On the side (Reprinted with permission of SAS Institute Inc. August 2004)
by Austin Wright
Valerie Blettner, Author
Valerie Blettner loves beagles. And for anyone who has ever owned a beagle, it is easy to understand why.
"Theyre just so friendly," says Blettner, a data visualization specialist who celebrates her 20th anniversary at SAS in August. "And theyre small enough to fit in your lap, but theyre still real dogs, not little frou-frou dogs." Blettner, an author and beagle rescue activist, recounts the time she realized just how sweet beagles are. "I was taking some of the new foster dogs to the vet, and I was kissing this scared hunting dogs little face all over. It occurred to me that this wouldnt really be possible if I was doing rottweiler rescue, instead of beagle rescue. They are naturally so good natured."
Blettner has taken this love for beagles, along with her talents as a graphic artist, and turned it into a hobby that has raised more than $17,000 for animal rescue groups. Using her own beagle, Floyd, as the subject, Blettner wrote and illustrated a childrens book, Life is Good Now as told by Floyd .
Life is Good Now as told by Floyd is the story of Floyds life and rescue, and how he came to live with Blettner and her husband, Lee Richardson. It is illustrated with adorable photos of Floyd creatively manipulated in Photoshop. Floyd and his sister, Rosebud, were rescued in the mountains of North Carolina and taken to a home in Durham, where they escaped and ended up at the Durham County Animal Shelter. The story is narrated by Floyd himself, the eternally optimistic beagle, who describes how he and Rosebud, along with a birddog named Wilma, came to live the good life with Blettner and Richardson. Here, Floyd describes their first trip to the veterinarian:
"We were all taken to a veterinarian. I soon found out that being fixed meant that we wouldnt be able to make puppies. This was a good thing, because there are so many dogs at the shelter that dont ever find a new home. If more dogs were fixed then the shelters wouldnt be so crowded. This would make the jobs of the animal shelter much easier."
Blettners trip to the animal shelter that resulted in a new home for Floyd, Rosebud and Wilma came days after her first beagle, Punkin, passed away in 1995. Punkin is now memorialized as the logo of Blettners company, Grinning Beagle Productions, which sells her childrens books, toys and other beagle necessities. The logo was made using a photo of Blettners teeth superimposed on a photo of Punkin.
Blettner donates 30 percent of each book sold to rescue groups such as Triangle Beagle Rescue of North Carolina, located here in the Triangle. Rescue groups save dogs from animal shelters, provide full veterinary services and find happy homes for their dogs. Beagles tend to need rescuing more often than other breeds due to their popularity as hunting dogs, particularly in North Carolina. Although many hunters treat their beagles very well, some consider them disposable if they are unsuccessful hunting dogs or if they become too old to breed. High numbers of beagles are simply dropped off on the side of a road or at rural animal shelters. Luckily, however, a failed hunting dog usually makes an excellent house dog.
Blettner and her husband have been dedicated members of Triangle Beagle Rescue for five years, and serve as a foster family for rescued beagles until permanent homes are found. She says she wrote Life is Good Now as told by Floyd, as well as her most recent book, That Dog Wont Hunt!, to show the amazing work of animal rescue groups.
"I wanted to show just how valuable rescue groups are," says Blettner. "They do such a wonderful job, taking animals from the shelter just before theyre about to be put to sleep, keeping them, treating and socializing them, and finding them good homes." And with Blettner, Triangle Beagle Rescue works especially hard to ensure that each dog finds the best home possible. The application to adopt a beagle from the rescue group states that, "We believe that our beagles should be a part of the family and should spend as much time with their humans as possible we would love it if all of our beagles slept in the bed with their owners."
Triangle Beagle Rescue spays or neuters each dog it saves, and all are given complete health checks by local veterinarians before they are adopted. The medical bills are paid for by the rescue group using the adoption fees.
"If we get a dog who is really sick, then the adoption fee doesnt cover the cost of all of the medical bills. I wanted to be able to help shelters and rescue groups raise money," says Blettner, who wrote her second childrens book to further her financial contribution to the rescue groups.
Blettners newest book, That Dog Wont Hunt!, is a compilation of 10 amazing true stories of rescued dogs of all breeds. Blettner gathered the stories by contacting rescue groups across the country and asking for true accounts of dog rescues. "I wanted stories that were shocking in the beginning but had sweet endings," says Blettner. The first story is of Bongo the beagle, a peaceful dog with a goofy overbite who refused to accept his job as a hunter. "One hunters worthless beagle became a priceless addition to a loving home," is the motto of this tale, which is followed by the rescue stories of such dogs as Ms. Daisy, a blind, deaf and arthritic white English bulldog, and Samson, an Akita who saved the life of his own rescuer. Just like Life is Good Now as told by Floyd, Blettners second book is also filled with her imaginative photo illustrations. To accompany the book, Blettner commissioned GUND, the famous plush toy manufacturer, to make a plush toy of Bongo, the "cover beagle."
"I love telling the stories of animals who came close to tragedy but end up being loved and, in some cases, heroic, pets," says Blettner. "Its a labor of love that I hope touches peoples hearts. I believe that adopted animals from a shelter or rescue group make better pets than those you would buy from a store or a breeder. They are so grateful to you and they show it."
Blettner says proceeds from her books have reached her initial fundraising goals, and she hopes they will make even more for the rescue missions. "Triangle Beagle Rescue is very low on funds right now," says Blettner, who contributes an additional $500 each year to the rescue group through SAS Employee Volunteer Fund.
SAS employees Kathy Wisniewski and Danny Wright are both proud parents of beagles adopted from Triangle Beagle Rescue, and they agree that Blettners contributions to the group have had a significant impact on the lives of the rescued beagles. "She is what we call our super-volunteer'," says Wisniewski, who is currently a Triangle Beagle Rescue board member and also contributes to the organization through SAS volunteer fund. "She does more for these dogs than any other volunteer in the rescue. Val and her husband Lee are so good with these dogs, we call them the beagle whisperers. They can take a scared, scrawny, sick dog and turn it into a pampered house pet in no time flat."
"Val is so committed to finding good homes for these dogs," says Wright. "Her books are wonderful and the funding they have provided has obviously had a huge impact on Triangle Beagle Rescue."
Next on the list for the talented author and so-called beagle whisperer? Maybe greeting cards, Blettner says. She is also working on a fun new page for her Web site called "Famous Floyds in History." The first famous Floyd is, of course, Floyd the beagle, followed by manipulated photos of Floyd as Pink Floyd, Pretty Boy Floyd, Hurricane Floyd and more. For now, however, Blettners most important goal is to continue funding rescue groups and crusading for the beagles she loves.
To volunteer as a pet foster family, adopt a beagle or donate to Triangle Beagle Rescue of North Carolina, visit http://www.tribeagles.org.
pens children's book on animal adoption
By AL CARSON, The Herald-Sun
DURHAM It makes a touching picture mother and adopted son sitting on the couch as mom tells the story of how they came to be together.
As mom talks, she contemplates writing down this poignant tale for posterity. Her son just wags his tail.
In this case, the mom is Valerie Blettner and her adopted son is a beagle named Floyd and the story now is a childrenís book called "Life Is Good Now."
The story begins in the North Carolina mountains when Floyd and sister Rosebud are just wayward puppies. Lost in Linville Gorge, they are discovered by a Durham man who figures they should make good hunting dogs and takes them home.
Floyd and Rosie dig out of their pen in Durham and run away, only to end up in the animal shelter. Although they are happy to be warm and dry and fed daily, our errant pooches do not realize they are on a dead-end street and a short one at that.
Lucky for them, and a pointer-mix named Wilma, Valerie Blettner and Lee Richardson have big hearts and a big back yard in Forest Hills, both with plenty of room for Floyd, Rosie and Wilma. In a nutshell that is how Floyd came to be sitting on the couch listening to Blettner tell the story that became "Life Is Good Now," as told by Floyd, written and illustrated by Valerie Blettner.
Blettner took a night-time continuing education class on writing children‘s books which helped her put together her book. Then she had to get it published. Blettner was familiar with the "Moon Book" of local artist Emily Weinstein.
"I met her through a friend and I mentioned needing help with murals and she immediately jumped at the opportunity," Weinstein said. "She is very artistic."
The pair became friends through art and also through animal rescue, although Weinstein is more into cats than dogs.
"We were both APS members, but she is in a very specific group, beagles. She has them cornered," said Weinstein, who offered her input on the book. "We went out to lunch and discussed the book. She said she was going with the same format as the ‘'Moon Book'’ and I said, ‘'Hey, cool.‘'"
Rather than risk a publisher's rejection, Blettner decided to self-publish. So she created Grinning Beagle Productions and went through Chapel Hill Press to get the book printed.
"I also wanted to self-publish so I could give 30 percent to the animal shelters," she said.
It is a little book, six inches square and 32 pages long. It has pictures of the adventures of Floyd, Rosie and Wilma, digital photographs taken and edited by Blettner.
The book has been distributed to animal shelters across the country and sells for $10, with $3 of each sale donated to the shelter. Blettner said she has sold about 3,000 of the press run of 10,000 books, which spells $9,000 in donations to animal shelters.
While she planned her book to be children's literature, Blettner said she "probably sells more to dog people, than to children."
"Life Is Good Now" is available at local animal shelters and through the Grinning Beagle Web site.
When Blettner and Richardson were dating, she bought him a beagle named Punkin.
"She was our first dog," Blettner recalled. "She was only 6 years old when she died broke our hearts. She's buried out in the back yard."
Punkin's death left a huge void in the couple's life. They ended up going to the pound, where the plan was to pick out two females. But after picking out Wilma and Rosebud, they found Floyd irresistible.
Now Floyd, Rosie and Wilma not only have a book to tell their story, they have a Web site, www.grinningbeagle.com. Any sales from the Web site will benefit the Durham County Animal Shelter.
Visit the site to see Floyd hard at work on his computer, using Photoshop 5.5 to create the pictures. Floyd is also seen marketing the tome, and even handling shipping and receiving (especially licking the envelopes with his friends).
The site also lets beagle lovers read comments about the book, such as one by Robin Rogers, past president of the APS of Durham.
"The story speaks to young and old alike," Rogers wrote. "The book also offers the reader of a pet adopted from a shelter an opportunity to stroll down memory lane in reliving their own special pet adoption."
The book also gets kudos from the four-legged set. On the back cover are blurbs from some of Floyd and Rosieís buds.
"Two paws up," said Lucy, a beagle mix.
"He's been my neighbor for years," said Max, a black Lab who belongs to Will London. "I didn't realize that Floyd had such talent."
Links related to this article:
URL for this article: http://www.herald-sun.com/features/54-187291.html
DURHAM -- Valerie Blettner, who told the story
of her adopted "son" Floyd (a beagle) in her first book, "Life
is Good Now," is back.
Organized by Durham Central Park Inc., the City of Durham, and Independent Animal Rescue, the proceeds from this event will be divided between Durham Central Park and Independent Animal Rescue, both nonprofit organizations.
URL for this article: http://www.herald-sun.com/features/54-407995.html
Grinning Beagle Productions | Copyright 2000 | All Rights Reserved | Durham, North Carolina | 919-493-3060