James Mikel Wilson resides in Houston, Texas with his wife, Kathy. His son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren live in Manhattan, for whom his book, “Paw Tracks Here and Abroad,” was written. Jim's wisdom and insights were gained over the 65 years during which he owned six dogs. He wrote “Paw Tracks” about his family’s many adventures with their dog, Snickers. His family’s dogs and the many others he knew through his friends enabled him to write this story with sensitivity, humor, and appreciation for the unique role canine companions play in the lives of humans. We spoke to Jim about “Paw Tracks” and his love for animals.
Why did you decide to write Paw Tracks?
My career necessitated many family moves. When Snickers, the heroine of the story, reached twenty years old, the thought occurred that I could write a diary about our joint adventures.
I hoped that the diary might serve two purposes—to provide a family memory book of raising our son in a variety of geographic locations and to give our grandchildren a window into the past to know and see their father and grandparents differently.
Family and friends convinced me to transform the diary into a book. That shift of focus created an opportunity to address the joys of adopting pets, moving with them, wondering at their adaptability, and creating a teaching moment on living with geriatric animals.
What do you hope parents and children learn from Snickers’ story?
I hope the book facilitates discussions about the joys of adopting a pet, the responsibilities of caring for a pet, the many ways in which we learn from animals, and how these relationships touch our human experiences and emotions. I wanted to convey these topics in a manner that pet lovers of any age could relate to and enjoy.
My editor Meghan challenged me to find Snickers’ point of view. What did Snickers want us to know, and what was she thinking and feeling? And, Tod, my illustrator, captured her big heart and equally big personality through his wonderful drawings.
What do you believe made Snickers so special?
First, her age! She lived to be almost 22. She took advantage of her time to the fullest. There are many sides to Snickers’ personality that endeared her to us: survivor, comedian, clown, watchdog, show dog, tramp, explorer, diplomat, cuddler, friend, eager pupil and teacher.
In your book, Snickers has quite the adventure. Please tell us a little about life and travels with your family and Snickers.
Snickers did not like to be contained. After leaving a past life of abuse, she had temporary diversions including escaping a travel crate in JFK Airport, digging out from her kennel in Switzerland to join the St. Bernard in an adjacent pen, and wandering briefly into the lives of an Irish couple while we were on home leave. But, she never really intended to leave—only to seek new adventures.
This story offers considerations for families traveling or moving with pets. I wanted readers to hear through Snickers’ voice that, yes, we leave things near and dear to us behind when we move, but the opportunities open new doors to rewarding and, sometimes, life-changing events of which we had never dreamed.
Why did you approach the ASPCA to help share Snickers’ story?
My wife and I both felt that the underlying themes in Paw Tracks—promoting adoption, preventing animal cruelty, and offering a variety of educational materials on pet selection and care—paralleled the ASPCA’s mission. We have always been aware of the outstanding work the ASPCA has done for so long. We were, and are, right on the same wavelength!
Guest blog by Mary Dell Harrington, co-founder of the parenting blogGrown and Flown.
One of the benefits of travel is having a chance to compare the new with all that’s familiar back home. I recently joined my husband on a visit to Peru where we toured Lima, Cusco and the marvelous Machu Picchu. I loved climbing among the Inca ruins, sampling traditional Peruvian dishes and seeing real llamas! There was one thing, though, that I found troubling—the prevalence of stray dogs roaming village streets. We saw them rooting through garbage and standing in dumpsters searching for food, left to fend for themselves.
Taking care of animals has been a priority in the U.S. for nearly 150 years, beginning with the ASPCA. According to the organization’s history, Henry Bergh created the animal protection agency and was instrumental in seeing the first anti-cruelty law was passed in 1866.
The ASPCA notes that by the time Bergh died in 1888, “The idea that animals should be protected from cruelty had touched America's heart and conscience. Humane societies had sprung up throughout the nation—among the first to follow New York's lead were Buffalo, Boston and San Francisco—and 37 of 38 states in the union had enacted anti-cruelty laws.”
As a society, we depend on shelters to do important work for the public good. Animal shelters promote responsible pet ownership, rescue animals in need, and find loving homes for abandoned or mistreated animals.
But shelters can only care for a limited numbers of animals, which is where families in search of a pet to adopt can play an important role.
When we adopted Matilda in 2008, I emphasized that we wanted a dog that could handle the chaos of three young boys. When we brought Matilda home, we saw that she had the most even temperament. Even my three rowdy sons couldn’t break her calm and loving demeanor.
When Matilda was three, I knew she was ready to be a therapy dog. After we became a certified pet therapy team, we visited residents in a nursing home every week for a year. The following year, we visited a children’s day care center. I hoped to visit patients in a hospital setting, and I even considered entering her into a study in which dogs visited chemotherapy patients.
In June 2013, I had to put our therapy visits on hold. We received news that is every parent’s worst nightmare: My 9-year-old son was diagnosed with a rare type of pediatric cancer. He would require nearly a year of chemotherapy treatments plus a 6-week round of radiation.
The first few months were rough. After each cycle, my son experienced terrible nausea and lost a considerable amount of weight. He’d lie on the couch and sometimes became increasingly anxious about not feeling well. I’d call Matilda over to him so he could pet her. His face would instantly relax.
In those early days after my son’s diagnosis, my husband and I were in a constant state of stress. Sleep did not come easily to either of us. When we finally did fall asleep, inevitably one or both of us would wake up at 4:00 or 5:00 A.M., tossing and turning.
Matilda has faithfully slept next to our bed since she was a puppy. Maybe this was canine intuition, but as soon as my husband or I began our early morning stress-induced toss and turn, Matilda would jump up on our bed. She’d lay right next to me and I’d rub her belly a few times. Having her cuddling next to me, I’d fall asleep within minutes.
One of Matilda’s routines is to jump up on to my son’s bed and “tuck him in.” She lies on his bed until I say goodnight, and she follows me out the door. Lately, before my son goes to sleep, he cuddles for a few extra minutes with Matilda. He puts his arm around her neck and gently rests his head on top of her shoulders. She patiently lies there and waits for him to have his fill.
My son recently finished his last round of chemotherapy. It’s been a very long year, filled with lots of anxiety for our whole family. Through it all, Matilda was our therapy dog, giving us licks and letting us hug her whenever we needed it, which was quite often. She has brought our family laughs, joy and a whole lot of love—just when we needed it the most.
Emily Cappo is a writer and blogger at Oh Boy Mom. She is a mom to three boys and one girl dog named Matilda, a sweet and cuddly Labradoodle. Matilda and Emily are also a certified pet therapy team.
It was a typical Saturday morning in Brooklyn. I was showering when my kids began knocking on the bathroom door, explaining that a pet adoption van was parked outside our building and “could we just go look? Pleeeeze?”
It had been a tough year. My nine-year-old daughter, Kate, was diagnosed with a chronic disease. As a family, we were still adjusting to Kate’s condition, and she was feeling pretty terrible, not to mention depressed, from her ailments. Her eyes lit up when I said, yes, we could “just look.”
Among the various adorable dogs and puppies was one grungy, older Chihuahua mix who had instantly bonded with Kate. They were face-to-face the entire time, and my kids pleaded and begged collectively to bring her home. A half-hour later she was ours, and we named her Hayley.
We learned that Hayley had been abused. She literally screamed in horror anytime any one of us picked up our hand to wave or scratch our heads. She also had a deep scar on the top of her head and a few ticks. Her fur needed serious grooming, and she was not housebroken.
We gave her a bath and a good meal and then, immediately after, Kate took charge of Hayley’s issues. When she screeched, Kate comforted her. When she had an accident, Kate walked her to show her the proper potty place. When she just seemed nervous, Kate reassured her, “It’s OK, Hayley,” and followed up with multiple hugs and kisses.
While Hayley surely benefitted from Katelyn’s love, I learned firsthand that there is perhaps nothing better than taking care of a dog and giving and receiving the unconditional love only a pup can bring to sick child (or adult). There was no better remedy for Kate than to care for this abused little dog. Seven years later, they have helped each other very much to heal. Hayley no longer is afraid of us or anyone else. Kate just turned 16, and she and Hayley are closer than words could convey. It’s been said that we save dogs when we adopt them, but I think we often forget how many dogs actually save us.
Danielle Sullivan, a mom of three, has worked as a writer and editor in the parenting world for more than 10 years. Danielle also writes about pets and parenting for Disney’s Babble.com. Find her on her blog, Some Puppy To Love, Twitter or Facebook.