“Rusty the Rescue” Teaches Kids Compassion for Shelter Dogs

The book by author Christina Capatides and illustrator Ryan Bauer-Walsh educates the earliest readers about shelter animals and second chances.

Heather Marcoux  |  Jan 28th 2015


Many children have, at one time or another, begged their parents to let them go into a pet store to look at the puppies. The little pups kept behind the glass are what attract children to these profitable retail stores, but children’s author Christina Capatides is hoping her new book, Rusty the Rescue, can help kids learn to adopt instead of shop.

“It’s a first introduction to the concept of a shelter dog. It tells you where they are, that they’ve gone through some tough things, but that they are just as good as the dog in your mind — that perfect dog you imagine.”

Passionate about helping shelter dogs and the no-kill movement, Capatides — a playwright and lyricist who has written three full-length musicals — has previously tackled the topic of shelter dogs in song form, but Rusty the Rescue is her debut effort as a children’s author. She was inspired by her own dog, Mooch, who had severe elbow dysplasia when she adopted him.

“His two front arms were lame; he walked around like a person,” she says, noting that while the details about Mooch’s early life aren’t clear, it is likely that the dog is a puppy mill survivor.

“I think he was in such a cramped area, that his legs sort of grew malformed.”

Mooch is doing great these days, having received the love and medical care he needed to make use of his front legs and thrive. Capatides hopes her book can teach young animal lovers about the reality of what rescue dogs like Mooch go through.

“It does so in a subtle way, without the gruesome aspect,” she says. “It also introduces kids to the concept of a mixed breed.”

In addition to teaching kids about shelter life and dog diversity, Rusty also helps kids understand resiliency and how to move forward from setbacks in life.

“Shelter dogs are one of the most important examples of resiliency they can get,” explains Capatides.

Teaching kids about shelter dogs is not new territory for Capatides, though. When she’s not writing about Rusty, she serves as the content and editorial creator for the Mutt-i-grees Curriculum, a program used in classrooms from pre-kindergarten through grade 12 throughout the United States and Canada to teach kids about empathy for animals in need, which we previously wrote about. The program uses stories about shelter dogs, activities, and animal interactions to teach children about compassion, empathy, and ethical decision-making.

Mutt-i-grees was created in partnership with North Shore Animal League, and Capatides knows just how important the work North Shore does is — not just in advocacy and education, but also in directly saving the lives of shelter pets. North Shore is a leader in the no-kill movement and has found homes for more than a million pets.

“We’re going to donate 10 percent of the proceeds to North Shore Animal League America,” says Capatides, who partnered with illustrator Ryan Bauer-Walsh to create Rusty.

Rusty the Rescue is Bauer-Walsh’s first fully illustrated children’s book. The title character is based on a stuffed toy he had as a kid.

“My parents never let me have a dog, so it’s kind of a way to live vicariously,” says Bauer-Walsh.

Now that Rusty the Rescue is complete, Bauer-Walsh and Capatides are already working on follow-up titles. The pair plans to continue the series and have Rusty develop into a superhero of a dog who can rescue others.

Bauer-Walsh say he hopes kids — and their families — can also become superheroes for dogs and take the message behind the book to heart. “Owning a dog is bringing on a new family member,” he explains, adding that pets should never be viewed as just another accessory to bring home.

Capatides hopes Rusty’s story resonates with children and teaches them lessons that last a lifetime. The children reading about Rusty now will one day be adults, making important choices that affect the lives of the animals around them.

“We wanted to write a book that could educate the earliest readers and give them empathy about what shelter dogs go through, so they can the make responsible decisions,” says Capatides.

Both the author and the illustrator hope their book teaches kids that dogs don’t have to come from stores — and that those dogs who don’t are just as lovable as the puppies in the pet shop window. They’ve created a fictional dog hero, but Capatides and Bauer-Walsh are real-life heroes to the next generation of dog lovers.

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About the Author: Heather Marcoux is a freelance writer in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but the addition of a second cat, Specter, and the dog duo of GhostBuster and Marshmallow make her fur family complete. Sixteen paws is definitely enough. Heather is also a wife, a bad cook, and a former TV journalist. Some of her friends have hidden her feed because of an excess of cat pictures. If you don’t mind cat pictures, you can follow her on Twitter; she also posts pet GIFs on Google+.