Tell us about your latest book.
DOGLAND: A Journey to the Heart of America’s Dog Problem intertwines two stories. The first details my search to find the person who surrendered my dog to a North Carolina shelter when she was only six weeks old; the second examines our country’s dog problem and seeks solutions to fix it.
For many people, the notion that America has a dog problem is hard to fathom when nearly forty percent of U.S. households include at least one dog. And when those of us who live with dogs spend several billion dollars on them each year, fulfilling their needs (food and veterinary care) and our wants (canine massages, monogrammed sweaters, and diamond—yes diamond!—dog collars). It’s not an overstatement to say that many pets live lives we, humans, can only dream of living. Yet animal welfare groups say shelter euthanasia remains the leading cause of death for America’s canines. And ninety-percent of those killed, they say, are healthy, adoptable, and would make great pets.
What was it about the subject that inspired you to write?
I didn’t set out to write a book so much as I set out to discover why the puppy I adopted from a small rescue organization seemed unusually submissive and fearful of men, and why she—a dog from North Carolina—was up for adoption in a New Jersey garden-supply store.
At the time I began to dig for answers, I was in the midst of a career crisis: Should I pursue a doctoral degree in education? Could I be content as a stay-at-home mom and adjunct instructor, teaching just a few communications classes each semester? What was my purpose?
As I uncovered little bits about Galen’s past and learned about the scope of the dog problem in the United States, I realized there was a story that needed telling—not just about all the healthy and adoptable dogs being killed in shelters (that story’s been told), but about what’s being done—and what more can be done—to save lives and stop the killing.
I now had my purpose.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer and how did you overcome it?
I think it’s hard to choose the “biggest” challenge as there are so many hurdles a writer encounters. In my case, being a journalist, the initial challenge I faced was simply getting people to talk to me. I had to persuade animal shelter directors who’d seen their shelters skewered in the media—sometimes fairly, sometimes unfairly—to allow me in. I had to persuade an animal rescuer-turned-hoarder to share her story because hoarding by people who start out in rescue is a growing problem. I had to persuade rescue groups and animal welfare organizations that are often distrustful of outsiders that they could trust me.
How did I get over these hurdles? By being upfront about my intention to tell the story honestly and above all, that I was motivated to seek solutions, not to place blame.
Of course, once I’d done my reporting and knew I had a story to tell, I had to figure out how best to tell it.
And then there’s finding an agent—I was unsuccessful at that. And a publisher—I succeeded there, thanks to an article in Writer’s Digest urging writers—especially debut authors—not to overlook small, independent presses. It was that article that led me to Ashland Creek Press. The press’s commitment to environmental and animal themes makes it an ideal home for DOGLAND.
Tell us about your pets, or other animals that inspire you.
From Galen’s earliest days with us, I found myself comparing everything about her—her submissive personality, her physical features, her actions—to our previous dog, Gryffin. I even started a blog called she’s a dork where I posted vignettes about her quirkiness.
Like Galen, Gryffin had been a rescue. And he, too, had personality quirks that I wondered about, but I’d never thought to investigate his past. There was simply something about Galen that compelled me forward.
What question do you wish interviewers would ask?
I know that not everyone who reads interviews about DOGLAND will go on to read the book, so an important question to be asked—and to be answered—is this: How can someone not involved with animal welfare get involved and help save lives?
There are numerous ways; it’s simply a matter of finding one that works for you. Here are some suggestions:
· I am donating all the proceeds from sales of DOGLAND to the extraordinary non-profit programs profiled in the book. These programs survive—and thrive—on donations. Any amount of money you can donate to an animal welfare organization—be it one in the book, your local animal shelter, a rescue group, a low-cost spay/neuter clinic—will be used to save lives.
· You can foster a shelter dog. Fostering socializes a homeless pet, readying him to be adopted into his forever home. Not only that, fostering opens up shelter space for another dog. Unfortunately, some shelters are so crowded, they euthanize healthy, adoptable dogs to make space for incoming ones.
· You can volunteer at your local shelter. Volunteering can include taking dogs for walks. This means you get your exercise while doing the important work of walking and socializing a homeless Fido.
· Adopt your next dog from an animal shelter or rescue, and encourage want-to-be-dog owners you know to do the same.
· Join Facebook and follow your local shelter and local animal rescues. When they post photos of dogs who need homes, share those dogs with your own social network.
Jacki Skole is an award-winning journalist and adjunct professor of communication. She launched her journalism career at CNN, first as a news writer, then as a producer in the network’s documentary unit; she’s also produced programs for Animal Planet and HGTV.
Jacki lives in New Jersey with her husband and three daughters—two human, one canine. It is Galen, Jacki’s canine daughter, who inspired the journey that resulted in DOGLAND.
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