What inspired you to write your first children’s book: “Sydney’s Best Friend”?
This book, “Sydney’s Best Friend”, was inspired by the close bond between my daughter, Sydney, and our first rescued dog Bella. The storyline is based on an incident that happened when Sydney was in Kindergarten, and as a writer and mother, I felt like this was a great opportunity to share the story as a teaching moment for children.
What are the teachings that you hope this book will imprint on its readers?
I wanted to write this book and the subsequent series, because this is the first of four planned so far, because I think it’s important to highlight some key issues for children in relatable terms.
One is safe interactions with dogs. As a dog owner and a mother, over the years I have encountered far too many children who approach our dogs without asking, who approach our dogs in an unsafe way and this has the potential for an unsafe interaction. And a lot of the time, children don’t know better. Sometimes even the parents don’t know better. I didn’t know anything about safe interactions until I had dogs of my own. I want to impress upon everyone, young and old, that all dogs are individuals. And that just because you act a certain way around your own dog, you cannot act that same way with other dogs.
Another is to teach children to be free thinkers. Many families experience stereotypical attitudes against their dogs just because of the way they look, whether that is due to their dog’s size or perceived breed, for example. I want my book to help transform those misunderstandings. Our family has experienced this stereotyping with all three of our rescued dogs, unfairly so, and I want to remind children not to judge a dog based on its appearance. Don’t judge a book by its cover, pardon the pun! We want our children not to discriminate, in all areas of life, and so we need to remind them to seek the truth for themselves. I don’t want my daughter to believe everything she hears, nor to base her opinions on those of other people. I want her to base her thoughts and feelings on opinions she has made for herself through seeking her own truth. For this reason, this is not just a book for dog owners – it’s a book for everyone.
And last but not least, I wanted to tell a sweet story! This is a lovely story about the strong bond between a child and her dog, with take away messages for children and a happy ending. The idea for this first book, Sydney’s Best Friend, came to mind when another child made unfair comments about our dog because of how she looked. Bella was a big dog with a blocky head and a muscular chest. This same type of interaction has occurred several times since then with all three of our dogs. And our dogs are good dogs, well-trained dogs, and we are a family of responsible dog owners.
Do you feel that your own daughter is learning these important life lessons?
Yes, absolutely, and we have our dogs, in part, to thank for that. The last time someone called our newest rescue a “scary dog”, because he is big boy and he spooks easily, he was barking loudly as a group of children ran past us on a trail at Island Lake. My daughter stopped the boy who made this comment and told him that her dog was in fact not scary at all but that he was in fact scared and could they please slow down … and they did! And he stopped barking. I was very proud of her for using her voice on his behalf and for sharing her truth! Not to mention she just passed on some important dog safety information in that small exchange.
Why is it important to you to teach children how to be safer around dogs?
It is my strong opinion that we all need to be doing more to teach our children about safety around dogs. Because they will carry those lessons home and throughout their lives, whether they own a dog or just run into one on occasion. Dogs are everywhere! We do have a National Dog Bite Prevention week here in Canada, launched for the first time just this past April, through the Ontario Coalition Against Breed Specific Legislation, but dog bite prevention is not currently a part of the school curriculum in Ontario.
I am in the process of becoming a certified dog bite prevention educator, through Dog Gone Safe, and my ultimate goal is to go out and speak to groups of young children, teaching them about dog safety and sharing my book.
The vast majority of dog bite incidents occur in young children and many times, these incidents occur with a dog familiar to that child. But nearly all of these incidents are preventable. Like many things, education is key. Teaching children from a young age how to behave around dogs and what to do should they encounter a dog is a vital life skill.
Calgary Humane Society offers “Humane Education” programs to schools and these programs are directly responsible for a drastic reduction in dog bite related injuries in Calgary when compared to other cities in Canada.
Calgary’s number of dog bite related injuries and chases has reduced by over 75% since the city has regulated dog licensing and has made dog bite prevention a part of the curriculum in schools. Meanwhile, the dog population in the city of Calgary has doubled in that same time period.
Are you willing to reveal anything about the next three books in your series?
Absolutely! The next book will be called “Sydney’s Wish”, inspired by our second dog, Dubbers, who was actually one of Bella’s puppies. We had to rescue him back from his owner when Dubbers was ten years old. Dubbers had never been around young children and my daughter was three at the time. There were many challenges to overcome. We had planned to foster Dubbers either until his owner was fit to have him back, which never happened, or we were going to adopt him to a loving home … until my daughter made a wish on Santa’s lap! You’ll have to read the book to her the rest! The third book will the toughest to write and read aloud, entitled “Sydney’s Hardest Day”, it will cover the topic of loss. Our entire family surrounded Bella as she took her last breath. As painful and difficult of a subject as that is, I feel it’s important to normalize that experience for children. And the fourth in the series will be called “Sydney’s New Friend”, about our new puppy, Big Ben! He is night and day from Bella and Dubbers and there are many new lessons for children when it comes to having a new puppy, especially one who is 72 pounds at only one year old!
Each of these stories will be based on our real-life experiences and will contain important lessons for children that are unique to each book.
You can get your copy of “Sydney’s Best Friend”, and eventually the other books in the series, at www. SydneyAndBella.com.