Do You Believe There's a Dog Heaven?
"No dog ever lives long enough. Anyone who has ever loved a dog knows this."
I have lived these words too many times, with the loss of my own beloved dogs through the years. I've also watched others live them after their dogs died. And now they’re the opening words in my new picture book Dog Heaven: Somewhere Over the Rainbow Bridge.
This book is launching today. It was years in the making, starting after the death of our dear 12-year-old Airedale, Joe. At the time, I didn’t want to read any word-filled books about pet loss. I just wanted a simple picture book to take my mind off things, to soothe the rawness of his loss, to provide some comfort -- maybe even a laugh between the tears. There were some sweet ones for young children, but nothing that did the trick for me.
A couple of weeks after Joe died, I was still feeling the sting of his death. I decided to go for a walk at one of his favorite places -– a wide strip of chilly San Francisco beach near our house. We’d scattered some of his ashes there the week before, and it felt good paying him a visit again after a long spate of rain.
As I was walking and "talking" with him, the drizzly, gray sky cleared, and a rainbow appeared. A double rainbow, actually. I recalled the rainbow bridge poem a friend had given me after his death, and I felt a surge of inspiration. It was as if Joe was telling me, “Please feel better. Everything is wonderful over here. Now go help other people get through this.” The idea for Dog Heaven: Somewhere Over the Rainbow Bridge was born.
It would be a long gestation –- nearly 10 years, actually. With raising a family and writing to pay bills, I couldn’t find much time to devote to a book that might never see the light of day. But I knew others would get comfort from this book, so I fit its creation into spare moments. I finessed the words time after time, coordinated them with a storyboard, hired terrific artist Dee D’Amico to do the illustrations, and brought on a wonderful young painter to watercolor Dee's beautiful drawings.
I think Joe Dog would be proud. My yellow Lab, Jake, is actually the book's central character, but Joe doesn't mind. He was the first inspiration, and there's a lovely illustration with him in it as well.
During my years at Dogster, I've read comments on my articles from so many people whose pets have died, and so I've also been inspired by many of you. It made me realize that I wasn't the only one who could benefit from a simple picture book designed for adults.
As a thank you, I'd like to give you a preview of a few pages and let you know that I am offering signed, inscribed copies of the book via the Dog Heaven book website.
Because we're Dogster family, I'll let you in on a little secret. You may notice that Maria Hanson is listed as the book's author. That was a fairly last-minute decision. I've been told by the publishers and agents in my life that it's not a good idea to release two books so close together. Since my book Soldier Dogs: The Untold Story of America's Canine Heroes came out just a few months ago, we decided I should use my married name. I figure it's okay to mention it here, but I'll try not to let it get out too much just yet.
It's my great hope that this book will help readers through the horribly raw, empty time after the loss of a dog. I know I'll be reading it again and again when Jake's time comes. I can't even think about that right now. He's 10, but I hope he lives to at least 40. Here are a few more pages, with my personal notes:
This is one of the most wrenching moments in life. I want my book to help ease this pain.
The book's main dog is modeled after Jake. The words the man is telling his dying dog are the words I tell Jake every night.
While creating the book, I thought about how problematic Dog Heaven could get with all the winged dogs. It wouldn't be a sensible idea for dogs to have angel wings in Dog Heaven with bird dogs everywhere.
Human angels do have wings. This doesn't pose a problem. I love the idea of homeless dogs, dogfighting dogs, bait dogs, abused dogs, and other unloved dogs having a forever bond with an angel in Dog Heaven. I think of the smitten dog on this page as a Michael Vick dog.
In Dog Heaven, dogs get to do all the things they loved to do on earth, and some things they weren't allowed to do.
This is what I felt when walking on the beach that day.
And this is what I felt after I saw the rainbow. It was as if it had been sent from Joe. I've talked with many people who say they've felt their dogs' presence after they died, and that it gave them great comfort.
Toward the end of the book, something very special happens, but I won't give away any more pages than I already have!
Do you think there's a Dog Heaven? Have you ever felt as if your old dog visited you after she or he died? Do you hope to be reunited with your dogs after you die? Leave a comment here, and please visit my Dog Heaven Facebook page to share your story there, as well. (You may be the first to visit! It's brand-new.)
As for me, I'd absolutely love to be greeted on the other side one day by Jake's smiling face and wagging tail. What a welcome that would be. I'd even take him covered with cow patties. The heavenly nature of being reunited with him after so long would make any scent smell sweet.