Animals

Wyatt

MEET WYATT! Fun loving, sharp, loyal and true to the breed. That’s why Wyatt, a 1-year-old blue heeler mix, is TBR News Media’s shelter pet of the week. Rescued from a high-kill shelter in Texas, this handsome boy is currently up for adoption at Kent Animal Shelter and comes neutered, microchipped and up to date on all his vaccines. Wyatt would love to go home with you for the holidays. Kent Animal Shelter is located at 2259 River Road in Calverton. For more information on Wyatt and other adoptable pets at Kent, please call 631-727-5731 or visit www.kentanimalshelter.com.

Smithtown Animal Shelter faces public criticism of its kennel conditions. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

By Sara-Megan Walsh

The Town of Smithtown’s decision to shut down the Smithtown Animal Shelter’s Facebook page is the latest controversy to bombard the already problem-plagued center.

Smithtown resident John Urbancik openly criticized town councilmembers’ decision to take down the shelter’s Facebook page earlier this month at the Nov. 7 town board meeting.

“Before you took down the page, you weren’t promoting the animals,” Urbancik said at the board meeting. “Put it back up and promote the animals. If you want the animals out of there, you need to promote them.”

Councilwoman Lisa Inzerillo (R) said the site has been temporarily taken offline alleging that public commenters harassed and cyberbullied town employes by claiming they had failed to provide adequate care for the shelter’s animals.

Shelter dog Dinah was recently adopted. Photo from George Speakman

“It was destroying the self-esteem of the staff who work there every day,” she said. “It’s been shattered with this negativity. It’s hurting our adoption success. It’s hurting the animals. It’s a few people who start these rumors that go all over about the shelter, but they aren’t thinking about the animals.”

Over the last two years, the Smithtown Animal Shelter has been plagued by a series of problems. Former director James Beatty resigned in May 2015, after more than 30 years running the shelter, following months of accusations by Smithtown residents of his animal neglect and cruelty. He was replaced by Rocky Point resident Sue Hansen, who was fired by the town in July 2017 on charges of incompetence and mismanagement which led to a deterioration of the animals’ living conditions.

Urbancik said in a telephone interview with TBR News Media Nov. 10 that the shutdown of the shelter’s Facebook page wasn’t over harassment or bullying, but rather a calculated effort to silence public outcry. He claimed the shelter’s dogs are being neglected, citing they are being left locked inside unclean kennels.

Urbancik has started several Facebook pages of his own to draw attention to his problems with operation of the shelter including “Smithtown Animal Shelter needs a director” with more than 700 followers and “Remove Public Safety from Smithtown Animal Shelter” with more than 70 followers as of time of this publication.

The Smithtown Animal Shelter Facebook page comments, Urbancik’s social media posts, along with others made by animal activists concerned over conditions at the Smithtown shelter, caught the attention of New Jersey resident George Speakman.

The self-professed dog lover traveled more than two and a half hours Nov. 12 after hearing rumors the shelters’ vet was operating without anesthesia and all dogs in the shelter would be euthanized by December.

“I saw the Facebook page before it went down; it was one of the main reasons I decided to travel up to New York to take a look — I wanted to see for myself,” Speakman said. “If it was the way it was described on Facebook, I would have sat outside that shelter and protested.”

“I walked out of there with the impression that these people do nothing but love and care for these animals.”

— George Speakman 

Upon arriving, he said he met with the shelter’s veterinarian, Dr. Susan Zollo, and a kennel attendant.

“I told them about the stories I had heard, and for my own peace of mind, asked if I can look around and see the shelter,” he said. “She was more than happy to accommodate me.”

Speakman said he toured the facility and took a video recording of the kennels and dog park before deciding to adopt Dinah, a female bull terrier and corgi mix who has been a long-term resident of the shelter.

“I walked out of there with the impression that these people do nothing but love and care for these animals,” he said, saying he would highly recommend local residents visit themselves. “They bend over backwards for them.”

Smithtown resident Vicki Feuerstein, a volunteer of the shelter since it was under Beatty’s leadership, said there have been positive changes in recent months at the shelter with proactive leadership and the remaining staff responsible and dedicated to their jobs.

“You have the backbone to make it a really good shelter,” she said.

Feuerstein admitted there is still room for improvement as dogs are spending too much time in their kennels, largely due to a shortage of kennel staff.

“I would love to see more kennel staff, that really affects the life of the dogs,” she said. “ Also, an animal behaviorist.”

Councilwoman Inzerillo admitted the town only has two full-time employees at the shelter, after recent efforts to clean house of troublesome employees. She said there have been conversations with supervisor-elect Ed Wehrheim (R) about hiring two additional kennel staff members once he takes office. In addition, Inzerillo said the town has started extensive renovations to improve the dated shelter.

“We are focusing on moving forward,” she said. “We can’t focus on the negativity. I encourage residents to go and visit the place.”

United States Army Staff Sgt. Allen Pennington and Warrior Ranch Foundation Vice President Tony Simonetti spend time with Pennington’s horse Red. Photo from Warrior Ranch Foundation

When Marine Corps veteran StaceyAnn Castro first stepped into the round pen with a horse at Warrior Ranch Foundation, her guard was up.

Castro, who served in Operation Enduring Freedom from 2002 to 2004, and admittedly struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder, was face to face with a 1,400-pound Friesian horse named BlackJack during a July demonstration by the Mount Sinai and Islip-based nonprofit, which pairs military and first-responder veterans with rescue horses in need of rehabilitation and training.

Marine Corps veteran StaceyAnn Castro bonds with
Vet therapy: Mount Sinai’s Warrior Ranch helps heal
her horse BlackJack. Photo from Warrior Ranch
Foundation

The tough-as-nails veteran was attempting to engage BlackJack in basic ground exercises, but the horse was not budging. Its guard was up too.

“I soon realized it was because I was terrified of him,” Castro later said. “When you’re with these horses they feel everything you’re feeling, even the emotions you think you’re hiding from everybody else. You can’t hide them from a horse.”

Castro relaxed, and as she calmed down, so did BlackJack. The horse began to lick and chew — a reflex associated with the animal’s release of stress.

“By the end of the session, I wound up with a friend,” she said of BlackJack. “With the horses, you have someone you’re actually bonding with in your own private, silent language. It’s beautiful.”

Officially incorporated in June 2016, the Warrior Ranch Foundation has helped reduce the stress levels and PTSD symptoms of more than a dozen veterans still recuperating from a wide range of conflicts — from the Korean War to Vietnam War to the war in Afghanistan — by teaching them how to groom, feed and train troubled horses. And much like the veterans, the nine residential horses, mostly retired race and show animals that have been trained their whole lives to compete and perform in high-stakes settings, are learning to adapt to a new, more relaxed world.

Cathie Doherty spends time with horse Cody.
Photo from Warrior Ranch Foundation

“There’s a strong parallel between them and it’s amazing to see their emotional breakthroughs,” said Eileen Shanahan, the nonprofit’s founder and president. “While the race horses are trained to run, run, run, and as a result have emotional issues, the veterans are trained to go out there and do the best they can to protect and defend us. When they come back, they have to shut that off and that’s not so easy. We provide a safe haven for these humans and animals.”

Shanahan’s organization is the result of her lifelong love of country and horses. The Queens native, who shoots and produces television programs and commercials for a living, comes from a large military family with a father who served in the Marines, an uncle and brother in the Navy, nephews in the Army, as well as several first responders.

Although she mostly rode buses and subways growing up, Shanahan always admired horses from afar, seeing them as beautiful creatures.

When she got married and moved to East Quogue in the 1980s, she took up horseback riding and, 15 years ago, began adopting rescue horses and studying natural horsemanship — a variety of rapport-based horse training techniques.

United States Army Staff Sgt. Allen
Pennington with horse Red. Photo
from Warrior Ranch Foundation

For nearly a decade, she dreamt of providing this outlet for local veterans and finally launched it with the help of longtime friends and equestrians specialists. While the group currently works out of two private barns, the future plan is to turn Warrior Ranch into a national organization.

“We want to eventually help hundreds of veterans and horses because it really works,” Shanahan said, explaining that interactions like Castro’s is very common at the ranch. “A lot of times when they come here, the veterans have their arms crossed, but by the end of the day, they have ear-to-ear grins. A lot of them break down and cry and it’s so powerful to watch.”

Tony Simonetti, Warrior Ranch’s vice president and top horse trainer, has made a career of rehabilitating emotionally distraught horses and re-interacting them with their human counterparts, resolving more than 500 extremely difficult horse cases for people across the country. When asked his most memorable veteran-horse interaction within the organization, he talked about Army Staff Sergeant Allen Pennington, Warrior Ranch’s first soldier to go through the program, and Red, a 4-year-old, retired race thoroughbred.

“[Allen’s] this big, rough and tough guy, and when the horse connected with him, I just saw all the stress he was holding inside bubble right up through his chest and then he just couldn’t keep himself composed,” Simonetti said. “He broke down and turned around and hugged that horse like it was his battle buddy. And I told him, ‘don’t feel bad about that. That’s what you’re here for.’”

During a testimonial on the Warrior Ranch website, Navy veteran Cathie Doherty, who was diagnosed with PTSD and put on medication for a number of years, said she was grateful to have attended a women veteran’s retreat at the nonprofit.

United States Army Staff Sgt. Allen
Pennington with horse Red. Photo
from Warrior Ranch Foundation

“It was really an amazing experience,” Doherty said. “I think it touched me much deeper than I imagined it would. I appreciated working with the horses and that I had to make a connection with them. I feel I was present in the moment. I didn’t care about my phone, I didn’t care what was going on around me. It was a beautiful experience for me.”

Castro said companionship with a horse might be more beneficial than a human’s.

“When you’re a veteran and you’re having a bad day, you don’t want to tell anybody, you don’t want to talk about it — you want to forget about it,” she said. “But I also don’t want to be alone and, so, when you’re there with the horse, and that horse knows what you’re going through and feeling, he feels it too. And because you love the horse and you don’t want the horse to feel that way, you’re going to try and make yourself feel better. It’s awe-inspiring.”

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), who served four years in the Army, visited the ranch in Mount Sinai with his family Oct. 7 and saw firsthand the value of the nonprofit.

“It doesn’t take more than a few minutes to see the positive effects that you’re having on these horses, and from these horses the veterans are getting love that they possibly have never experienced
before,” Zeldin said. “In a way, you’re directly coping with the symptoms of PTSD while also productively escaping the worst of it. It’s a great concept and I’d love to see Warrior Ranch grow into something a whole lot bigger than it already is.”

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin, fifth from left, meets with members of the Warrior Ranch Foundation. Photo from Warrior Ranch Foundation

Huntington town officials will hold a public hearing on the future of Grateful Paw Cat Shelter Dec. 13 at 7 p.m. File photo

Huntington town officials are weighing the pros and cons of a change of leadership at Grateful Paw Cat Shelter, but some volunteers fear their minds are already made up.

The town board voted 4-1 to schedule a public hearing on Little Shelter Animal Rescue taking over operation of the town-owned cat shelter for Dec. 13 at 7 p.m. at town hall.

Little Shelter was one of two organizations who responded to the Oct. 3 town’s request for proposals (RFP) by those looking to operate the shelter. The RFP is for a five-year contract to operate the cat shelter starting January 2018, undertaking the responsibilities of taking in and caring for any stray and displaced cats; emergency pickup of stray cats in the town; operating a trap, neuter and release program for feral cats; and facilitating cat adoptions by residents.

David Ceely, executive director of Little Shelter, believes his nonprofit’s experience as an independent no-kill shelter makes the company qualified for the job.

“We handle a lot of the emergencies, particularly the cat emergencies in Huntington already,” he said. “We think that facility has so much more potential. We would like to maximize the potential that facility has and represent the Town of Huntington.”

While Little Shelter has never had a formal business agreement with the town, according to Ceely, the nonprofit has informally worked to pull dogs from its town shelter to alleviate overcrowding and help prevent euthanasia due to lack of space.

The other application was submitted Nov. 3 by League of Animal Protection of Huntington, according to its president Debbie Larkin, who has run the nonprofit shelter for more than 40 years.

“I’d like to hope every council member and the departing supervisor had the chance to read through the proposals carefully,” Larkin said. “I hope that this response to the RFP was not an exercise in futility for us and their minds were already made up.”

The two responses were reviewed by a five-person panel comprised of representatives from the town attorney’s office and Department of Public Safety, according to town spokesman A.J.Carter. The applications were evaluated based on criteria outlined in the RFP: proof of not-for-profit 501(c)(3) status in good standing; sufficient employees/volunteers to operate the facility; plans for emergency cat pickup; adoption applicant criteria; breakdown of medical services provided for adopted cats; and submission of the past two years of shelter records and IRS 990 tax filings showing a not-for-profit status. Based on these criteria, the panel found Little Shelter to be the “successful, responsive and responsible proposer.”

Councilwoman Tracey Edwards (R) was the only board member who voted against scheduling a public hearing on Little Shelter taking control of the cat shelter come January. Edwards said she is in favor of the town signing a contract with LAP.

“We were going to award the contract before to the [League of Animal Protection],” she said. “Now that they got their 501(c)(3) status back retroactively, I think it would have only been fair to give it back to them.”

Town officials first solicited bids from any organization interested in running the cat shelter earlier this spring, after it came to light in April that the LAP had lost its not-for-profit status with the IRS in 2015 but never notified the town. Huntington Attorney Cindy Mangano said the town became aware of this breach of the contractual agreement when drawing up a new document, as the previous agreement expired in December 2016.

At the June 13 town board meeting, council members voted to give LAP an extension until Nov. 30 to regain its not-for-profit status and halting the current RFP process.

The organization’s attorney and accountant were able to get its 501(c)(3) status reinstated by the IRS within five weeks, according to Larkin, and retroactively applied to the date it was lost.

LAP’s president and several of its volunteers called on town officials to make an executive order to immediately approve the contractual agreement previously drawn up this spring at the Aug. 15 board meeting, which would extend the organization’s operation of the cat shelter.

Instead, Supervisor Frank Petrone (R) insisted the town was legally obligated to move forward with the RFP process, otherwise fearing it could run the risk of another interested party taking them into court over the matter.

Photo courtesy of Kent Animal Shelter

MEET FREDDIE! This adorable little teddy bear is Freddie, a 4-year-old rescue from Texas who is now waiting for his furever home at Kent Animal Shelter. Freddie comes neutered, microchipped and up to date on all his vaccines. He is also hypoallergenic, so he is perfect for those with allergies. Won’t you drop by and say hello? Kent Animal Shelter is located at 2259 River Road in Calverton. For more information on Freddie and other adoptable pets at Kent, please call 631-727-5731 or visit www.kentanimalshelter.com.

Update: Freddie has been adopted!

MEET BLUE! This sweet and energetic puppy is Blue. An 8-month-old male husky mix, he just recently came from Puerto Rico to Kent Animal Shelter and he is looking for a loving home with a big backyard to run and play for the rest of his days. One look into his blue and brown eyes and you will be hooked! Blue comes neutered, microchipped and up to date on all his vaccines. Kent Animal Shelter is located at 2259 River Road in Calverton. For more information on Blue and other adoptable pets at Kent, please call 631-727-5731 or visit www.kentanimalshelter.com.

Update: Blue has been adopted!

Long Island is an ideal environment for many species of ticks, specifically the deer tick.

By Matthew Kearns, DVM

I commonly get the question, “What month can I stop using tick preventatives?” My answer is always, “That depends.” It used to be that somewhere around late October/November until late March/early April one could stop using flea and tick preventatives. However, with changing climate conditions and parasite adaptation this is no longer true.

The tick life cycle contains four stages: egg, larval, nymph (young adult) and adult. After the larval stage hatches out from the egg, it must feed and go through a molt between each successive stage. Ticks are sensitive to environmental changes throughout their life cycle but, ironically, are most resistant to temperature changes. It has to be below 35°F for ticks to even “overwinter.”

Overwinter is a term that refers to a process many species use to pass through the period of the year when “winter” conditions (cold or sub-zero temperatures, ice, snow, limited food supplies) make normal activity or even survival difficult or near impossible. During the overwinter period all activity nearly completely ceases until conditions become more favorable. If conditions become more favorable (above 45°F) ticks will set out in search of a host.

To kill a tick temperatures must be consistently below 10°F for many days in a row. If the tick is able to bury itself in the vegetation below a layer of snow, even below 10 degrees may not kill them. It is pretty routine even in January to have one or two days that are in the 20s during the day, dropping to the teens or single digits at night followed by a few days in the 50s.

Ironically, as resistant as ticks are to colder temperatures, they are much more sensitive to higher temperatures and humidity (or lack thereof). Eggs will desiccate, or dry out, and die during hot dry periods. The other life stages are at risk for dehydration due to increased respiratory rate in an effort to thermoregulate (control body temperature) and questing (looking for hosts).

Hotter, drier temperatures mean less vegetation. Less vegetation causes multiple problems for ticks: less protection from the elements and less vegetation for hosts.

The white-footed mouse is the primary host for the larval stage of the deer tick. This mouse survives on vegetation, and less vegetation and less resources for the mouse means a subsequent decrease in the mouse population. A decrease in population means less hosts. Less hosts, less ticks survive from the larval stage to adulthood. Fortunately, and unfortunately for us, the northeast United States rarely sees prolonged droughts. Even if we have hot, dry periods during the summer, we usually make up for it in the fall. It is an ideal environment for many species of ticks, specifically the deer tick.

In summary, it is my feeling that the tick season is 9 to 10 months out of the year. You may be able to stop applying preventative during the months of January, February, and March (this depends on temperature), but the rest of the year ticks are active.

Dr. Kearns practices veterinary medicine from his Port Jefferson office and is pictured with his son Matthew and his dog Jasmine.

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Roody

MEET ROODY! Roody was rescued from Puerto Rico in an area where there was no electric power or water for the humans let alone dogs. Now safe at Kent Animal Shelter, he is a little shy because of his ordeal but will make a great pet once he gets familiarized with his new home. Roody comes neutered, microchipped and up to date on vaccines. Why not drop by and say hello? Kent Animal Shelter is located at 2259 River Road in Calverton. For more information on Roody and other adoptable pets at Kent, please call 631-727-5731 or visit www.kentanimalshelter.com.

The greater bamboo lemur will struggle to survive amid a shorter rainy season. Photo by Jukka Jernvall

By Daniel Dunaief

An elusive primate is living on a shrinking island within an island. The greater bamboo lemur, which is one of the world’s most endangered primates, now inhabits a small section of Madagascar, where it can find the type of food it needs to survive.

The greater bamboo lemur, which was one of numerous lemurs featured in the 2014 iMax movie, “Island of Lemurs: Madagascar,” is finding that the time when it can eat the most nutritious types of bamboo is narrowing each year amid a longer dry season.

Patricia Wright has dedicated her life to helping lemurs in Madagascar. File photo from SBU

In a publication last week in the journal Current Biology, Patricia Wright, the founder of Centro ValBio research campus, driving force behind the creation of Ranofamana National Park and a distinguished professor of anthropology at Stony Brook University, along with several other researchers, including Jukka Jernvall from the University of Helsinki and Alistair Evans from Monash University, showed that the population of lemurs is threatened by a changing climate. The bamboo that sustains the greater bamboo lemurs depends on water to produce shoots that are higher in nutrition.

Indeed, when the rains come, the new bamboo shoots are “filled with protein,” said Wright. Jernvall, however, predicted that the driest season will get longer by a day each year. By 2070, rains necessary for bamboo growth and greater bamboo lemur survival will be delayed by as much as two months.

This is problematic not only for the current generation of greater bamboo lemurs but also for the more vulnerable younger generations, who need their lactating mothers to eat more nutritious bamboo to help them grow. Bamboo shoots typically come up from the ground about two weeks after the rains begin, in the middle of November. Bamboo lemurs, whose annual clocks are set to the rhythm of an island off the southeast coast of Africa that is the size of California, are born around the time of these bamboo-shoot-producing rains.

“Any village elder will tell you that the rains used to come at about Nov. 15 and continue until March 15,” Wright said. “That’s the way the world was, even in the 1980s and 1990s and probably many years before that. Suddenly, we started to get some evidence of climate changes and periods of a longer dry season.”

Above, a mother greater bamboo lemur holds her infant, which weighs about half a pound at birth. Photo by Jukka Jernvall

Wright is currently in Madagascar, where she says there is a drought right now. “No water for our research station means no electricity since we are near a hydroelectric power plant,” she explained by email. In fact, in some years, the rains start as late as January, which reduces the food offerings for the mother lemur, who weighs about 6.5 pounds, and her offspring, who need considerable nutrition to grow from birth weights Wright estimates are less than half a pound. The lemur mother “has to have nutritious shoots to feed her baby milk,” Wright said. “She can survive on leaves and trashy stuff in the culm, but she can’t raise her babies” on it.

Wright and Jernvall worked together in 2005 on a study of climate and another type of lemur called sifakas, whose name comes from the alarm sound it makes. In their earlier work, Wright and Jernvall found that aging sifakas with worn teeth could still produce offspring, but that their infants typically died if the weather was dry during the lactation season, Jernvall explained in an email.

“This alerted us about the potential impact of climate change,” he continued. “The bamboo lemur were an obvious concern because they are critically endangered and because they eat the very tough bamboo.”

Jernvall said the work on bamboo lemurs combines Wright’s efforts in Madagascar with climate modeling he performed with Jussi Eronen at the University of Helsinki and an analysis of dental features conducted by Evans and Sarah Zohdy, who is currently at Auburn University. Stacey Tecot, who is on sabbatical from the University of Arizona, also contributed to the research.

Wright believes some efforts can help bring these bamboo lemurs, who survive despite consuming large amounts of cyanide in their bamboo diet, back from the brink. Creating a bamboo corridor might improve the outlook.

Growing bamboo would not only benefit the lemurs, who depend on it for their survival, but would also provide raw materials for the Malagasy people, who use it to construct their homes, to build fences and to cover their waterways.

Bamboo corridors could be a “win-win situation,” where scientists and local communities grew and then harvested these hearty grasses, Wright continued. She has started a bamboo pilot study near one of the small populations of lemurs and hopes the lemurs can expand their range.

The greater bamboo lemur will struggle to survive amid a shorter rainy season. Photo by Jukka Jernvall

Like other animals with unusual lifestyles, the greater bamboo lemurs offer a potential window into an unusual adaptation. Through their typical diet, lemurs consume a high concentration of cyanide, which is stored in the bamboo. Understanding the bamboo lemur could provide evidence of how one species manages to remain unaffected by a toxin often associated with spies and murder mysteries.

As a part of her efforts to improve the chances of survival for this lemur, Wright is considering moving some lemurs to a protected area. She needs permission from Madagascar officials before taking any such actions and recently met with Madagascar National Park official to discuss such remediation efforts.

In Madagascar, Wright said observing the bamboo lemur is challenging because it is such a “cryptic animal.” She has sat beneath a tree where a lemur is hiding for seven hours waiting for it to emerge, watching as a lemur brought in its legs and curled up its body to hide from the scientist’s inquisitive eyes. “I’d get really hungry, so they would win and I would leave,” Wright recalled.

She suggests that the data in the Current Biology article demonstrates the urgency to take action to protect these primates. “We are trying our best to help the bamboo lemur not go extinct,” she said. “Bamboo corridors should help, but we may have to irrigate the bamboo during November to January.”

Reviewed by Rita J. Egan

When three cows embark on an adventure to the beach, things can get a bit tricky, but that doesn’t stop Ms. Brown Cow. Children will discover that when one is determined to achieve a goal, even when obstacles are present, one can accomplish almost anything in the delightful children’s book “How Now, Ms. Brown Cow?”

Peter Fowkes

Written and illustrated by Port Jefferson native and St. Anthony’s High School graduate Peter Fowkes, the self-published book features witty yet simple rhymes and vibrantly colored funny illustrations. The story is one that will surely provide little ones with plenty of giggles as Ms. Brown Cow finds a solution to any problem.

In addition to the “How Now, Ms. Brown Cow?” book, Fowkes, who is a producer and director living in Los Angeles with his wife Nancy and two children Benjamin and Charlotte, has also published “Rainbow Sheep” and “Elmer, The Pet Horse.” All three, recommended for ages 4 to 8, are part of the Beyond the Blue Barn book series.

Fowkes recently took time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions about “How Now, Ms. Brown Cow” via email.

Do you have a favorite memory from your childhood years?

I grew up in the Port Jefferson area, in the village of Belle Terre. I played village Little League coached by my dad, spent my teenage summers lifeguarding on the Suffolk County shoreline, graduated high school from St. Anthony’s in South Huntington, and even though I have since moved, my mother still lives in the family home that I grew up in on Crooked Oak Road. My most vivid childhood memory is going on a third-grade field trip with Scraggy Hill Elementary School and deciding to ignore my teacher’s warnings about not getting too close to the edge of the stream. I fell in. I was fine, but it was embarrassing to spend the rest of the field trip in my tighty-whitey underpants covered up by Mrs. Christman’s oversized jacket. My life has been very much that way ever since.

Tell me a bit about your career?

I have worked in the television industry for 20 years now. I gave the NBC tour as a page in Rockefeller Center after I graduated from Fordham University and continued on the TV path to work as a producer and TV director on comedy shows. I am proud to note, most of them are even funny, but not all of them. A few highlights would include a few years with the “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and a few years with “Impractical Jokers.” I mostly work freelance, which is fancy speak for stressful employment hunting, but it has given me the opportunity to have a very diversified career taking on many projects and some very rewarding experiences.

How did you get involved with writing children’s books?

For starters, I was terrible at math. My math notebooks would be filled with doodles and cartoon characters as I would spend the entire lesson drawing Batman and Charlie Brown instead of learning fractions. I was a bad math student, but I became a pretty good artist. A few times in my TV career I had the opportunity to do some animation, and I thought I came up with a pretty cool style. I would mix cartoon drawings with real photographs, the result was “a poor man’s Roger Rabbit.” I decided to translate that style to children’s books because I thought kids would love it. In TV, the experience of producing a show is very collaborative. That is all well and good, but I wanted to tell a few stories all on my own. I wanted to pair simple funny stories with silly beautiful illustrations, and I wanted my kids to like them.

How would you describe “How Now, Ms. Brown Cow?” to someone who hasn’t read it?

“How Now, Ms. Brown Cow?” is a simple story, with a simple message that isn’t too preachy, with lots of funny pictures. It is a book for kids that I promise parents will enjoy reading with them.

How did you come up with the idea of cows who are determined to make it to the beach?

I liked the idea of characters that did not know their “place” in society. Like, what could you achieve if you never were told, “You can’t do that”? What if you really believed that you could do anything you set your mind to? Well, these cows clearly do not think of themselves as “just farm animals.” They think they can do whatever they try to do and if that means ride a motorcycle, take a cab, fly an airplane or shoot themselves from a cannon to get to the beach, they’re going to get to that beach.

When did you start the Beyond the Blue Barn book series and why?

I purposely wanted to play around with the children’s book clichés of rhyming stories about farm animals at the old barn etc. I thought that would be a fun place to start the stories and then let the characters go nuts. All the Beyond the Blue Barn books start with a family photo of the old farmer and all of his animals.

I was looking at an old school class photo and was wondering whatever happen to this one, and where did that one wind up going and decided to take that approach with all of these farm animals as the books start with the farmer retiring to Fort Myers and the farm being sold.

Each book then follows a farm animal or group of animals on their adventures after they leave the Blue Barn to start their new lives. All of these animals are infected with a blissful sense of unawareness of what is expected of farm animals; therefore, they can do anything and try to do so. They feel no limitations. The cows may dream of being lifeguards, the sheep astronauts and rock stars, a turkey wants to be a professional tennis player. Why not? So, the goal is to keep it simple, silly and fun.

Do you have another children’s book planned or more adventures for Ms. Brown Cow?

Well, the Blue Barn opening page has plenty of animals in the picture and every one of them has a story. So far, we have followed three groups. “How Now, Ms. Brown Cow?” follows the three cows on a quest of determination to get to the beach. “Elmer, the Pet Horse” follows a horse in his new home where he does not see why he isn’t accepted into the family home like the dog or the cat. “Rainbow Sheep” is a battle for the affections of children at a petting zoo where the sheep continually top each other with more audacious acts thinking it will make them more liked. So, I do plan more adventures for the other animals formally of the Blue Barn.

Tell us about the illustrations.

I think they tell much more of the story than the words do in these books. My books are narrated by the farm animals and the pictures often don’t really match what the animals are saying because they do not know the full story. They are unreliable narrators. I mean in my book “Elmer, The Pet Horse,” before the horse is bought by a new family, he thinks he is getting a corporate job as a foreman at the glue factory. He even imagines himself at some giant corporate office wearing a hard hat being all important.

How do you find the time to write? Any advice for aspiring book writers?

Like everybody else in the world, I really don’t have time to write, but I forced myself. The one piece of advice I would have for aspiring writers is:  just sit down and start your book. I meet people all the time that tell me about an idea they have for a book, but it’s just an idea until you start it. For me it was important to break it down into parts. Doing a whole book is overwhelming, but just trying to finish a page here and a page there is easy and before you know it, it’s done.

For more information on Peter Fowkes and his Beyond the Barn book series, visit his author’s page on www.amazon.com.

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