It is timeless and universal,” Sheila Waldman, cofounder of Tristan Publishing, says of the topic. Tristan is entering the category for the first time with My Boy, Ben: A Story of Love, Loss and Grace by tennis pro David Wheaton (Oct.), about how his yellow lab reminded Wheaton of what was important during the ups and downs of his tennis career. “These books are about life and relationships, and that draws people in,” Waldman notes.
There is also money to be made. Americans love their pets so much they shell out more than $60 billion on them annually, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s a number any publisher would be wise to pay attention to. “As a business, it just makes sense to publish books with great stories about connecting with animals,” says Kim Moore, senior editor at Harvest House.
Animals to the Rescue
Harvest House has long offered stories about pets, going back to 2006’s Four Paws from Heaven: Devotions for Dog Lovers by M.R. Wells, Kris Young, and Connie Fleishauer, which has sold more than 125,000 copies. Now Harvest House is moving beyond house cats and lap dogs to working animals with Dogs to the Rescue: Inspirational Stories of Four-Footed Heroes by M.R. Wells (Mar.) and, in a new twist, horses, with Great Horse Stories: Humor and Wisdom from Our Majestic Friends by Rebecca E. Ondov (Apr.), which tells stories of horses who inspire and help people with both physical and emotional problems.
Abingdon Press also looks at working animals with Man’s Best Hero: True Stories of Great American Dogs (June) by Ace Collins (profiled in this issue), which tells true stories of dogs saving the drowning and pulling people from fires.
Still Raining Cats and Dogs
The stack of new books about working animals does not leave the common cat and domestic dog out this year. Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, had such success with A Dickens of a Cat (2007) and A Prince Among Dogs (2007) it has retitled and repackaged them as The Cat on My Lap: Stories of the Cats We Love and The Dog at My Feet: Stories of the Dogs We Love, edited by Callie Smith Grant (Oct.). Grant is the pen name of Lonnie Hull DuPont, executive editor at Revell.
DuPont points to a cultural shift: many people, especially those raised in rural communities as she was, once saw animals mainly as sources of food or workers, but now think of them as family members, friends, and companions. Still, a case of the cutes only goes so far at Revell: “The president of our company is an animal lover, but he believes we should not assign to animals spiritual lessons,” she says. “We are not looking to the animals to inform the morning devotional, only to be the gifts from God they are.” In that vein, Revell will publish in August the Marleyesque Surviving Henry: Adventures in Loving a Canine Catastrophe by Erin Taylor Young.
Even a university press makes room for animals. Baylor University Press has A Dog’s History of the World: Canines and the Domestication of Humans by Laura Hobgood-Oster (Apr.). Hobgood-Oster (The Friends We Keep: Unleashing Christianity’s Compassion for Animals) is a professor of religion at Southwestern University, but BUP’s press director, Carey Newman, is confident her book will have crossover appeal to the general trade. “She is telling a story everyone already knows to be true—that dogs are humans’ best friends and have characteristics of spiritual power,” Newman says.
Universal as these stories may be, there are rising and falling trends, and Revell’s DuPont says religion publishers are now playing catch up. “There was resistance in the market for a while” to religion titles involving animals, she says. “But now that people don’t feel silly to admit they love their animals and are grateful for them, we are going to go forward.” She expects to see more books focused on working animals, perhaps cancer-sniffing dogs or therapy horses, and says even birds are not out of the question. “They are not cozy or furry and we can’t ride them, but the Bible is full of them.”