SAN DIEGO, Dec. 3 (UPI) -- Since Sept. 11, 2001, all eyes have been on New York City. There have been special commemoration ceremonies, special concerts, special art exhibits, and also special books. But this one is a little different.
"NYC Pet Project: a collection of portraits and letters from the heart," is not directly related to the attacks or their aftermath, the victims or the heroes, but it is an intimate look at New Yorkers through their pets. Yes, you read correctly, pets.
This coffee-table-sized book features pictures of New Yorkers, both famous and anonymous, on one page, and a letter to each pet by its owner or owners on the opposite page, detailing what this pet has meant to that person.
For instance, Mary Tyler Moore is pictured with her two dogs, Shadow and Shana, and she writes, "You make me smile, you nurse my wounds, and remind me that "Love Is All Around."
Many of the pet owners are just ordinary citizens, police officers and firefighters, doctors and teachers, and some of them are handicapped, ill or recovering from illness. They thank their pets for having brought love, joy, comfort and hope into their lives.
Peggy Eason thanks her guide dog, Kelly, for saving her life when she refused to cross the street, thus practicing "intelligent disobedience." Without her dog, Peggy could not negotiate the streets and subways of New York; thanks to her dog she can go to work and be a useful member of her community.
Many of these pets are rescued strays, and although the majority are dogs, there are also cats, snakes, horses and a tarantula! There's even a pet rat owned by a group of homeless men. They write, "I'm sorry we're homeless, But we try."
There's also the policeman who took his dog, Cody, to Ground Zero with him to comfort the rescue workers by his presence. They'd seen so much horror that it was a relief just to be able to hug a dog.
Animals bring a sense of normalcy to abnormal situations. They still require love and attention, as well as food and care, no matter what else is happening. Scott and Lisa had to go to a hotel after Sept. 11 -- their home was at the center of Ground Zero -- but they sneaked back home to find, and care for, their cats and dog.
The photographs, by Jason Lindberg and Ron Monk, illustrate the excitement and variety of life in New York. There are pictures of businessmen and movie stars in their elegant homes with expensive furniture; there are society women coiffed and manicured, as well as ordinary folk in average apartments. There are shots of Central Park, and of various streets all over the city and, for me, this is where the real interest of the book lies. It just proves the old saying, "a picture is worth a thousand words."
This book is the brainchild of Edward J. Kaczmarek III and Michael La Rue, two men who met while in recovery. What makes this book special is the fact that proceeds will directly profit 12 New York pet charities. While in recovery from drug addiction, Kaczmarek and La Rue, a former corporate marketing executive and a former successful trial attorney, decided that they wanted to "give back to society and rebuild their lives."
They founded Good Books Publishing, headquartered in New York City, and started on the pet project. After Sept. 11 last year, they felt that their project might be considered trivial compared to the gravity of the situation, but as they say in their introduction to the book, "this was no longer a pet book, but a firsthand account of the bond between New Yorkers and their pets during an historically significant period."
It is all about love, and we need a lot of that these days. It is a feel-good book, not only because the love contained in these pages communicates itself to the reader, but also because you know that the price you paid for this book will go to save other pets.
Broadway Barks is an annual dog and cat adoption event, featuring Broadway stars like Mary Tyler Moore and Bernadette Peters. They raise awareness, and stress the importance of spaying and neutering. The event attracts thousands of spectators and the proceeds go to the ASPCA and many other shelters and organizations. All of the shelters have a "no-kill" policy, like the New York Pet-I-Care or Stray from the Heart organizations.
The quality of the letters varies widely. The editors felt that the originals were so "powerful and revealing" that they preferred not to clean them up or censor them. I have to admit that some of the letters could have used at least a spell check, but I suppose not everyone is as picky about spelling and grammar as I am.
The literary value, or lack thereof, notwithstanding, the feelings expressed in these letters are always genuine. You might find some of them too sentimental or too "cutesy," but if you own a pet, you will understand the depth of emotion emanating from these letters.
This is a perfect Christmas, or year-end, present for any animal lover.
Good Books Publishing has 12 upcoming titles for 2003 that fall under the following areas:
Children's books which will benefit the Literacy Program in Schools and the Arts in Schools Program, coffee-table books which will benefit the Alzheimer's Association, and novels/memoirs, including the story of co-founder La Rue's own career and downfall, and his subsequent recovery. Benefits will go to recovery programs and the homeless.
"NYC Pet Project: a collection of portraits and letters from the heart." A unique picture book featuring New Yorkers and their pets. Good Books Publishing, 265 pages, $29.95.)