by Len Lear
Lisa Loeb, local author and passionate animal lover who will be signing copies of her wonderful book, “Ambassador Dogs,” at Bone Appetite, 8517 Germantown Ave., on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2:30 p.m., gave up writing years ago after a heartbreaking experience with one of the nation’s leading book publishers.
Loeb, 57, whose “Ambassador Dogs,” was just published last month, knows the abject despair that so many other writers have experienced. (Her new book details the remarkable connection between dogs and people through inspirational stories and 175 delightful color photographs.)
“Years ago, when I was in my 30s,” explained Loeb, “I had written another dog book entitled ‘Puppy Kindergarten.’ I found an agent after several years, and she helped me find a publisher. ‘Puppy Kindergarten’ was supposed to be published by Random House. Then there was a takeover and new ownership. With the change, the staff decided to kick out my book. “I was devastated, to say the least. I had been writing for four years, and I thought I had finally broken in. We did take it to a few more publishers, but they wanted me to change it. I stopped writing for a number of years. I did not think I would ever write again.” At about the same time, Lisa’s sister died. “The spirit inside me flickered with little energy.”
Several years went by before Lisa could “reclaim my animal spirit” and get up the motivation to write anything again for possible publication. Finally, at the age of 50 (about seven years ago) she began writing again, and her excitement went to the top of the escalator when the Philadelphia Inquirer published her article, “4-Legged Italians,” on the front page of the travel section with 14 of her photos.
“That gave me the boost I needed to continue,” said Loeb, a resident of Berwyn who proceeded to write “Wanna Taste? Stories and Recipes from Mama Carlino’s Kitchen,” a book about the history of a highly successful, upscale grocery store family in Ardmore. It was published in 2011. “I gained 10 pounds while writing the book. They kept giving me food to taste.”
In college at the University of Massachusetts, Lisa majored in animal science and business. The native of West Long Branch, NJ, who is “mostly vegetarian,” thought about becoming a veterinarian but was passionate about teaching and became a dressage instructor. After college she took a number of creative writing workshops, loved poetry and occasionally sent a piece off for possible publication.
Meanwhile, she pursued her desire to compete in dressage, but at a certain point it became too expensive. She also worked for two non-profits in volunteer management, Women’s Resource Center and Tyler Arboretum in Media, and she currently volunteers with Deputy Dogs in Malvern. Lisa has one daughter, Laina, who is a policewoman.
When Laina left to go to college 16 years ago, a void was filled in Lisa’s life by a mixed-breed beagle named Zappa, who died at the age of 14 at about the time she began working on “Ambassador Dogs.” “I was at a lonely point in my life, and Zappa helped fill that space.”
But the idea for “Ambassador Dogs” evolved as Lisa began observing dogs closely, just watching and waiting till a particular dog grabbed at her heart. “Other times I would hear about a particular dog, and I would arrange to interview him,” she said. “These stories are my take, my interpretation of what I was sensing about the relationship with the dog’s guardians or parents. Often I was surprised at what would happen.
“For instance, when I went to interview a very talented greeter dog at Thorncroft Equestrian Center, an amazing Golden Retriever found me wandering in the barn and lay down at my feet, as if to say, ‘Here I am; what do you need?’ He then proceeded to take me on a tour of the barn … I began the dog book almost two years ago and finished it about a year ago. Of course, I had to be involved with the editing, which took forever!”
Among other subjects, the book profiles Paddington, the official greeter at Thorncroft Equestrian Center; Cody, a search and rescue dog, as well as other service dogs; a musical dog at West Chester University; Pals for Life and other organizations that promote the bond between humans and dogs; Francisvale, a no-kill shelter for abandoned pets in Radnor, etc.
Associate professor of sociology Jacqueline Zalewski of West Chester University wrote in the introduction to the book, “The function of dogs as ambassadors shows one social practice could very well offset the social pattern of America’s declining community by helping to strengthen the vibrancy and cohesiveness of social relations in the local level.”
“I traveled throughout Philadelphia and the suburbs in search of ambassadors,” Loeb said. “Using my experience in working with animals, I felt much like a translator.”
“Ambassador Dogs” is published by Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., of Lancaster County, which has published over 1,500 books, mostly about history but also covering many other topics. The cost is $19.95, and signed copies can be obtained from the author by contacting Loeb at firstname.lastname@example.org. The book is also available from the publisher, Amazon and BN.com and through book stores.