Dogs have an emotional appeal that covers
our widest range of feeling. In my writing, whether
about dogs or horses, the stories often deal with keeping
our sense of love alive. Over and over again, at book
signings and lectures, I am asked “What does keeping
love alive matter to a man like you, who has everything
he could possibly want and more than he can handle?
I guess my reputation for playfulness has something
to do with that. Surely, someone like me doesn’t
have a care in the world! I say this with tongue in
cheek, of course. Married at nineteen, a father soon
after that and selling my artwork as souvenirs to tourists,
you could say I’ve been around the block a few
times. In fact, I’d say I’ve been around
the block and all over the neighborhood! I’ve
met many people in that neighborhood and I’ve
come to believe our ability to love is eroded by the
rotten things that happen to us. It is also nurtured
by anything that makes us feel good and important.
As an artist, my studio has been committed
to uplifting, encouraging work such as the Hevener figurines
and paintings for over thirty years now. Very few animal
lovers are not familiar with our collectible figurines
with their open expressions and smiling faces. Even
The Antiques Road Show has featured them. And all of
our figurines, prints, books or CDs are made in honor
of the animals who keep alive our ability to love, in
a world where it is very difficult to do so. Let’s
talk about that world.
Today, we are facing a crumbling economy.
Let me rephrase that. We’re not facing a crumbling
economy; we’re in it. Just about everywhere we
turn, something is falling apart. All of us know people
who have lost their jobs. All of us see businesses closing.
All of us see odd legislation being passed – things
we never would have considered before the day in September
that changed it all. There is an uneasiness around us.
And it’s growing. As we deal with serious issues
more and more, as our families fracture and our natures
become more hardened, our pets become a comfort to us
and sometimes the only way to keep our hearts open.
At a recent high school appearance, I spoke
in the auditorium about the many things people can do
with their lives; the many adventures they can have
in the creative fields I know something about. Publishing,
the record business, television, movies, horse racing,
dog shows, horse shows, the art world; surely I could
open doors for them in an exciting array of life’s
opportunities. But, looking around that auditorium,
I saw no spark of interest or imagination. As we left
that school, I said to my assistant, “Maxine,
this is the first time I can ever remember not even
reaching one soul.” And I asked myself what kind
of society would want zombie-like citizens such as I
had just seen. Was it an “inner city” school
I had just been to? Yes. Was it New York or Chicago
or Philadelphia? No. It was a school in the town of
Lancaster, Pennsylvania; in the county known for its
industrious Pennsylvania Dutch; the county in which
I live. Were they Pennsylvania Dutch kids I was speaking
with? No, they were not. In much the same way that Hawaii
was invaded by outsiders and the values of its native
population changed forever, Lancaster County has changed
and I doubt if there was even one student of Pennsylvania
Dutch background in that school. This is serious. It’s
why teachers are giving up. And it has happened in our
The hopelessness of those students mirrored
the hopelessness of their homes. But I knew these kids
had pets at home, too. How did I know? I asked them.
In a show of hands, reluctant at first, I had found
out how many had horses, dogs, cats, fish and other
pets. And I thought to myself, this is the first thing
they’re responding to. In a world where so much
is out of their control, they don’t feel like
they can reach the lofty things I’m talking about
and maybe they can’t. But they can have an influence
on their pets, and that’s a start.
Today, right now, pets are more important
than ever. In order to keep pets and take care of them,
we have to provide for them. To provide for your pet,
you have to buy food. Which is best, you wonder?
You must take your pet to the veterinarian.
Who is the best vet around, you ask?
If you want a litter of puppies, you must find a mate.
Where do I find the perfect match, you ask, searching
out the local kennel club.
When the pups are born, it’s one of
the most magical experiences of your life. You’ll
always remember it. Now, you must raise them and for
the next couple of months you will do everything you
can to raise them well. You’ll have paper work
to fill out: registrations and pedigrees to prepare
and sign. You’ll meet new people when families
come to you for the puppies you brought into the world.
Everywhere your pet takes you, it means dealing with
other people, talking things over and finding out what
works for you. Before you know it, you have a lifestyle
and a reason to live.
That school of the zombies? It took me a
while, but I finally figured it out. They didn’t
want to see an author that day. They wanted a ray of
hope. I guess I should have brought a puppy with me.
Next time, I’ll remember that.