someone take care of your horses and farm animals in the way you want them to be cared for. She said that she was getting ready to go on a vacation and would be glad to pay me if I would come over every day and take care of her animals. I immediately agreed to help.
Upon arrival at her farm to learn about feeding and daily routines, I was shown quite a variety of horses, dogs, cats, a donkey, a farm hog, and a long list of other furry creatures. We came to a small door that opened into a tiny, completely closed-in pen located inside her horse barn. While peering through this small door, I could see thick spider webs and their creators hanging low from the ceiling. There, in her own filth and waste, lay a 150 pound potbelly pig. She was unable to move, and her front legs curled up underneath her. She had no hair; her skin was thick and peeling.
In complete amazement at seeing this poor creature, I blurted out, “My God, what happened to this pig?” I was told that someone had brought her to the farm about six years ago and they had dropped her getting her off the truck. “I think they broke her legs,” the woman calmly explained.
“What did your vet say?” I asked. My mouth dropped open in utter disbelief as I heard the reply, “Oh, we never called a vet.”
The farm’s owner then left on her vacation and was supposed to be gone only three days. This pig tore at my heart and haunted my thoughts each time I would leave the farm. I would open the door so that she could get some fresh air. I found straw for bedding so she wouldn’t have to lay in such filthy conditions. The owner decided to stay gone for another day, then another day. Finally a week went by before she returned home.
“How much do I owe you for feeding?” she asked.
“How about just giving me your crippled pig?” I replied, terrified that she wouldn’t agree to such a request. The deal was agreed upon, and I took Janice, the pig, to our local veterinarian for a complete physical and exam. Having worked at that farm for a week, not only did I not make any money, but it cost me $280 in an hour at the vet clinic.
X-rays showed that Janice’s legs weren’t broken but had atrophied due to being kept in such horrible conditions in such a small area. She would never be able to walk normally, and the bones in her front knees would continue to fuse. I discussed euthanasia with the vet and asked if it would be kinder to let her go.
The vet’s reply was kind and sympathetic with an emphatic no! “Annette, this is the best the pig’s ever had it,” the vet said. “Let her enjoy life for a while, and she’ll let you know when she’s ready to go.” That was six years ago.
What the vet was talking about was that we had built Janice her own log cabin, fairly large, complete with heat lamps in it for the cold winter temperatures. We filled her log cabin with extra thick straw for her bed and gave her old sleeping bags and blankets to snuggle under. Her fur grew back, her skin healed, and I had gained her trust.
She would look for me to bring her healthy snacks and hold her water bowl so that she could get drinks easily. Janice was given an arthritis supplement for any discomfort in her legs, and we gave and continue to give her daily body massages.
A few months had passed after welcoming Janice to our farm. We then again rescued another potbelly piggy, a youngster we named George. We presented him to Janice as her companion. The two eventually became best friends and they enjoyed each other’s company immensely. George grew up with Janice and now loves her with all his heart. George travels around our farm and takes stories back to Janice about the other animals he meets and greets.
This heart-breaking experience with Janice made me wonder — if this poor pig was hidden in a barn and needed help, what other farm animals might be hidden in barns but need special care? I started to inquire with county humane societies and animal protective leagues across our state about what happened to farm animals that were removed from abuse situations. Their options weren’t always great. Some agencies would euthanize the farm animals, since many were designed to handle only domestic animals. Several agencies were reluctant to even remove the farm animals from neglect because they had nowhere to take them.
I decided that people needed to learn to treat the farm animals with compassion and give them the proper care and respect that they deserved. Janice, the pig, was my inspiration to create the organization now known as Happy Trails Farm Animal Sanctuary, Inc., a 501c3 non-profit organization located in Ravenna, Ohio. We focus on the rescue, rehabilitation, and adoptions of farm animals who have been removed from situations of abuse, neglect, or abandonment.
This beautiful, loving, sweet, crippled pig, who now loves peppermints and belly rubs and good conversations, is credited with founding an organization that has now helped over 550 farm animals. In the past six years abused and neglected farm animals have received medical treatment, hope, love, compassion, and a chance at enjoying a life of peace and comfort with their new human companions.
My bond with Janice is incredible. She continues to be healthy and to thrive on attention. I have come to understand her language, and she is very vocal about her thoughts. She makes a rather low and quiet noise that sounds like the word “boof” when she is happy and content and all is right with her world. When expressing displeasure about a late meal or not being in the mood for her drink of water, she very loudly proclaims a noise that sounds like “uhboooooo!”
Janice still scoots around as opposed to being able to walk normally but she enjoys her time outdoors and loves the smell of her freshly-washed blankies. Thanks to this one very very special pig and what she endured in her earlier lifetime, an overwhelming number of other farm animals were given a new lease on life. These rescued animals have, in turn, touched the lives of so many people — their caretakers at the sanctuary, the vets who treat them, and their newly adoptive families. I have to very humbly say that Janice is one absolutely incredible pig..
Annette Fisher is the executive director of Happy Trails Farm Animal Sanctuary, Inc. Happy Trails Farm Animal Sanctuary is located in Ravenna, Ohio and has an extensive website and lists farm animals available for adoption. Visit www.happytrailsfarm.org. Private donations fund the 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that rescues abused farm animals.
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT:
Has a rescued animal inspired greatness and generosity in you?
While researching and writing our book, Rescued: Saving Animals from Disaster, we visited New Orleans to meet some of the courageous people who did so much to help the animals. We spent an afternoon with the folks at Animal Rescue New Orleans (ARNO) and found them to be determined to do what is needed to help displaced and suffering animals.
In the Kinship Circle January 30, 2008 newsletter (firstname.lastname@example.org) we recently read that on Christmas Eve day, Kevin Bacon, Kyra Sedgwick and their two children, volunteered at ARNO. According to the report these celebrities worked for four hours. They walked dogs and painted cat cage pedestals. They even got to see the ARNO team in action.
The article says, “Styx and Journey were next door. One of the Bacon family, we won’t say exactly which one, wasn’t quick enough to get to the gate. Styx and Journey took off running at high speed. Without a word, we all sprang into action.
“Kyra said it was like watching a SWAT team. We made sure to let them know they were now part of a very special and elite group, ARNO volunteers.”
Please go to animalrescueneworleans.org to help out these wonderful volunteers who have never given up on the animals of New Orleans. At the website learn more about what the organization is doing to keep stranded animals alive and to prepare for the safety and well being of animals and people in future disasters.
What do you think? Does it help when celebrities bring attention to what is needed with an animal organization such as ARNO?