Thursday, March 31, 2011

Meet Fire Dog Hero, Ashly

     The proper name for fire dogs is accelerant detection dogs and when I do school visits I find the one dog hero children know the least about is the fire dog. I'm not surprised as it was also the job I was least familiar with.
     Fire dogs detect accelerants that help start or spread a fire and ultimately their work is used as evidence in court to help convict arsonists. I also learned that fire dogs perform field searches for evidence that the arsonist may have tried to hide. They can sniff clothes or other samples that may have been removed from the fire scene.
    Meet fire dog, Ashly and her handler, Deb Mullins. They work for the Dallas Fire Department. When I was looking for an arson dog and fire investigator for the Fire Dog Heroes book I came across Debra and Ashly on an internet search. They turned out to be a perfect match for the book. Debra was helpful in every way. The publisher loved this photo so much it made the front cover of the book!
Ashly is a Labrador retriever and Border collie mix. She was found abandoned and was rescued by two members of the Dallas Fire Department. Shortly after, Ashly was adopted by Debra.
When doing the research on the history of fire dogs, I learned that three instructors from the Connecticut State Canine Training Center were assigned to train the first fire dog, Mattie. I was able to track down Mattie's trainers. I interviewed Jim Butterworth and Doug Lancelot. They provided me with lots of  information and I was able include some great quotes in the book about Connecticut's accelerant detector dog program and how it started. Jim even offered to dig through old photographs and was able to provide the publisher with a photo of the him and Doug with Mattie. I was thrilled because I knew no else had this photo and it wouldn't be found in another book. Jim and Doug turned out to be great primary sources!
So many people helped with the research for this book from firefighters to handlers and trainers. I couldn't have done it without all of them!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Meet Search and Rescue Dog, Radar

ISBN 978-0-7660-3201-9

Two-page spread.

Search and rescue K–9 teams most often help search for lost or missing people. Radar was a search and rescue dog with a sheriff's department. I've met with his handler, Lt. Mitch Ellicott numerous times as Mitch is a very experienced handler who is passionate about his dogs and his work. While I was able to tell Radar's story in the Search and Rescue Dog Heroes book, I never had the opportunity to meet him. During the writing of the book, Radar passed away. The book is dedicated to Lt. Ellicott and to the memory of his K–9 Radar.

K–9 Radar during a training session.

     As I continued to be in touch with Mitch during the many stages of writing the book he told about his new
K–9, Blaze that he was training. Three months into training Blaze, Mitch invited me to come and watch Blaze perform a training exercise in the woods. How could I not go?
     A fellow officer went into the woods while we played fetch with Blaze in a nearby field. After about ten minutes, Mitch put Blaze's working vest on, brought Blaze to the edge of the woods, and gave him the search command. I followed Mitch and Blaze into the woods not on a marked path. It was only a few minutes before I could tell Blaze had caught the scent of the hidden officer. In less than ten minutes Blaze located the officer crouched down behind a huge rock. During school visits I ask kids what they think is Blaze's reward  for his finds. Many guess a dog treat or food. They giggle when I tell them it's a tennis ball since this is Blaze's favorite toy. Mitch explained that Blaze only had a few months of training and he would continue to train him to perform more complex tasks in the months ahead. I appreciated that Mitch invited me to watch a search. It helped me understand how these dogs work by seeing it first-hand. I like to tell the kids about my trek through the woods. I think it's important for children to know that writers don't just do their research in the library or while sitting at their computers. 
     While writing this series I tried to use as many primary sources as possible. In doing so, I not only wrote  well-researched books, I met some amazing dogs and their handlers who are all truly heroes to me.
Me presenting the Search and Rescue Dog Heroes
 book to Lt. Mitch Ellicott and K–9 Blaze.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Meet Police Dog Hero, Lucky!

For Grades 3–4
ISBN 978-0-7660-3197-5

2-page spread from Police Dog Heroes
This week I'll be blogging about my new series, Amazing Working Dogs with American Humane. I thought it would be only fitting to start with my Police Dog Heroes book since police dog, Lucky and Officer Shawn Mead from the Edison Police Department will be joining me at a book signing at Camp Bow Wow in Middlesex, New Jersey on Sunday, April 3rd from 11 a.m. - 1 p.m..  People can meet the police dog featured in the book and Officer Mead can answer any questions you may have about police dogs. All of the books from this series will be on hand to purchase and Camp Bow Wow is donating a portion of the proceeds to  the Bow Wow Buddies Foundation who is now raising funds for the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation who has a team assisting in Japan. For more information about the book signing and Camp Bow Wow click here. I grew up in Middlesex and Camp Bow Wow is actually just around the corner from where I lived so I'm so excited about this event and hope some of my hometown friends (and my Mom) will stop by to see me.

Me presenting Officer Mead and Lucky with a copy of
"Police Dog Heroes" at a  press conference.

     I ask kids at school visits how they think I met Officer Mead and police dog, Lucky. One of the funniest responses I've received was from a student who yelled out, "You got pulled over!" The truth is, I met officer Mead during an unfortunate accident. I was playing softball in Edison when a player on the other team got hurt and we had to call an ambulance. Officer Mead arrived on the scene to assist and I noticed his patrol car said "caninie" on the side. I approached him and briefly explained the project I was working on and how I needed a real police dog story to include in the book. We exchanged business cards and later discussed the project through emails.     
     After receiving permission from the police department, Officer Mead agreed to help with this project. People who agree to assist an author with a book need to know up front that it will take up some of their time. Officer Mead was kind enough to agree to meet with me in person for an interview.

Officer Shawn Mead and K–9 Lucky from the Edison Police Dept.

     He brought Lucky with him in his patrol car so I could even see how his patrol car is specially equipped for a police dog. Following the interview, Officer Mead continued to help answer questions I had not only about Lucky but about police dogs in general. During the revision process I was in touch with Officer Mead on a daily basis as questions arose and fact checking was essential.
     I learned that police dogs work hard on the job but what I didn't know was that when these dogs are not working they are the family's pet. I also came to learn about the close bond between the handler and their dog, so close that I find it hard to describe in words. I also learned that when the use of police dogs spread to the United States from Europe, it was in South Orange, New Jersey that three police dogs could be seen patrolling the streets in the spring of 1907.  I was able obtain a copy of a 1956 newspaper article about the use of police dogs in London that caught the attention of the Baltimore, Maryland police department. The city of Baltimore is still known for its K–9 training center today. Police representatives from all over the United States and other countries have traveled to the center to have their K–9 units trained.
     I worked on this series for nearly two years, so to finally see it in print is very rewarding. Talking to children and using these books as a tool for teaching children about canine heroes is everything I hoped it would be.

"These books are clearly written in personable style, with plenty of anecdotal and factual information, which makes them suitable for report writing and enjoyable for general reading."
     On Guide Dog Heroes, Police Dog Heroes, Service Dog Heroes
                     School Library Journal March 2011