Written by Crystal Ward Kent
In the movie, “The Secret Lives of Pets,” people learn that their pets have a world of their own and engage in all sorts of funny activities. In Shara Katsos’ world, her pets open a detective agency and their adventures are featured in four children’s books about the Doggie Investigation Gang, with the proceeds going to a good cause.
Katsos, who lives in New Hampshire and is a full time clinical social worker for the Veterans’ Administration, was inspired to create the books in order to help animals. “About eight years ago, my husband and I were watching an HBO documentary called ‘One Nation Under Dog’ on the plight of homeless animals in the South. We were horrified that so many dogs and cats were euthanized—and often not humanely—because overpopulation is such an issue there. At the end of the documentary, they highlighted a nonprofit group called PAWS New England which was working to bring adoptable animals north. They knew that many of these southern animals simply needed a chance at a good home.”
Katsos and her family already had dogs, so were not looking to adopt, but immediately signed up for the PAWS foster program. All of the animals that they cared for were quickly adopted, even though some had health issues. “We took in a little miniature Doberman Pinscher who had heart worm and eye issues,” she relates. “PAWS paid for all of his medical care, and it was expensive. This opened our eyes to their fundraising needs.” As Katsos pondered how she could help, she noticed that the little “mini-pin,” who they had named Pedro, had formed a special bond with their dog, Cooper. Cooper helped Pedro navigate the house (his eyesight continued to fail) and became his “social bridge,” teaching him to trust people. Katsos decided to keep Pedro, and realized that her trio of dogs had triggered an idea.
“I had never written before, but suddenly, I had all of these ideas about a dog detective agency and how they would solve mysteries,” explains Katsos. “My dog detectives have personalities based on my real dogs, which makes it fun. I was fortunate to have a friend, John Bulens, who is an illustrator. He offered to illustrate the books at no charge. We produced the books and got great feedback, so we started selling them, with all proceeds going to PAWS New England and Tipton Animal Shelter in Tennessee.”
The Doggie Investigation Gang (DIG) is run by Cooper, a big yellow Labrador, who is smart, and always ready for adventure; also on the job are Charlie, a medium-sized spaniel, who’s a bit of a worrier and always aware of his surroundings, and Pedro, a little blind mini pin with a fast smelling nose.
After her first book debuted, Katsos was invited to speak to the second grade class at her local elementary school. She brought two of her dogs, and the kids were thrilled to read the books and meet their real-life counterparts. Katsos talked about the writing process and story development and was excited to see how engaged the children were. “One little girl told me that she loved Pedro because she had a disability, too, and he taught her that she could still do whatever she wanted.”
Today, Katsos has four books out, with a fifth scheduled to arrive later in 2020. Each of the four books also has a matching lesson plan which is available for teachers to use in class. The plans were created pro bono by third-grade teacher Kara Lynch and relate to today’s curriculum. Both books and lesson plans are available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble and all proceeds go to PAWS New England. Despite her full-time job, Katsos is still available to speak to schools, although she admits it’s challenging finding time to write.
“This whole experience has been so rewarding,” she says. “I love interacting with the kids and the teachers, and I’ve been introduced to a whole world of writers and illustrators that I never would have entered if I had not written the books. Most important, I know that my books are helping animals, and we are inspiring kids to help animals, too. It’s been an incredible journey.”
To learn more about PAWS New England, please visit www.pawsnewengland.com. You can find the Doggie Investigation Gang on Facebook and on Amazon and Barnes & Noble online, as well as at their website Digthebooks.com.