I adopted Russell Redfur a year after graduating from college. A wiry Muppet of a dog, Russ found me the way many things do these days—through a post on the internet. He was on Petfinder, a site that catalogs animals in shelters and rescues, making them easier to be found by prospective adopters.
In his profile photos, I saw a red bowlegged messy mop of a dog. He looked lost. Shaggy eyebrows hid his eyes. Russ had just been sprung from Miami Animal Services, a shelter that’s often so overcrowded, its inmates only have a few days to be united with a new owner.
At the last moment, Russ had been fostered. So I got in touch with his rescue organization and they arranged a meeting—at a noisy rest stop parking lot along the highway. When I crouched down to meet him, Russell climbed onto my lap and gazed into my eyes with a focus and familiarity that surprised me. He was my dog. We both knew. Russell had been found.
That was over ten years ago. Russell has accompanied me through my entire illustration and picture book journey. He’s my studio mate and my sidekick. He’s my protector and my best buddy. And he’s the reason for Found Dogs.
When writing my first picture book, I explored several topics, but kept returning to dogs. Russell had been my constant companion for years, and I’ve never known a better friend. If it hadn’t been for the shelter that gave him a second chance, or the rescue that united him with me, both of our lives would have been very different.
So I decided to create a book not just about dogs but about shelter dogs. I wanted it to be simple enough to read to a baby or for a toddler to enjoy. I wanted it to feel warm and upbeat. And, importantly, I did not want it to feel preachy or present the topic of pet adoption in a didactic way. I wanted to depict the shelter as a welcoming place to meet a friend and adoption as a loving, exciting experience for both dog and owner—one that changes lives.
There are LOTS of dogs in shelters. Dogs of all sorts. A counting book seemed like a natural approach. But it was clear I couldn’t create a typical counting book about shelter dogs… if you only counted up the dogs in the shelter, a pretty disheartening, and incomplete, story would result! The dogs had to be counted down, too. They had to be found.
In Found Dogs, all the dogs at the shelter are united with families. Ten hounds are matched with ten outdoors-people; six “spotty, shiny” Dalmatians are matched with a firefighting crew; four fluffy “snow dogs” are matched with four children bundled in winter hats and boots. A solitary dachshund with long, pumpkin-colored ears is matched with one little girl with long pumpkin-colored pigtails (she happens to use a wheelchair). In the beginning of the book, readers count up the dogs in the shelter, one to ten. Then they count them down, from ten to one, as each dog goes home. Found.
I filled the pages of Found Dogs with as diverse a canine cast as I could. Shelters are filled with dogs of every shape, color, breed, and temperament. There are puppies and there are old dogs. There are well-trained dogs and dogs in need of a patient teacher. There are well-loved dogs and dogs who haven’t known love. There are dogs in tip-top shape and dogs recovering from injury or illness. The two “silver and slow” dogs that appear are inspired by my Russell, a senior dog now.
Aspiring writers are always told: write what you know, or write what you are passionate about. This comes naturally to the illustrator in me—my sketchbooks are filled with dogs, whales, mice, birds—all the animals I love. Starting out as a writer, though, I was intimidated by this idea. I am passionate about animal welfare, about giving dogs (and other pets) a second chance. Could I make a book for very young children about a visit to an animal shelter? Could I do it in an upbeat, heartwarming way? Could I help spark a love for dogs?
I hope parents will use Found Dogs to talk to their little ones about their own dogs’ origin stories, or to introduce them to the concept of pet adoption when it’s time to add a new (furry) member to the family. Or simply to have fun, to count the dogs up, to count the dogs down, to honor them as members of our families, and to celebrate the moment they become a part of our lives. The moment dogs are found.
Found Dogs is on B&N bookshelves now.