I’m the world’s biggest dog lover, but I generally avoid “dog stories” because I invariably wind up sobbing. They’re always sad. I’ve never really recovered from reading Old Yeller in grade school. But, I recently discovered author Leigh Brill Singh, a fellow dog lover who has her own dog story, A Dog Named Slugger, about how her service dog transformed her life as a person with cerebral palsy. When I heard how much she travels from her Virginia home to promote her book, “ability awareness,” and the Saint Francis Service dogs that have changed her life, I had to share her story on Off The Beaten Page Travel. Our interview will appear in two parts, so stay tuned for Leigh’s ideas and tips about traveling with pets, whether they’re service animals or not. Before you read this post, grab your Kleenex and check out a video about Leigh and her canines. http://vimeo.com/12630552 And, be sure to check out part two of our Q and A.
Okay, Leigh, I’m tearing up just looking at the cover A Dog Named Slugger, so tell me a bit about your book and why it’s worth getting dehydrated to read it.
A Dog Named Slugger is more than “a dog book.” The story offers an intimate look at what it means to live with a congenital disability. It goes on to reveal how my own life was shaped by cerebral palsy and ultimately re-shaped through my partnership with an amazing Labrador. My first service dog, Slugger, taught me to define myself not by what I had to overcome, but by what I had the courage to become. His message to me was, “I’m here for you. No matter what.” That message inspired me. It gave me hope. Given the challenges so many folks face these days—from economic worries, to the multi-level stressors of war, to threats to health and well-being—we all need hope. That’s a big part of why I wrote A Dog Named Slugger. It’s one way I can pass along some of the many gifts that my big yellow Lab first offered me. Just like the remarkable dog who romps through its pages, the book proves that a gift is most beautiful when it is shared.
Do you have other books in the works?
I’ve been very honored to hear from readers throughout the world who have described A Dog Named Slugger as an eye-opening, entertaining, and uplifting read, one they’ve read over and over until the spine is creased and the their favorite pages are “dog-eared.” Readers ask, “What happens next?” and I am hard at work on the answer. My second book will pick up where the first ended and I’ll also be introducing some new friends, both human and canine. But, my well-trained service dogs could tell you I’m not always good at executing a “sit/stay” at my writing desk; these days my sweet Lab Kenda and my hard-working Golden, Pato are helping me improve that skill. In addition to writing the sequel to Slugger, I’m exploring some ideas for a fictional children’s book series featuring a young girl who solves mysteries with the help of her service dog. It will likely be a while before the project is ready to launch, but it sure is fun.
I understand that the book has become a springboard for your efforts to promote the importance of service dogs and “ability awareness.”
I serve on the board of directors for Saint Francis Service Dogs and volunteer in a variety of ways to further the foundation’s mission. I especially enjoy talking with other service dog partners and lending support to new teams. My dogs and I often provide ability awareness presentations, that is, teaching people about the abilities of people with special needs rather than their disabilities. Whether we are teaching elementary school youngsters about diversity or assisting with fundraising efforts for Saint Francis Service Dogs, my canine partners and I love every opportunity to spread a positive message.
Recently, my efforts have reached even further than I could have imagined. I was contacted by the Centre for Learning Resources (CLR), in India. CLR’s mission includes broadening educational opportunities for disadvantaged youth living in rural India. Now, after months of hard work and collaboration, an adaptation of my book will be included in the centre’s ESL (English as a Second Language) materials to help inspire and educate youngsters there.
I often encourage people to read books, then go do something related to the topic/story of the book. So, if one were to read A Dog Named Slugger, what would you suggest doing as an activity? For example is there someplace to visit or volunteer where they train service dogs? Maybe have a fundraiser for the cause?
I love the concept of reading a book and then following up with a related activity. That
would likely add to the “take home value” of both the book AND the experience. That pairing could also lead to unexpected treasures—a new hobby, greater understanding… the possibilities are endless. Readers of A Dog Named Slugger might enjoy learning about service dog organizations. I encourage everyone to find out more about Saint Francis Service Dogs. Tours, and special events at the training center in Roanoke Virginia are a great way to get involved. Assistance Dogs International also provides a helpful list of other service dog organizations throughout the nation and beyond. In my experience, most service dog organizations are thrilled to have volunteers—the work of raising, training, and placing service dogs offers lots of opportunities for folks to use individual talents and interests.
I also hope that people who read my book will incorporate new awareness into their everyday lives. Perhaps the story I’ve shared will enable readers to have greater insight into what it means to deal with a disability. Hopefully my work will also illuminate the important roles that service dogs play in the lives of their human partners. Here’s one example: If you are traveling and you happen to see a beautiful dog assisting a disabled person, DO NOT PET the dog. I know that for many dog-loving folks (including me), petting the animal feels like an automatic response, but it’s not the wisest one. It is far better to ask a working dog’s handler if petting is permitted. If not, it isn’t because the handler is being unfriendly or snobby; it is simply because petting a service dog who is working can distract the animal and cause problems for the dog’s partner. Such service dog etiquette is helpful for service dog teams everywhere no matter where you roam.
Any other great dog books you love?
I love good books of all descriptions! Some of my all time favorite dog-themed books include:
Amazing Gracie: A Dog’s Tale—by Dan Dye
A Big Little Life—by Dean Koontz
The Art of Racing in the Rain—by Garth Stein
A Dog’s Purpose: A Novel for Humans—by W. Bruce Cameron
Where the Red Fern Grows—by Wilson Rawls
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle— by David Wroblewski
To find out more about Leigh and her dogs at http://authorleighbrill.com