The mood in the brightly lit room at the University of Tennessee's Veterinary School was dim as PK Lichtenberger sat waiting two years ago to hear news about her puppy Snapper, a 9-week-old yellow Labrador retriever. In a nearby chair, a woman cried quietly. Flounder, a black lab who had accompanied Lichtenberger to the hospital, got up and approached the weeping woman.
"Her dog was going downhill,'' recalls Lichtenberger. "And Flounder seemed to sense how upset she was. Before we knew it, he was sitting next to her. When she got up to visit her dog, she thanked us. And I said, 'If Snapper survives, we're going to get Flounder trained as a therapy dog.' ''
After returning home to St. Petersburg, FL, Flounder not only became a therapy dog, but so did his dam, Tuna. And despite the limitations her illness places on her, Snapper eventually received her therapy certification, too. All three dogs live with Lichtenberger and her husband, who own and operate Betts Fishing Center
The surgery in Tennessee revealed that Snapper has an arteriovenous fistula, a birth defect that prevents blood flow from the stomach to the liver. Because her body cannot process protein, she must take meds four times a day and adhere to a mostly vegetarian diet. But despite health and behavioral obstacles, Snapper has astounded her veterinary team by not only earning therapy certification, but competing and winning UKC and AKC titles in obedience and agility.
Snapper's unique story so inspired those around her that Lichtenberger was encouraged to write a book about Snapper's journey from sickly pup to heroine. The book, "Hold My Paw,'' is a fundraising vehicle for PARC
, a St. Petersburg nonprofit dedicated to Providing Advocacy and Recognizing Capabilities in disabled children and adults. The book's illustrations are provided by resident and outpatient artists at PARC's Fine Arts Studio & Gallery
While the experience in Tennessee was the catalyst for getting involved in pet therapy, it was an online post Lichtenberger shared about Snapper's training -- from the dog's point of view -- on an online forum that planted the seeds for the book.
Obstacles To Overcome
"I was doing rallies to build her confidence up,'' explains Lichtenberger. "At her first rally trial weekend she peed in the ring, which was an immediate disqualification. I wrote about it on the forum and somebody said this would make a great story.''
But Snapper's main obstacle to earning her therapy certification was learning to allow people to hold her paw and not shy away thinking they were going to stick a needle in it, as her medical past had conditioned her. This proved to be her downfall at her first try for certification. But the second time around, she overcame her fear and allowed the test administrator to hold her paw. This achievement brought the book from an idea to a solid concept -- inspiring the title "Hold My Paw.''
Once she had the story on paper, Lichtenberger's ultimate vision was for a picture book. But she had no idea where the illustrations would come from. Then she met PARC's VP of community relations, Kelli Caputo, who agreed to join Lichtenberger and Nancy Giles, PARC's VP of business relations, to talk about "Hold My Paw''
's creative process.
"Flounder and I were introduced to Kelli and PARC through my husband's King of the Beach tournament
, which raised funds for them,'' says Lichtenberger.
Says Caputo: "I kind of challenged PK to visit our children and young adults program. These are young people with severe disabilities. I would say out of the 16 residents we have there, 14 are non-verbal. So I kind of abused my friendship with PK and said, 'I'd really like for Flounder and you to come in because these clients don't get the opportunities others get and we want them to have that.' And PK was all about it.''
As Flounder became a regular visitor at PARC, Lichtenberger mentioned her writing project to Caputo.
"I originally had the idea that with Kelli's community contacts that maybe we could find someone who could chip in on the printing, someone who could chip in and do the editing and someone who could chip in and do the layout, and if everyone could do just a little piece, then we could create something that could be a fundraiser for a long time. And to me, that's the part that's most exciting. Everything is pretty overwhelming if you look at the whole package. But if everybody just does a little piece. ... I recently saw something that read, 'No one can do everything but everyone can do something.' And I just love that.
"The first meeting we had was basically about what kind of pictures we needed and where they were going to come from,'' continues Lichtenberger. "And that was when we went in and read the story to the guys in the PARC art studio.''
From there, it turns out the artwork was the quickest piece of the project.
"The artwork was probably produced within two weeks,'' says Caputo. "We really didn't labor a lot.''
Adds Giles, "When you show them [the PARC artists] something they get all excited so it's pretty fast and furious from there.''
"I don't think they step back like Van Gogh and appraise their work,'' shares Caputo. "They get going and it's like (snaps her fingers) done.''
Lichtenberger adds, "The artwork really shows the creativity and the thought process that these guys have. They read the story and see a dog that likes green beans so they draw a green dog. And the picture with Flounder bringing flowers to Snapper in the hospital is because that's what you do when you have a friend in the hospital who's sick. You bring them flowers.''
Lichtenberger makes sure she has a mobile supply of green beans and apples these days when she and Snapper attend their many "pawtograph'' sessions, where they sign copies of the book for interested fans. Every penny from "Hold My Paw''
sales through PARC goes directly back to the organization, and each book ordered is packed and shipped by a PARC client. According to Giles, the book has sold more than 350 copies and raised more than $5,000 since it was released
in mid-January 2012. The plan is to run a reprint once 1,000 copies are sold. And, there are other plans, too.
"What we'd like to do and what we have the capability to here at PARC is to turn some of the pictures into giclee prints,'' says Caputo. "We could also do a series of notecards with Snapper. We can do a coloring book. It's a matter of figuring it out and getting the manpower to do it.''
Missy Kavanaugh is a professional freelance writer based in Safety Harbor, Florida. In addition to contributing articles for 83 Degrees Media, Missy enjoys writing children's books, helping children and adults reach their creative potential and kayaking the waterways that surround the Tampa Bay area. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.