Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Seasons of Cherokee's Life: A Canine's Final Reflections by Sandra Y. Roberts: Author Interview, Review & Giveaway

The Seasons of Cherokee's Life: A Canine's Final Reflections

Blurb: Cherokee is old. His joints ache. His nose can no longer distinguish between the scent of bacon and a clump of dirt. His eyes see only shadows. On the eve of his death, he lies in a cage in an animal hospital, with a needle in his forepaw, and reflects on his life and purpose of being a faithful companion to his beloved mistress and best friend, Alicia Baxter.

Alicia and Cherokee’s friendship begins when Alicia wanders into a pet shop and finds herself drawn to the puppy prancing before the window with his food bowl in his mouth. From the moment Alicia brings him home, Cherokee becomes an integral part of her journey of self-discovery as she struggles with insecurities, a lack of identity, and an unimaginable loss. Even as Alicia makes a life-altering decision to start over in a place where she is forced to rely on herself, Cherokee’s love and loyalty to her never waver.

Narrated in a voice filled with wisdom, humor, and astute awareness, The Seasons of Cherokee’s Life tells the story of a dog’s deep bond with his mistress as he walks beside her and watches her transform into the courageous and independent woman he has always believed her to be.

Mochas, Mysteries and Meows Review: I questioned my sanity after first agreeing to review this book, knowing I was about to read a book narrated by a dying dog. (The very first line of the book: I am spending the last day of my life in a cage, with a needle in my forepaw.)

What was I thinking?

What I discovered is that although parts of this story made me cry, I also found it to be extremely therapeutic and inspirational.

The Seasons of Cherokee's Life: A Canine's Final Reflections, is told from the point of view of Cherokee, a former puppy mill dog who becomes an integral part of the lives of his mistress Alicia and her family. As Alicia deals with the insecurities that many of us face followed by a devastating loss, culminating in the realization of a dream, Cherokee is her constant companion. Through this book we see life through his eyes and get a glimpse of the wisdom that our four-legged family members possess.

Wouldn't you love to have the ability to see yourself through your pet's eyes? How do you think they see us? Do you share my belief that they would be much kinder to us than we are to ourselves? I would love to hear your thoughts, and I have one paperback copy of this book to give away to a lucky commenter. (US entries only please, ending at noon eastern on Monday, April 28.)

It was my great pleasure to have the opportunity to interview author Sandra Roberts about this wonderful book, the real life Cherokee, dealing with the loss of a beloved pet, and what humans can learn from these wonderful creatures that we share our lives with.

Interview with Author Sandra Y. Roberts

Please tell us about "The Seasons of Cherokee's Life" and what inspired
you to write it.
The book is narrated by Cherokee, who during his last night of life, tells the story of his life as Alicia Baxter’s loyal and compassionate companion and “guardian angel.”  With humor, wisdom, and keen insight, he draws a portrait of the integral role he played in Alicia’s journey of transformation from a woman filled with self-doubt and limiting beliefs in her talent and abilities to a self-actualized woman of strength and courage.

The inspiration for the story came several months after the real Cherokee’s sudden and unexpected passing.  In life, he was a very calm dog, who was content to observe life around him.  On the way to the animal hospital, Cherokee was wrapped in a blanket and cradled in my arms like a baby.  He was very lethargic and unresponsive.  At one point when I was looking down at him, he turned his head to look at me.  The way he maintained eye contact with me sent a chill down my spine because he had never done that before.  In his eyes I saw an intelligence that exceeded that of a canine.  I felt that he was trying to convey a message to me; and I also knew he was saying goodbye.  After he was put down due to kidney failure, I began to wonder what he was trying to tell me.  If he’d had the ability to articulate in words what he was thinking, how would that have come across?  So, one day, I got a brief flash of inspiration and started to write a few paragraphs of how I imagined Cherokee would have sounded like if he’d had the ability to talk.    And that was as far as I got.  I wasn’t quite sure how to proceed.

 Did you draw from any real life experiences or is the story purely fictional?

The story, as a whole, is purely fictional.  It took almost two years after Cherokee’s passing before I mustered up the courage to actually pursue my dream as a writer.  I had always wanted to be a writer, but never had the confidence in my talent or ability.  In 2013, I experienced some major life changes.  In my grief, I spent a lot of time walking by the ocean seeking comfort and contemplating my life.  It was during these walks that the story began to form and take shape.  Cherokee’s voice became stronger, and Alicia Baxter’s character was born.  She became the archetype for everyone who has a dream, but stops themselves from pursuing it due to a lack of confidence in their ability to achieve it.  As with me, it took a major life change in Alicia’s life to shake her out of her fear and inertia to tap into the inherent strength we all possess.  Once I began to sit down and began to write, the words began to flow on their own.  The story began to go in directions I never even imagined. I infused her character with my own love of cooking and entertaining, and how she derived her sense of self and identity from being the perfect housewife.  In life, Cherokee always hated to see me cry.  I truly believe that he was around offering comfort and solace this past summer, and that it was his beautiful spirit who guided my hand in the writing of this book.   

I would love to know more about the real Cherokee that you shared your life with.

I actually met Cherokee when he was seven-years old, so I did not know him as a puppy.  I entered a relationship with his owner, and fell in love with Cherokee at first sight.  Cherokee was a very calm and quiet dog.  He had a Zen-like quality about him.  He rarely, if ever, barked, even when the doorbell rang.  But, boy, did he have a stubborn streak!  During his walks, if he was not done sniffing a tree, bush, or lamp post, he would dig his heels in if you wanted to continue with the walk.  And he had to find the perfect place to do his business.  If he hadn’t sniffed out the right spot, the walk would take a long time!  He loved his baths, which I would give him every Sunday, with baby shampoo for his face and oatmeal for his body.  Once he was completely brushed and blown dry, he would tear out of the bathroom, run to his basket to grab a toy and would want to play.  As I’d mentioned earlier, Cherokee did not like to see me cry.  I would be in another room quietly sniffling, and when I would look up or turn around, there he was, looking at me.  Cherokee really began to slow down when he turned fifteen.  It was then that his mortality became evident.  Even though we know that our dogs won’t live forever, we also don’t think about the inevitable too much.  Then one morning in November of 2011, Cherokee woke up with his hind legs buckling under him.  He had difficulty walking and couldn’t make it to his potty pads to empty his bladder.  The vet suggested that he stay overnight for IV treatments to see if they could bring down the elevated numbers in his kidneys.  The next morning when we went to see him, we were informed that there was no change in his condition.  When we were taken to Cherokee’s pen, he was resting with his back turned to the world behind him.  I got the distinct impression that he was waiting for us because as soon as the door to his pen opened up and I wedged myself in there as far as I could, Cherokee immediately went to lay on his side and firmly shut his eyes.  He never opened them as we talked to him.  He very clearly let us know that it was his time to go.  So we made the heart-wrenching decision to put him down.

As someone who has recently suffered the loss of a life-changing pet myself, how did you
deal with your loss? Have you brought another pet into your life?

My grief over losing Cherokee was very acute.  Had he been sick for a while, maybe I would have been better prepared over his sudden loss.  Yes, he was aging and had slowed down, but there was that hope that he would be around for another couple of years.  After he was gone, I couldn’t bear to part with any of his things.  So I laundered all of his sweaters, neatly folded them, and put them in my bottom dresser drawer.  After we got his ashes, the container was placed in the middle of his bed, surrounded by all of his stuffed animals.   Keeping his memory alive that way offered me comfort and consolation.  By not getting rid of his things immediately, it helped to ease the grief and make the transition to acceptance easier.   As far as bringing another pet into my life, no, I haven’t done so yet.  I know that one day I’ll get another dog, but not in the near future.  

What do you think is the most important thing we can learn from our pets?

I think our pets teach us how to live in the moment, and to accept ourselves and life unconditionally.   I have come to think of pets as ‘fur angels,’  who by their example, show us qualities to emulate:  loyalty, unconditional love, going with the flow, lack of judgment.  You will often see those refrigerator magnets that say, “The more I’m around people, the more I love my dog.”  But is it only dogs and cats that have the monopoly on these qualities?  Or are these qualities also inherent in humans, but because of egoic concerns, we have a more difficult time of maintaining those qualities on a consistent basis.  Dogs and cats observe life in a detached way without judging whether an experience is ‘good’ or ‘bad.’  And they live life with present-moment awareness. They don’t allow themselves to get drawn into the drama of it; nor do they carry around what happened five months ago or worry about tomorrow.  Yesterday and tomorrow don’t exist, except in our minds.  It is a more joyful and peaceful way of being.  Is it possible for humans to live life that way?  Absolutely!

What message do you hope readers walk away with after reading your wonderful story?

Thank you for considering my story “wonderful.”  I am so happy you enjoyed it.  What I hope readers  walk away with is a light-hearted attitude.  I hope that readers who have a dream learn to get out of their own way by stopping the negative self-talk and the limitations they’ve placed on themselves; to go out with confidence and make their dream a reality.  It is my hope that the book inspires, motivates, and puts a smile on the readers face.  I don’t think there is any one of us who hasn’t experienced heartbreak, loss or tragedy.  It is my hope that the book will somehow get readers to recognize the beauty of life and to tap into their own inherent strengths and talents.  And, then there’s Cherokee.  His narration alone is worth the price of admission.

Thank you.


traveler said...

Thank you for this wonderful giveaway. What an emotional and beautiful post and book. Dogs which I think are wise and smarter than we give them credit for can feel and sense so much. I have a rescue dog, Bogie, who I think is a sage and a philosopher. He knows so much, whom to trust and whom to stay away from and is aware if someone is in pain or dying. Dogs know and care. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com


I was drawn to read as much as I could about grief after I lost Abby. I read all the well respected works and then I read first hand accounts of loss of animals and loss of humans. It helped shape my own grief and made me think deeper about many things. Yes, I do fully share your perspective that our animal companions would be far more generous with their assessments of us than we are of ourselves. I still question all that I did and didn't do with no satisfactory answers. In the end, I did the best I could. I know Abby appreciated everything, because in her dying hours she told me as plainly as someone speaking words to me would have. Those final hours are more precious to me than anything I could ever explain.

Sheila Deeth said...

Wow. You have me thinking of the wonderful pets I've loved and lost, especially the two I sat with at the end. I would love to read this. sheiladeeth at gmail dot com

CatInTheFridge said...

Oh, heart breaking! It's such a good question. What do you think of us when they look at us? I wonder that a lot, but I think there could be a lot more information to be had if I really think hard on it. Thanks for sharing.

Unknown said...

I really want to read this book, but I know I will cry my way through it - we have lost cats, squirrels, bunnies, many dogs, gerbils and a pet mouse over the years. They have all touched and enriched my life. .

petite said...

Dogs are wise and astute. When my grandmother died my dog was aware of this and upset. He started to walk around the bed and was moaning. When I am with my dogs it gives me a warm feeling to know that they are by my side. They provide me with comfort and are smarter than many humans. They have an instinct about things which is gratifying. elliotbencan(at)hotmail(dot)com

Malka E said...

sounds like a wonderful book!, Glad he inspired you to write! i don't know, about wanting to know what our dogs think of us, i know they love us, but i think, they think we are too bossy.