In 2007, NFL quarterback Michael Vick garnered unsavory headlines when the Bad Newz Kennels he owned and operated in Virginia was raided, and his illegal dog fighting operation was subsequently exposed. Behind those headlines lurked the dubious fate of the 66 dogs, 51 of them pit bulls, which were taken as evidence and placed in animal shelters. The rehabilitation journey of one of those canines is chronicled in Saving Audie: A Pit Bull Gets a Second Chance by author Dorothy Hinshaw Patent and photographer William Muñoz, frequent collaborators whose new book is due from Walker in May.
The project was the brainchild of Emily Easton, publisher of Walker Books for Young Readers, who is a member of several animal rights organizations and had read much of the coverage surrounding the Michael Vick case. “Although the broader story about the fighting rings and the details of Vick’s association with this illegal practice isn’t appropriate for young readers, I believe that these courageous dogs and their struggle for a second chance at life is something that all readers will respond to,” she says.
Easton, who has worked with Patent and Muñoz on several earlier books (including 2004’s The Right Dog for the Job: Ira’s Path from Service Dog to Guide Dog, which she calls “one of our steadiest sellers”), knew who to call on for the new project. “Dorothy and Bill have collaborated on many books,” she says, “and have developed a rhythm and respect that makes working with them a remarkably easy and enjoyable process. Dorothy knows more about animals than anyone I know, and is always on target with her understanding of the best way to convey information to young readers with the right balance of facts and fascination.”
Patent, a self-described “dog lover since childhood,” eagerly signed on. “It took me a microsecond to say yes,” she recalls, “since I thought telling the story of the recovery of the Vick dogs from a positive point of view would make a wonderful book for kids—one that could change the nature of how we look at pit bulls. I knew that Bill and I were the perfect team for this book.”
Locating the Right Dog for the Book
Patent’s quest to find a dog to profile led her to BAD RAP (Bay Area Doglovers Responsible About Pitbulls), an organization that had taken 13 of the rescued Vick dogs under its wing and transported them to the San Francisco area. Members of that group put the author in touch with the couple who had adopted Audie. Under their patient guidance, Audie had learned to trust people and get along with other dogs, and now acts as a “canine coach,” helping shy and fearful dogs.
Last spring, Patent and Muñoz traveled from their Montana hometowns to spend five days in the Bay Area, where they got to know Audie. On their inaugural visit to his adoptive home, Audie demonstrated what Patent calls “typical, cautious approach-avoidance behavior, where he’d come up close to us, run away and bark, and then come back. I felt strongly that this little guy wanted to be friends and to interact with us, but he obviously had fear left from his experiences in Vick’s kennel and his lack of human contact when he was in shelters after that.” Yet within 15 minutes, she recalls, Audie was lying next to her on the couch, resting his head on her thigh.
At that first meeting, Muñoz discovered immediately that Audie was not especially fond of cameras. “Over the years, I’ve learned to approach animals I am photographing in a very passive way,” he says. “I don’t get aggressive with them, but stay still and let them get used to me. With Audie, I at first kept my camera down by my knees and didn’t aim it at him. It took him about half a day to get used to the noise of the camera. Before long, I became just a rock in the road to him, and I didn’t have to worry.”
Pulling Together the Visuals
The greater challenge at the onset, Muñoz recalls, was procuring all the necessary photos during their brief visit to California. But that issue was also resolved quite easily, as he and Patent had access not only to Audie, but to other dogs rescued from the Vick operation and their new owners. “BAD RAP has wonderful weekend training sessions, with lots of dogs and their people gathered together, and that was a real visual treat for me,” he says. “I was able to get all the shots that I needed, and the book literally fell into place, more quickly than most other books I’ve done. I don’t know how to describe it, but I feel as though this book was meant to be.”
Patent and Muñoz both hope that readers come away from Saving Audie with a better informed perspective on pit bulls. “We want to convey that pit bulls are not genetically bad or vicious animals—they are made vicious,” says Muñoz. “The perception of the pit bull as an inherently vicious breed is simply a prejudiced view.”
That is the same message Easton initially envisioned the book delivering. “Saving Audie is a very positive way to show readers that everyone deserves a second chance—dogs and people alike—and that love, respect, and support have the power to transform lives,” she reflects. “It also opens people’s eyes to the fact that pit pulls aren’t the villains that some people and communities have made them into. It’s time to place the blame for fighting dogs on the owners and not the breed.”
Saving Audie: A Pit Bull Puppy Gets a Second Chance by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent, illus. by William Muñoz. Walker, $17.99 May ISBN 978-0-8027-2272-0