Heidi’s Challenge

Happy Tails Books encourage people to find unique ways to integrate their pets into their lives and communities. Here’s Valerie Keener’s story about how she and her Boxer, Heidi, have come up with an innovative system of helping children to improve their reading skills:

When my eldest daughter had our grandson at only 28 weeks gestation, we anticipated developmental problems. He was in the NICU for 13 weeks and came home on heart monitors, etc. 

Eight months after my grandson’s birth, I looked to adopt a Boxer puppy because I felt that my grandson would benefit from the stimulation, and perhaps he and the dog would bond. We brought our grandson to meet Heidi, a 13-week-old pup from a bad situation. She was shy, but she went running right up to my grandson and stayed by his side. We took that as a sign and brought her home.

Luckily, it turned out that my grandson had no deficits. None! He is our miracle boy in so many ways. Although he didn’t need Heidi as much as we thought he might, perhaps other people did. Heidi had the perfect disposition for a therapy dog, so I decided to train her. After she finished beginning though advanced classes at PetSmart and achieved her CGC (Canine Good Citizen award), we joined an organization called Thera-Pits in the Cleveland area, and Heidi went on to earn her Therapy Dogs International certification.

With the blessing of Chris Hughes, the founder of Thera-Pits, we started an Akron branch of the organization. With that, we began working on reading skills in local schools with both special needs and mainstream kids. We also worked with the local library in their kids reading to the dogs program. 

Our work with the children had many ideas rolling around in my head. I researched dogs and reading programs and discovered that university studies proved that kids’ skills and confidence grew significantly after reading to a dog just once a week. I thought, “What if they were able to do this every day?”

Of course, Heidi can’t work with the kids every day, so what could we do? I founded Thera-Paws, a new organization, and from that came “Heidi’s Challenge.” Through this, we challenge kids to read to their family cat/dog/hamster/whatever (if they don’t have a pet, a stuffed animal will do). They are to do so for a specific amount of time, during which they are to skip over words they can’t read or pronounce. After the designated time is up, they are to ask someone for help with the difficult words.

We challenge them to do this every day for an entire month, and at the end, we give them an award from Heidi. The first month earns them a bookmark with Heidi’s photo on it. It says, “I completed Heidi’s Challenge.” Each month they complete earns them a different award. 

Last year was our first, and the program was very well received. We have been asked to do it again this year. We are extremely pleased with the program’s success, and especially with the fact that we are not only helping children to read but we are also helping children to learn about pet-related issues. In launching the challenge, I did a 20-minute assembly with the entire school and spoke about proper dog manners, how to handle a strange dog approaching in a park, and the “real” pit bull and canine discrimination and BSL (breed-specific legislation). 

I have MS and I do not do well in the winter months. Historically, I do not go out in the winter; basically, I just hibernate. During this past winter and with the commitments I had made with Heidi, I was forced to go out. As a result, I had the best winter I have had in many years, both physically and mentally!  At this point in time, Heidi and I are the only Thera-Paws “team,” but another team is joining me this year. Their timing is great because the more known we are, the more we are invited to visit schools. I really believe in the program and the impact it has on kids. This year, we are working with at least three classes of autistic children. We look forward to the challenges. 

If you’d like to follow Valerie and Heidi’s successes, please visit their website and their Facebook page.


Storytime: Eyes Only For You

Read this and other wonderful rescue stories in Lost Souls: FOUND! Inspiring Stories of Adopted Boston Terriers


Featured Rescue: MidAmerica Boston Terrier Rescue


Eyes Only For You

I didn’t grow up with dogs, and never really wanted one until my kids started getting older and more independent. I realized that my growing unease was the all-too-common “empty nest” feeling parents experience as their kids become adults. I decided a dog might be just the thing to create some new noise in our home. My plan was to begin researching breeds so that in six years when my youngest graduated I would maybe have found the right dog and be ready to adopt (yes, I’m a planner)…

Although I thought a dog would be a long ways off for us, I kept an eye on petfinder.com regularly to see what dogs were available for adoption. After only a few weeks, I narrowed my search down to a few different breeds. I decided to go with a Boston Terrier, not only because of all their wonderful qualities, but also because it was the breed that my now-deceased mother had when she was a little girl. I was looking for a dog with a medium build that loved walks and car rides and people in general. There was only one hitch—I couldn’t stand the big, protruding eyes! They just freaked me out.

After weeks of looking through Boston Terrier profiles online, I came across a story of a 3-year-old named Odie who was surrendered because his family had had a baby. His side view portrait showed a cute, shmooshed face and stocky build, and from what I could see in the pictures, his eyes didn’t seem to protrude. Though my youngest was still in school, I couldn’t help but change my plan and apply for this dog. He looked like he had so much spunk and would be fun to have around!

I went to his foster parent’s home to meet him and there, from the top of the stairs, he stood smiling at me… with eyes that looked like they were about to fall out of his head! They were so “googly” that I couldn’t even tell which way he was looking! My heart sank, but before I knew it, he was in my arms, washing my face with slobbery doggie love.

After such an outpouring I was helpless but to “look the other way” about his eyes and take him home. Today Odie’s eyes are my favorite part of him. I think they are beautiful. They talk to me! I even made a song up about them to the tune of “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond. It goes “Sweet Odie Pie, you’re the cutest little guy, you have the most beautiful eyes, sweet Odie pie.” Something like that…

I really lucked out on such a great dog with amazing character and expressive eyes. These days I wonder whether he thought I was the one with the weird-looking eyes when I first met him. If so, I’m glad he was able to overlook it because I couldn’t “see” a future without him!

Kirsten Lahr

Storytime: Cool Hand Luke

Read this and other awesome rescue stories in Lost Souls: FOUND! Inspiring Stories About Great Danes.


Featured Rescue: Great Dane Rescue of Minnesota


Cool Hand Luke

“So why did you choose him?” my mother asked.

It was a reasonable question. Of the countless Great Danes in need of homes, why did I narrow my choice to this one particular boy with Paul Newman eyes? I had to think about it for a moment. The truth was I had always wanted to rescue a Great Dane. My husband and I had two littermates at home already, a male and female, bought from a reputable breeder nine hours away. In my area there were no rescues at the time, and for understandable reasons, very few were willing to adopt outside of their region.

Then, almost three years later, a new rescue that would work with me was founded two states away. Happy to finally be able to give a needy Dane a loving home, complete with back yard built for zoomies and enough couch space to accommodate twelve giant paws, I scoured the pictures and profiles, searching for the dog that would be a good fit for all of us.

“Every time I looked at his picture,” I told Mom, “I caught myself smiling.”

It was true. There were larger, stronger, spunkier dogs than Luke. Some most likely with better health and bloodlines, but regardless of what he had been through and despite being the short, shy guy in a house full of tumbling, ball-snatching Danes, Luke had a joyful aura about him. He would bend but never break.

Luke came to us in the dead of winter. After a grueling half-day road trip, he refused to get out of the transport car. I peeked in at him and saw his head tucked under the seat, his body shivering. I tried to coax him out with my voice. He wouldn’t budge. The woman from the rescue also attempted to lead him out with treats. Nothing would convince him to leave the safety of the volunteer’s vehicle. Finally we decided to click a leash onto his collar and gently escort him to the door.

There was the initial greeting with “the twins” as I call them, paperwork, and an exchange of information with the woman from the rescue. “He speaks Spanish, and I guess you do as well, so the vet advised you try that for a while to make him feel comfortable.”

Luke cowered behind his driver for over an hour. He was a shell of a dog, frightened of every noise and every movement. He even jumped sky high when I blew my nose. Finally, when I thought he wouldn’t startle, I knelt down and said, “Hola, Lucas. Es un perro muy guapo.”  (Hi, Luke. You are a handsome dog.)

He peeked around the woman’s leg and gently wagged his tail. I continued to pet him, softly speaking in Spanish every so often, as we completed the adoption process. By the time the rescue volunteer left, hours later, Luke was hiding behind my leg instead. That made me smile.

We thought it would put him at ease to slip into our household routine right away. He ate, played, and slept when the others did, silently observing their every move. Watching. Learning. He still cowered when I moved too fast and still jerked at simple sounds like the faucet running, but he grew more confident with each passing day. Luke learned so quickly, in fact, that I decided it best to let him guide me to his needs. Ten days later he did.

We had taught our dogs to obey commands before receiving food. On this afternoon, like every other, I gave the commands to the two English-speaking dogs. Then I spoke to Luke in Spanish. He flashed his eyes to Thor, his new brother. Then, he shocked me by stubbornly standing still, his face a question mark, as if he had no clue what I was asking him to do. I repeated the “sit” command in Spanish. Again, Luke did not move a muscle. He was holding up the line, risking a correction from his brother and sister. It was a bold move since he was the most submissive in the pack, and I had to tip my hat to him.

“Luke,” I said firmly, “sit.”  He did.

Since then it’s been the little things that make me smile. Like the first time he found his voice and barked (he hasn’t lost it yet). Or when a strange dog lingered outside my office and he growled, deeply and seriously. (I didn’t have the heart to tell him it was his own reflection). Or the Sunday morning the twins lead him into our bedroom for wake-up kisses. All of those moments made me smile. Every day he makes me smile.

But the day he taught me a lesson—that sometimes dogs know best and everyone just wants to fit in and feel like they’re part of a family—that’s the day I cherish most.  –Barbra Annino

Storytime: General Lee Conquers Georgia

Read this and other awesome rescue stories in Lost Souls: FOUND! Inspiring Stories About Northern-Breed Dogs.

Featured Rescue: MUSH

General Lee Conquers Georgia


How could I say no to saving General Robert E. Lee?

After all, my great, great, great-grandfather was a Confederate soldier with the Georgia Infantry, wounded at the Battle of Vicksburg and taken as a prisoner of war by the U.S. forces on July 4, 1863. On July 15, 1863, he signed terms of capitulation that he would not take up arms against U.S. forces and was paroled. He died a month later in a hospital in New Orleans, Louisiana.

I went to the shelter to pick up the “two- to three-year-old Husky” for MUSH Rescue and was presented with a dog who looked closer to seven, with a black tooth, a gash out of his snout, and more mats than a yoga class. We had been told by the shelter that his owner surrendered him “because of the downturn in the economy,” but he looked more like the dog from Homeward Bound when he returned from his 2,000-mile journey. This dog had not been in a home in a long time.

The shelter handed over General Robert E. Lee’s vet records along with his pedigree information. Who dumps a dog along with his papers? We learned that Lee, as we called him, was indeed a six-year-old, AKC-registered, purebred Siberian Husky. He was covered in ticks the size of Texas. They were so big that they would just fall out of his fur and die. I took him to the vet for a bath, and the reception people took pictures because they swore he was part wolf. Lee did not like being messed with and let you know by screaming. It wasn’t a bark, and it wasn’t a whine. This dog could scream!

Once home, Lee had no interest in his foster brothers and sisters and was even aggressive toward them. He just wanted to run free. We put him in an airline crate on wheels, and Lee moved the crate across the room in a matter of minutes. This dog was wilder than a bull at a rodeo! What had I gotten myself into? Over the years, we’ve fostered more than 60 dogs, but this one was a special challenge. The vet who neutered him had said that Lee would settle down around 90 days post-surgery, when the testosterone was out of his body. Could I hold out that long?

I looked for a home for Lee but worried about his safety because this dog could escape anything. I swear he opened my front door one day and let the other dogs out. They came back for a treat, while Lee played chase with my husband between two streets in the neighborhood until I could get there with chicken. The next time he escaped, he ran down the banks of the Chattahoochee with me in pursuit until I couldn’t run anymore. I drove back to the area where he was last seen and found him standing by the road with a “Where have you been?” look on his face.

By the time we finally hit that 90-day mark, we had fallen hard for this furry ball of love, so we kept him.

Life with Lee has not settled down much. He recently got ahold of the kitchen sponge with the Brillo pad on one side and sponge on the other, and when I tried to take it, he swallowed it whole. I wrestled with him for about a half hour trying to get hydrogen peroxide down his throat, which, of course, ended up in my eye. We took him to the emergency vet, and they gave him something to make him throw it up. We knew it worked when we heard his scream. The vet came out with the whole sponge and the rest of his stomach contents!

This dog keeps us on our toes, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. General Robert E. Lee may have helped conquer Mexico in the Mexican-American War, but General Robert E. Lee the canine has conquered our hearts! –Charla Huston Collings

Story Sharing Kickoff

Well, friends, it’s been a long time.

I (Kyla, Happy Tails Books founder) stopped blogging for a year or so because life just got in the way. As you may know, Happy Tails Books has been a labor of love for me and my partner-in-editing (and, at times, crime), Lowrey. It it our volunteer work for the most part, not our jobs. However, my new job has afforded me more time to spend on Happy Tails Books, so looking toward the New Year, I’m excited to get moving on some new books and to pick back up where I left off with this blog.

Because my new job requires me to live out of the country (yes, of course, Bill is with me), I am unable to foster, so instead of sharing my own stories from here on out, I’ll be sharing select stories from the thousands we have published in our books. I will share one or two a week, and sometimes we’ll give away a free eBook and/or paperback.

Let’s Get Started!

The first story will go live tomorrow! Please, join our Facebook group or scroll down and put your email in the “Subscribe to our Blog” link to the left to receive emails when we have new blog posts.

An Extraordinary Externality

This story about two authors featured in Lost Souls: FOUND! Inspiring Stories About Northern-Breed Dogs just has to be shared! Last week, Nancy Triggiani, parent of the lovely Aurora (see below), wrote me to say:

Aurora the Akita

“I thought you might be interested in knowing a story within the Lost Souls stories has developed! A couple of months ago I noticed a woman’s name on the ARWNY (Akita Rescue of Western New York) Facebook page that was the same as a long lost cousin, whom I hadn’t seen since I was a kid. She must have noticed my name on the ARWNY “friends” list and friended me, and it was indeed my cousin I had lost contact with – our adopted Akitas reunited us. I just found out last night that you are publishing her dog’s story in the same edition as Aurora’s! My cousin is Florence Leone and her dog is Bert! What are the odds of two long lost cousins being published in the SAME book?”

Bert the Akita

How fun is that? Both Aurora and Bert’s stories are featured in the upcoming book. Buy a copy on pre-sale today through June 17th, and make your money count even more!

I’ve been thinking about what helps me to sleep at night when I know for a fact that perfectly healthy companion animals are being euthanized in shelters because of human irresponsibility. If I really begin to think about what is going on – I picture their innocent faces and pleading eyes as they are led to the kill room – I fall into a pit of despair. And then I remember how unproductive that thought process is. All I, or anyone for that matter, can do, is give it our all. We can find our own unique ways to support the causes we care for, which in my case is supporting my favorite rescues, publishing books, and putting on shows about adoption and rescue. I wish there was more I could do.

Here’s my challenge for you: Think of a social cause you really care about (i.e., euthanasia, homelessness, access to education, etc.) and spend five minutes making a list of all the ways you could possibly help that cause (i.e., monthly donations, putting up signs in coffee shops around town, contacting an organization and discussing your skill set to see how you can pitch in, etc.). Then, take a step forward THIS WEEK to help that cause. Don’t just talk about putting up signs; go put them up. Don’t just talk about volunteering; get involved. If you don’t know where to start, write me and I’ll help you!

Here’s the poem I wrote today, which was inspired by this train of though. What helps me to sleep well at night? Giving my all!

  • I give this life my all;
  • Sometimes I stand; sometimes I fall.
  • On days when I fall,
  • I look up and reflect.
  • On days when I stand,
  • My life feels correct.
  • However I land,
  • On my feet or my back,
  • I go on with a smile
  • And some plan of attack.
  • Most important of all,
  • Though I stand and I fall,
  • I answer the call:
  • Do your best, give it all.

BlogPaws/Bissell Contest Winners

Well, folks, we won! Well, not “we” as in me and MidAmerica Boston Terrier Rescue, per se, but “we” as in the rescue community! Because of this contest, three rescues received upwards of $1,000 to help with the animals in their care, and three bloggers were recognized for their outstanding writing. Congrats to Robin Craft, Kim Clune, and Pamela Douglas Webster.

As for me, sure, I would have liked to win. We just told the rescue we were taking a break from fostering after adopting Hillary, and I thought winning the money for the rescue would have been a great way to give back to them. Additionally, the post I wrote was definitely the best I could do, and I meant every word of it. Nevertheless, I’m happy that the money was provided to some great rescues and that this contest inspired so many bloggers to share their stories about how their adopted animals have inspired them.

This contest was great for rescues and great for the community as a whole. I hope BlogPaws and Bissell decide to do something like this again next year. Thanks for supporting the rescue community, guys!

A Terrible Trip to the Dog Park

Warning: this post is graphic and sad.

To get to Dry Creek, one of our favorite dog park-type trails, we go down a windy road in a residential area. Once I found a dog crossing the road in front of my car. Luckily, I didn’t hit him and was able to reunite him with his family. Today, a squirrel wasn’t so lucky. The car in front of me must have hit him. When I came upon him, he was wriggling on his back and bleeding profusely.

I stopped. What to do? I thought of trying to scoop him up and take him to the wildlife sanctuary, but as he didn’t seem to be able to get off his back and the blood was really flowing, I decided he probably wouldn’t survive the trip. And what if he bit me?

Making the decision to put that squirrel out of his misery was extremely difficult. I didn’t want blood on my hands, but someone had to do it, and the sooner, the better. I did what had to be done. I feel awful about it, but I know it was the right thing to do. I have never before deliberately killed an animal, but now I know how the euthanasia tech feels – at least when he or she needs to euthanize a badly injured animal. I couldn’t imagine euthanizing an animal who had nothing wrong. How are there people in almost every municipality across the country willing to do it?