Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Rescued by some beagles: Author Teresa Rhyne on her new book

"The Dogs Were Rescued (And So Was I)" is now out in bookstores by SourceBooks! Remember, if you buy a book between now and Halloween, part of the proceeds can go to Beagle Freedom Project.

Rhyne is the author of the New York Times bestselling "The Dog Lived (And So Will I)," about her battle with cancer, and also her beagle's battle with cancer.

Last month I reviewed the book, and talked about how Rhyne focused this book on her journey toward a more compassionate lifestyle. As you can see in this interview, Teresa is passionate about this journey. Check out our interview.

1) When you were working on The Dogs Were Rescued (And So Was I) did you plan then on ever writing another book? 
I certainly hoped to. I’ve always loved writing and have taken a lot of courses, gone to a lot of writer’s retreats and conferences and spent a lot of time with my butt in the chair actually writing, so of course it’s nice when some of that gets published. The surprise was that I wrote another non-fiction book—another memoir! I’d always written fiction until, as they say, life got stranger than fiction. So I assumed I’d go back to fiction. But apparently my life will always be stranger than fiction. After this second book, I now think of myself as a non-fiction writer who might one day try her hand at fiction.

2) How was the decision to write this book different from the first?
It was primarily different because of the timing. With the first book, I had fully completed the experiences I was writing about—and in fact, parts of the book were about a time more than five years in the past. With this book I had an idea for a follow-up memoir, but as I was writing and as life unfolded, a completely different story happened. It started as a book about finding a healthier lifestyle for me and my dog and it wound up being a book about living a compassionate lifestyle and all that entails, and two more beagles had entered my life. So I was writing in much more “real time.” And of course another significant difference was that it was much more of a certainty that this one would be published and see the light of day. With the success of the first book, I was able to sell the second book on the basis of about a ten page outline and proposal. Then, of course, I had to write the darn thing!

Chris, Percival, Teresa, Daphne. (PHOTO/Teresa Rhyne)

3) As I read through the book I realized I had witnessed many of the earlier moments unfold from your Facebook updates (going to India, for instance). How did that notoriety you gained from the first book impact your life and the eventual changes you made (i.e. veganism, Beagle Freedom Project, etc.)?
The biggest challenge was getting other people’s comments out of my head so that I could stay true to my voice while writing. Thanks to social media, Amazon, and Goodreads reviews, I know exactly how people felt about the first book (and in many case how they feel about the “me” they believe they know), so it’s tempting to respond to that or to make changes. For example, there were a few complaints about the swearing in the first book and I hesitated then to swear in the second book. But here’s the thing—two cancer battles made me swear! I can’t lie about that. It was true to my voice and to change it to anything else would have rung hollow. There is actually far less swearing in the second book, and I questioned whether I had toned it down because of the comments or because I just didn’t swear as much in the situations described in The Dogs Were Rescued. Once I was comfortable that it was answer b I moved on (“get out of my head Amazon reviewers!!”). For the most part, I feel really lucky with the folks I’ve “met” on Facebook and in social media—people like you who love animals as much as I do and are trying to do the right thing. I’ve learned so much about veganism, animal rights, dog rescues, even beagles (and I’ve had beagle companions in my life for over 25 years now). I hope I can do my part in inspiring others to adopt a more compassionate lifestyle as well.

4) Daphne kinda just happened (Percival less so). Do you think the suddenness with which she came into your life lessened the pain of losing Seamus, or just channel it off into other directions?
I think in a way the adoption of Daphne lessened the immediate pain of losing Seamus, and it also deferred it, but it certainly didn’t eliminate it. My grief in those first few days was immobilizing. Daphne pulled me out of that because I had to focus on her and her extensive needs at that time. And I threw myself into that. Once Daphne was adopted and healthy, I began to relapse into heavy despair over losing Seamus. More than once I unexpectedly broke down in tears when doing a talk or a book signing and mentioning Seamus. I still do! And I’m not much of a crier normally. I would never intentionally adopt a dog that soon after losing one, but I truly believe Daphne was meant to be with us.
Teresa and Percival at Beaglefest (PHOTO/Teresa Rhyne)

5) You were already thinking about getting a BFP dog before it became a possibility. And you were even looking at Percival. So is it possible the Beaglerette was always going to choose him? It certainly read like it was meant to be?
Ha! Yes, that was definitely “in the universe.” I can honestly say I had an open mind about it. I think because we originally heard that Percival was not available for adoption, my mind had moved on to the other options and opened up to all of them.  I adored (and still adore) Rizzo and if the decision had been left to me I honestly can’t say who I would have picked. So I’m glad it was Daphne’s decision…though she’s certainly had days where she’s regretted her choice. LOL. And clearly, above all else, we know Chris and Percival were meant to be together.

6) I kept waiting for you to mention that the dogs were on a vegan diet. There were several points where it was a logical progression, almost foreshadowing. Are they on a vegan diet at this point?
This is something I struggle with on a daily basis. I have not turned them vegan. I give them only vegan treats, but their meals still have animal protein. Each vet (even a few holistic vets) I’ve talked to has been against turning them vegan. And I feel like if there isn’t extensive scientific study and recommendation for a vegan diet for a dog, trying it out on a dog who has battled cancer repeatedly and another who was a victim of a pharmaceutical lab’s testing for eighteen months is just not wise. I keep looking into it though and I occasionally mix in V-Dog vegan dog food just to cut down on the animal product in their meals.

Daphne and Percival. (PHOTO/Teresa Rhyne)
7) It doesn't look like you've become a "hemp skirt-wearing hippie" yet. Do you ever think you'll get into the kind of activism you talked about seeing in the book (at the animal advocacy museum)? Or are you still working toward finding other methods of making a difference?
I’m coming to terms with each of us doing to the best of our abilities—and my abilities (I hope!) lie in writing and speaking about the issues, so I plan on doing as much of that as I can. You may yet one day see me at a protest carrying a sign and, likely, bawling my eyes out. I’ve got to acquire that kind of strength.

8) Have you eased into a place at this point where you can be comfortable around people (other than Chris) who eat meat?
Yes, and no. It still makes me very sad to see the way people glorify the eating of a tortured and dead animal. And I’m appalled at the way Americans throw cheese and cream on everything. Everything! It’s like we don’t think it has flavor if there isn’t animal secretions on it. But, I realize I don’t get anywhere by saying things like that to folks or getting up and walking away from the table. If, however, someone comments on my meal, I will respond with a comment on theirs, as that seems fair. I have to be if not comfortable, tolerant, around meat eaters since the vast majority of people in my life are meat eaters. On the other hand, I adore being in a vegan restaurant or at a vegan catered event where I can indulge in every single item and everyone around me (vegan or not) is doing the same. Not a dead animal to be seen! Complete bliss!
9) Do you feel like you've found your "tribe" at this point?
I’m getting there. I shouldn’t be surprised it hasn’t been an easy thing to do though--it goes with my whole “not a group person” thing. But I’m enjoying learning different aspects of veganism from a variety of groups. There are many, many aspects to a vegan life and that keeps things interesting for me.

10) What do you want people to take away most from this book?
I want folks to think more about their choices and how animals are affected by those choices. Make conscientious choices and own those choices. It’s hypocritical to say that you are an animal lover and you can’t watch factory farming documentaries because they’re too sad, and then turn around and eat a cheeseburger. If you’re eating a cheeseburger, you’re contributing to that “sadness.” You’re the reason that pain and death happens to that animal. If you eat that cheeseburger, you’re not an animal lover. You’re a “dog lover” perhaps, but not an animal lover. Be clear about that. Think about that.  Because that’s a choice you are making. Think about the products you’re buying. Do beagles need to suffer and die for your mascara? Your laundry detergent? Your shampoo? They don’t. But they will if you don’t take the time to be certain you are shopping cruelty-free. If you don’t take time to make a conscientious choice, animals will continue to suffer. It’s that simple. And that’s what I want people to take away from this book—the power of their own choices.

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