NOTE: I have a new pet behavior blog located at http://www.SoMuchPETential.com/blog. Thanks!
It is a beautiful heart that can see into the eyes of children their potential for caring and love, and into the souls of animals who have no voice to speak of their needs. Love, safety, nourishment, and play ~ life’s precious gifts that can so often be taken for granted are not always available to everyone. And especially not to some, whose only wrongdoing was being born.
But, what if young, impressionable minds were taught responsibility for those without human language? What if those who are less fortunate are given opportunities? They are given a voice.
Emilie Buchwald is that voice.
And I love her language.
Emilie is the author of two award-winning children’s novels. A poet and a fiction writer, she has taught literature, poetry, and writing for children. She has a Master of Arts in English and a Ph.D. in English Literature, and an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from the University of Minnesota. Emilie is the publisher emeritus and co-founder of Milkweed Editions, the editor or co-editor of 200 books that have won more than 200 awards and distinctions, with a million books in print when she retired in 2003. She has received the McKnight Artist of the Year Award, the Kay Sexton Award for service to Minnesota’s literary community, and, in 2008, the National Book Critic’s Circle Lifetime Achievement Award.
(No, her credentials are not what we have in common although I find writing very fulfilling and have always thought it would be fun to write children’s books ~ but the credentials do make it a little intimidating to be writing about her. )
Actually, it is what Emilie has chosen to pursue with her ‘free time’ now that she is officially ‘retired’ that connects us. In 2006, after a long and accomplished career, she began a new journey. She founded The Gryphon Press to create high-quality children’s picture books whose ultimate purpose is to educate kids about important animal issues and the human-animal connection. (It wasn’t mentioned in her bio but Emilie also happens to be a passionate advocate for those who don’t speak human.)
Her publishing company, The Gryphon Press, is named for the mythical bird that represents fair play and justice. It has sold over 400,000 books to date ~ each one compellingly written and movingly illustrated to engage kids in learning about the responsibilities of dog ownership, pet adoption and overpopulation, getting rid of puppy mills, therapy and service dogs, the intelligence of dogs, dog parks, issues of abuse, and more. Most books have won national awards.
“I love the process of putting an artist and an author together, seeing a book take shape and putting it through production but I wouldn’t have gotten back into this if it wasn’t for an important reason,” she told me. “I was reading blogs and stories about how difficult it is to educate about animals and I just thought, ‘I know how to publish books. I can publish books for kids about this and talk in terms they can understand.’ This is a wonderful way to change things.”
Take for example, Buddy Unchained, the story of a happily rehomed mixed-breed dog who shares his sad memories of life before being rescued. The book sends a powerful message that caring humans can and do help, and includes resource information for adult readers.
Or Always Blue for Chicu, the daunting story of a smuggled parrot’s neglect and suffering who is ultimately rescued and reunited with his soul mate. The book makes the clear point that a bird is a wild animal and formidable pet that can live a very long life and will require significant attention.
Or Are You Ready For Me?, a book (written by Emilie’s daughter, Claire) that helps parents answer the common question ~ “Please, can we get a dog?”. In this story, a dog and puppy at and adoption center ask two children how they will be treated.
Schools and other educational institutions are using The Gryphon Press books and creating lesson plans around them.
“It’s very satisfying to me,” said Emilie. “I’ve had instances where teachers have cried because they haven’t had a way of teaching these kinds of lessons before. I get letters all the time and see kids using our books.”
The only frustration? “Not being able to do more,” Emilie told me.
To that, I’ve got to say…Emilie, you have done A LOT.
And “THANK YOU!”
This past weekend was a very special event. Shelters and rescue groups from throughout the Tri-State joined forces to find forever homes for over 1800 dogs, cats, rabbits and even rodents. Bringing an animal into your home is such a wonderful gift and even more so when you are offering your heart to another living being who has somehow been let down by life in its past.
It is one thing to adopt an adorable puppy still so filled with rambunctious happiness, but so often the adult dogs who just aren’t as cute are the ones who face the most uncertain future. And for the ones who, by no fault of their own, have the most baggage by humans who failed them…well, they will be lucky if they find themselves with a kind foster parent or in a caring no-kill shelter.
Livy Lou Was One Of The Lucky Ones
A little terrier mix with a long white beard, bushy eyebrows and ears that flop over, Olivia (better known as Livy Lou) was 15 pounds of sheer terror when the Strubbes came by the shelter where Livy Lou had been spending her days. She was caged with large dogs – many at least double her weight – who didn’t understand the magnitude of their size or the concept of leaving a frightened animal alone. There really wasn’t enough space for that distance anyway.
The year was 2004. Sharon and David Strubbe had just become empty nesters and their house was getting awfully lonely without their long companion, a beautiful Samoyed who died just weeks earlier.
So, the couple visited the SCPA. “I didn’t want another big dog,” Sharon said…each time they left. They went back three times and each time she walked out crying because she didn’t see what she wanted but she hated leaving behind so many dogs that each had a need for love.
Their fourth attempt to find a new friend was at the League For Animal Welfare. “Is this one still here?,” Sharon asked of the dog in the picture. “Well, you had better meet her,” was the staff person’s response.
It turns out Livy Lu was all set to be adopted the week earlier. That is until she snapped and bit the woman’s ankle as she was paying the fee.
But that didn’t bother Sharon. If anything, it made her more determined. Sharon was going to win over Livy Lu’s heart and she wasn’t going to leave until she did it. After thirty minutes, Livy Lu still wouldn’t come close. She only barked and growled.
The rest of the story is what tells me what a huge heart Sharon and David have and makes me so grateful to know there are people in this world just like them.
A Heart Opened
They were brought into an enclosed room – Sharon, David and a little ferocious beast who took guard of the corner. Time went by. Finally Livy Lu took a step forward, wagged her tail, and returned to the only place in that space that seemed safe at the time. “I just had to have her,” Sharon said. “I wasn’t going to give up.”
And neither was Livy Lu. Sharon and David patiently kept their distance, allowing this dog who until then had no reason to trust anyone, to somehow find the strength to have courage enough to try. That’s when magic happened. Livy Lu took a leap and landed on Sharon’s lap.
“She’s coming home with us,” Sharon told her husband.
They have been together ever since. Livy Lu is about 15 years old now and is deaf. Lucky for her, the most important language of life – the language of love, needs no words.