When I began on this journey to create a children's book based on Soren's extraordinary life, it was my hope that his kind and loving nature, his strong determination and his "can-do" attitude, would inspire children as much as they always inspired me. Central to finding your own path and pursuing your own dreams, is the belief that you can navigate the obstacles and complexities to get to where you want to be, and equally important, the belief that you deserve to get there. Soren was always a shining example that anything is possible if you put your mind to it and your whole heart into it, and that our only limitations are those we choose to accept for ourselves. In an ever-more-complex world, I thought that message was especially important for children.
I dreamed of children falling in love with Soren as I had, and embracing his tremendous spirit. I hoped that I could tell his story, with the help of Morgan Spicer's amazing illustrations, in a way that would do him justice. After years of planning, on October 4, 2016 the book was released, and on November 15, 2016, I made a most memorable trip where I got to see that dream become very real.
Essential to this story is Kelli Muse, a fellow Frenchie lover and resident of Craven County, NC, who happens to work for the school system in their Central Office. Kelli and I connected on Facebook. She was touched by Soren's story and wanted to share it with the local children. She hoped it would inspire them to believe in themselves, to go for their dreams, and to seek out the person or persons in their lives who would believe in them too, and help them achieve their goals. She and her husband Greg generously donated the book to each Kindergarten class in the district (and they have a LOT of Kindergartners in the district :) )
The first time Kelli and I met in person, was when I pulled up in her driveway on that Tuesday morning in November. She had lined up visits at four different elementary schools, with over 360 Kindergarten students! I had the chance to read the book to the children, to answer questions, and they got to watch a video of Soren that included both photos of him and some footage of him actually running an agility course.
I had such a wonderful time with the kids. They enjoyed the book, they asked questions that showed they really understood the message, and "ooohed" and "aaahed" and cheered at the video of Soren (which I confess made me a little teary).
They wanted to tell me all about their own dogs ... some were black, some were brown, some dogs ate broccoli, some loved ice cream, one could jump over their house, and another dog was celebrating his 31st birthday that day. One little boy quietly shared with me that his dog had died.
They wanted to know why some of the other dogs in the book weren't nice to Soren, and that gave us a chance to talk about how some people are kind and supportive, and some not so much, and about how much it can mean to others when we are kind and supportive of their dreams.
Some told me about challenges they faced and the things they hoped to accomplish in their own lives. One little girl took my hand and whispered softly, "I just love you!," which of course made my day.
In the afternoon, we brought along a special visitor--Junior the Frenchie, who belongs to Kelli. He was patient and loving and so gentle with the children, who were very taken with him. They all wanted to call him Soren, and though Kelli and I tried repeatedly to tell them this was not Soren, but Junior, who looks a lot like Soren, we finally gave up when one little boy announced to us with great determination and a little impatience, "We're just going to call him Soren, okay?" Okay! Junior did not seem to mind what they called him, as long as they paid attention to him.
Before I left for North Carolina, I tried to think of something special I could give to the children in the classes I'd visit. I had some cute bookmarks and stickers for them, but I wanted something that would remind them of the message of the book. I remembered the hundreds of ribbons Soren had won over the years of competing in agility. They were tucked away in a box in the basement. The idea seemed just right, and so I packed them up in a very large bag and stowed them in the car. When we were done with the lesson, I gave a ribbon to each child and asked them to keep the ribbons as a reminder that they can do anything they set their minds to if they believe in themselves and work hard for what they want. They hung the ribbons proudly from their shirts.
They also had a gift for me--coloring pages from an illustration in the book, some with notes on the back. One note still makes me smile and fills my eyes with tears whenever i think of it: "Soren you're the best dog in the world." I couldn't agree more and to know that the book had touched even one child that much was a dream come true.
It was one of those perfect days life hands us occasionally, the culmination of our hard work, wrapped in the tissue paper of good fortune and placed in a box with a pretty bow on top. I'm so grateful to the principals and teachers of Craven County who were so welcoming, and to the incredible Kindergarten students who were so sweet and open with me.
And a very special thank you to Kelli, who worked so hard to arrange all this, simply because she genuinely wanted to share a message of encouragement with a bunch of students just starting out in their school careers. Craven County is lucky to have such a caring, giving member of the community. I also thank her beautiful family for opening their home to me and for their kind hospitality.
The following day we had one last adventure before I had to head out to an agility event in Georgia. The local TV show, All About Craven, kindly invited me and Kelli, and of course Junior, to be on their morning talk show to discuss the book and our visit with the children. The interview is in the video that follows.
Thanks Craven County for making a dream come true. In turn, I hope the children will remember Soren, support each other, believe in themselves and always follow their own dreams!