Marie-Yolaine Williams is the award-winning author of two juvenile fiction books from Outskirts Press, both of which play a part in her Shelter Dog Series. Her first book, Old Dog, New Tricks, was published in November 2015 and just won a 1st Place EVVY Award in the Juvenile Fiction category.
Her second book, Super Mia and the Good Luck Duo was just published in June of 2016. Marie-Yolaine Williams is an attorney who loves kids and dogs. She has one child, a 7-year-old boy named Langston, and two senior dogs, Fenster and Keaton, both of whom were rescued. She wrote the Shelter Dog Series in hopes that it will encourage people to adopt dogs from shelters and consider dogs that are frequently overlooked by adopters. She resides in Atlanta with her family and a portion of her royalties will be donated to Lifeline Animal Project and Susie’s Senior Dogs, an organization that provides exposure to older dogs in shelters looking for their forever homes. Marie-Yolaine Williams holds all animals near and dear, and we had an opportunity to ask her a few questions about her award-winning book and her Shelter Dog Series:
OP: Your story, Old Dog, New Tricks, is a heart-warming illustrated children’s story with a valuable message. How long did it take you to write it?
MYW: Thank you. I wrote it in about a month. The technical aspect took me a bit longer, but the idea came from a statement that my son, Langston, who is now eight, made to me one day. There was a dog (Keaton) who caught my eye at our local shelter, and I explained to him that if we adopted the dog, she may only be with us a year or two because she was older. Langston replied that even if the dog only lived two more years, that is actually fourteen years in dog years. I had never looked at it from that perspective – from the dog’s point of view. And that’s when I realized I had been looking at things all wrong. This gave me the idea to write a series of books told from the point of view of an undesired shelter dog. The goal is to encourage shelter adoption of course, but also, to encourage adopters to consider dogs they may otherwise overlook. It seemed fitting to begin the series about an old dog, because they are so often passed over in favor of puppies.
OP: The story rings true. Is the story of Boscoe the shelter dog based upon one of your senior dogs, Fenster or Keaton?
MYW: It’s about both of them, but it’s especially about Keaton because I adopted her last year and she was already nine. We have no idea how Keaton ended up at Fulton County Animal Services here in Atlanta, only that she was picked up as a stray. But she’d obviously had a family before. She already knew all of her commands, was housebroken, and later on we discovered that she is an excellent READ dog. She loves her story time. I think in my generation, there’s a common perception that the “good” dogs are at the breeder, and the aggressive or bad dogs are at the shelter. And that’s absolutely not true. Most dogs end up at the shelter through no fault of their own. Sometimes they were unlucky and just had an irresponsible owner. Other times, their owner passed and there was no one to take the dog in. There’s also eviction, or serious illness for the owner – all things that are not caused by the dog. It’s especially heartbreaking when a senior ends up at the shelter. I saw Keaton’s picture online and it broke my heart. She just had the look of a dog that had given up hope. We feel really fortunate that we are part of her second act – because everyone deserves one. When we brought her home, she ran from room to room celebrating.
OP: What advice would you give to a family that is considering adopting an older pet?
MYW: I would say go for it! Because often young families think a puppy is the best fit for them, but in fact an older dog may actually be a better fit. At the time we adopted Keaton, Langston was reading. He was really into the Harry Potter series. Either Fenster or Keaton would sit and listen to him read. They did so attentively and without being a distraction. So I would especially encourage it if you have a child that is learning to read. Older dogs are a captive, non judgmental audience. I noticed that when I was the one my child was reading to, he was more self conscious. No matter how encouraging I was, he seemed more nervous, like he was scared to make mistakes. I made the decision to have him read to a dog while I busied myself in the room ironing or folding clothes. He started soaring. It got to the point where he would ask, “Keaton, do you know what accelerate means? Okay if you don’t know it’s just a fancy way of saying go faster.” He actually got so confident he would stop to explain concepts to the dog he was reading to. In the book, the young boy, Max, reads to Boscoe, his newly adopted older dog, exactly how we do at home. I’d also say, even if you don’t have a child who is reading, it’s a wonderful thing to teach a child – to look at things from the point of view of the dog. Older dogs are so grateful for their second chances. So even if that dog is only with your family a short while, it’s a lifetime for that dog. That second chance is everything in the world to them. It teaches children to be selfless and care for those who have been forgotten, and I think that’s a good value to instill in them. And if you don’t have children, older dogs require a lot less. They are perfect for someone who works a lot. They are just happy to have a warm place to lay their heads. On days I can’t be home, my dogs sleep the day away. They don’t chew furniture and are very laid back. We still enjoy walks with them and they are quite active, but they are much easier than puppies.
OP: How can others help in the support of animal adoption?
MYW: In the book, I try to encourage kids and adults to support animal rescue. Sometimes that means adopting or fostering a dog or a cat. Other times it’s just not the right time to have any pet in the house. There may be a member of the household who is allergic, or it’s just not the right time. So I try to encourage kids to do things that help their local rescue. Rescues always need newspapers and pet food, so collecting those items really helps. Or earning the money to sponsor a dog or a cat and donating it to their local shelter. My father used to say everyone has to do their part. In other words, if I have 12 dogs, I’ll tire myself out and get burned out. I’m supposed to do a little bit and encourage others to do the same. So it’s all these little things that add up to big changes. A few years ago my son turned five, and we decided to forego the birthday gifts and just ask people to sponsor a dog or a cat at our local rescue. It led to an actual dog adoption, and many animals got what they needed instead of us being overloaded with toys we didn’t really need. Here at Fulton County Animal Services, they have a great program called “Dog for a Day.” You can take a dog for a day on a hike, a walk, to Piedmont Park or home while it wears an “Adopt Me” vest. It’s great for the dog who gets out of the shelter for a day and gets exercise. And the exposure from the vest may lead to an adoption. There are so many ways to help even if you cannot take a dog home. I hope it’s this message (everyone does a little bit and what they can) is what people take away from the book.
OP: Tell us about the additional books in the Shelter Dog Series?
MYW: There are five books in the series. The first four have been written. The next one will be out in the spring and I’m quite excited about it. It’s called “From Shelter Dog to Graduate – The Incredible Story of Clara Henri.” It tackles breed discrimination, and it’s written from the point of view of a Pit Bull. In fact, they are all written from the point of view of an undesired shelter dog. The first book, “Old Dog, New Tricks” is about an older dog, Boscoe, who ends up at the shelter when his owner passes. The second book is called “Super Mia and the Good Luck Duo – Rescued is the New Black,” and it was published in late June 2016. I was pleasantly surprised to see it was a number one hot new release in all three of its categories its first month on Amazon. That book is about black dog syndrome (which causes some people to fear black dogs) and superstition, which causes black cats to also be overlooked. You can read the books out of order, and I do bring some characters back. My formula for the books is pairing invisible dogs with invisible people and having the invisible people be the heroes that save the day. By “invisible people” I mean people you often don’t see in children’s books. I have all kinds of families in the series. The idea is to be as inclusive as possible. In “Super Mia” the adopter, Mia, has MS, and some days she needs to be in a wheelchair. The illness is only a small part of the story. She’s an amazing lady who is from Greece. She rescues animals and runs a shelter, and she just happens to have MS. Heroes have varying degrees of agility and mobility, and sometimes they are differently abled. I think it’s important to expose children to that. I’m very excited about the whole series, and my hope is that people see their family reflected in the series. So if you’re being raised by Grandparents, a foster family, an adoptive family, or if your family is mixed race, you see yourself in the series. I also have differently-abled characters and different faiths. You may see someone who is hearing impaired, or someone who suffers from seizures. It’s a blend of people who are all happy to be interacting with each other. I didn’t want the books to be segregated. I wanted them to reflect the world we live in today in 2016. When you get to the end of the series, you see that many of the adopters and their pets know each other – I won’t say how though!
OP: We’ll just have to read each of them when they come out! Thank you, Marie-Yolaine.
MYW: Exactly! Thanks so much.