In Peter Pan, father George Darling takes a barking Nana the Sheepdog outside, therefore allowing the boy who never grows up to come inside and lure the kids off to Never Never Land. And we all know how that turns out.
Now a Sheepdog named after the dog from Peter Pan is also teaching children valuable life lessons in a book called Naughty Nana. I talked to author Saralyn Richard to learn more about her inspiration and how she became a Goodwill Ambassador in Galveston, Texas.
Brian Fischler for Dogster: When did your love of animals begin?
Saralyn Richard: I have always loved animals. They have really beautiful souls.
When we lived in Chicago, we had a Sheepdog named Barkley. He was really a person in a dog suit. Everyone who interacted with Barkley felt like he was a friend of theirs that they could talk to and that he would really listen to them. He would play football with my kids and would tackle them and look up at me as if he was doing his job. He was such a great dog, and when he passed on we did not want to get another Sheepdog right away, as we felt no one could live up to Barkley. We ended up getting a Scotty named Bogey. He is a perfectly mannered dog, just like a Scotsman.
We always have two dogs so they have each other, and Bogey’s companion, a Golden Retriever passed on, and Bogey was just inconsolable. Bogey would not eat, he did not want to go outside, he was mourning. We took him to the vet, and the vet said give him two weeks and he should be over the mourning, but two weeks came and went and Bogey was not over it. The vet then told us that we really needed to get a puppy to help Bogey get over the loss. We found a Sheepdog in Abilene, Texas, about 10 hours away from us. So we packed up the car, taking Bogey along with us, and headed down to Abilene, and by the end of the day we were heading home with Nana, and that is where her incredible adventure began.
How were the first few days of Nana being in the house with Bogey?
Nana was a holy terror. At first Nana was really quiet and kept to herself because everything was so knew to her. I think she was a little scared at first, but once she got her bearings, she became a wild woman! She had so much energy and so much mischief, tearing and chewing up things, getting filthy; we just could not keep up with her. As a coping mechanism, I finally started making a list of all her misbehaviors. The list kept growing and growing, and the whole time Bogey kept being his perfectly behaved self.
Was this the time when Nana got the nickname Naughty Nana?
Oh yeah! We would walk her every day, as she had an abundance of energy. I was concerned about whether she had the potential to become a good pet. We even consulted a trainer, and my husband said we just have to hang in there with her. Nana is our eighth dog, so we know dogs, and have trained them all, but Nana’s behavior was something different, something we had not experienced before. These behavior issues took place from the time she was 12 weeks old until she was about one and a half.
The turning point in Nana’s journey from naughty to nice came about when my three-year-old granddaughter who loves dogs and wants to be a veterinarian came to visit. Instead of telling Nana she was naughty, she called her nice Nana. Like a dog whisperer, she told Nana, “No biting, only kisses. No jumping, only hugs.”
What do you hope readers will take away from Nana’s story?
Nana narrates the book, and along with her story there is a subtext about the way we treat people. I really think the way we treat dogs has a lot to do with the way we treat people. Nana could be any child who is constantly getting in to trouble. The book will be good for both the parents of a troublesome child and for the children who get into a lot of trouble. The book teaches the children that you can get into trouble, but that you are still loved and that you are still important. The book teaches children that they can change and that they do not always have to be naughty.
What was your inspiration for writing Naughty Nana?
It was how I survived the experience. We would experience all these bad things that Nana was doing, and the only thing that got me through it was laughing about it and saying I was going to write a book about it. That really helped me cope with all the trials and tribulations.
If you could see her now, she really is the calmest dog. She now makes public appearances. Even on a walk everyone wants to pet her and be licked by her; she really has turned in to quite the diva. Now that the book has become a hit, people who come to town want to meet Nana. She has become quite the local celebrity. She has become so calm that we take her into schools, where in one morning she can see 350 children. She is perfect with all the children, so well behaved.
What has being a Goodwill Ambassador for Nana been like?
The book came out about a year ago, and once it did we started doing public appearances. We have had a few at schools, a couple in markets and bookstores, play groups, even been to a seven-year-old’s birthday party. Everywhere she goes she is now recognized. People say, “Oh, that is Galveston’s Nana.” We have also been involved with the humane society’s fundraiser, where Nana got to march down the middle of the street in the pet parade. She went from side to side in the parade as if she was greeting everybody. She thinks she is the Queen of Galveston.
How do the children react to Nana when you are doing a reading and she is there?
They want to touch her. Sometimes there are 50 children in the room, and they can’t all touch her at once. You can see them scooting closer and closer to her.
The book is targeted to ages three to eight, but even babies who can’t talk are pointing to the pictures and making little baby sounds. My grandson, who is in the fifth grade, we did a reading at his school, and even the fifth graders got something out of the book. The things they took away from the book were different, which is great. Different age levels are all taking something away from the book.
What do you think children can learn from dogs?
I think dogs are wonderful teachers of patience, compassion, loyalty, trust, responsibility, and love.
Unfortunately, a lot of children do not have consistency and stability in their lives. A dog is always steady, consistent, reliable, and predictable. A dog will always greet you the same way, and treat you the same way whether you are bad or good. Whether you got a good report card, are smelly or clean, whether your room is a mess, a dog is going to love you unconditionally and the same way all the time.
To learn more about Saralyn Richard and Nana or to purchase a copy of Naughty Nana, visit Palm Circle Press.
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About the author: Brian Fischler is a standup comedian and writer. He has been seen on The Today Show, published in Maxim Magazine as the Comedian of the Month, and on Top Gear USA on The History Channel. Brian also runs Laugh For Sight, a bicoastal comedy benefit featuring the biggest names in comedy that come together to raise money and awareness for retinal degenerative eye disease research. Connect with Brian on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.