Friday, March 4, 2011

Interview with Author Michelle Sathe

Today, we bring you an interview with Michelle Sathe, author of Pit Stops Crossing the Country with Loren the Rescue Bully.

A brief description of the book (taken from the back cover):
When journalist and animal welfare advocate Michelle Sathe turns 40, she bypasses a midlife crisis for a great American road trip. But this isn’t just any road trip…along for the ride is Loren, a young female pit bull whom Sathe fell in love with while volunteering at The Brittany Foundation dog rescue in Southern California. Sathe and Loren set out to explore 29 states in 50 days, for a whirlwind sampling of regional cuisine, historic landmarks, and just plain fun. Mile by mile, whether they’re avoiding Ohio due to breed specific legislation or making the unlikeliest of friends in the Deep South, Sathe and Loren forge a bond that only 24/7 togetherness can create. Their exploits take readers along on an unforgettable journey filled with laughter, sadness, insight, and ultimately, hope.

How did you get started writing?
My writing career started when I took on a company newsletter as an executive assistant. I really liked putting together short stories about the business and its employees.

Then, I moved to Shanghai in 1999 for 15 months, where I entered a poetry contest for an English-language magazine and won. When they advertised for a copy editor, I applied, got the job and offered to start writing restaurant , music and movie reviews.

Subsequently, I was a PR manager for a couple of Western restaurants in China, which required writing press releases, so by the time I got back to the US I had international experience and was able to score a public relations job in the nutritional supplement industry.

My journalism career started while I was in public relations. A friend of mine gave an article I had done, appropriately enough, on a local rescue to the publisher she worked for and he started hiring me as a freelancer. Eventually, he took over The Signal newspaper in Santa Clarita and offered me a full-time job as a features writer.

It’s been kind of an unusual career trajectory, as I’ve had no formal training and do not have a journalism degree (or any college degree or that matter). But I find, if there’s a will, there’s a way, especially if you work hard.

What inspired you to write this book?
I’d always wanted to write a book and take the great American road trip, so when I turned 40 in May 2009, I thought it would be an ideal opportunity to do both.

At first, I was planning to take my own dog Buster, but then, after volunteering at The Brittany Foundation, I realized the dogs there needed a vacation way more than mine did.

So, I chose Loren, who I’d fallen in love with, and crowned her bully ambassador. Loren inspired me to find out the truth about what was happening to pit bulls and homeless pets across the country.

What was the most uplifting experience on your trip?
Meeting the many people who work tirelessly to give pit bulls and bully breeds a second chance. There are a lot of them in America and they’re incredible human beings.

What was the most heartbreaking experience of the trip?
Realizing just how big the problem is and that it’s everywhere, from urban to rural areas. In some cities, bully breeds make up 80 to 90 percent of the dogs in shelters and most of them don’t make it out alive.

There are people who fight these dogs, breed them and/or mistreat them. It’s overwhelmingly sad and hard to digest how humans can be so cruel and how many innocent animals die because of irresponsibility, neglect or worse.

How did most people react to Loren?
I’d say 90 percent of people were positive and would come up to us to tell us about their own pit bulls or the pit bull they had as a kid. The other 10 percent would either avoid us, sometimes crossing the street to do so, or outright act as if they were scared. It was very strange to me, that people can be so prejudice against dogs. Loren still has her ears and, in my opinion, looks like a sweet little marshmallow.

In a strange sense, though, there’s some security in the fact that people can be a bit scared of bully breeds, at least when you’re a woman traveling alone across country. I felt very confident that no one was going to mess with me and no one did…and we passed through some fairly shady places.

How did you find the overall attitude about “pit bulls” as you crossed the country?
It was mixed. Many people, as I stated above, love pit bulls and think they’re great dogs. The minority were negative. However, we also came across people that bred bullies and someone I suspected, later on, may have been a dog fighter. These dogs are obviously not seen as family pets and that breaks my heart.

Can we look forward to another book from you in the future?
Yes, actually, I’m hitting the road to promote Pit Stops on May 9 and will also gather material for Pit Stops 2: Adventures with Kara.

Kara is a three year old female bully that was bred, dumped at a killshelter and slated for death before a volunteer named Kyle Harris saved her. Kyle has a foster kennel in her garage and kindly agreed to let me take Kara on the road. Hopefully, her story will have a happy ending like Loren’s.

Anyway, in between signings, Kara and I will go camping and meet with new rescuers, so that will be book fodder. Look for Pit Stops 2 in the summer of 2012.

You volunteer at the Brittany Foundation. What drew you to that rescue?
In 2008, I was a producer for SCVTV and ended up doing the on-air for a segment on The Brittany Foundation. I had been looking for a place to volunteer, but couldn’t do so at a shelter, where dogs are killed. It would be too hard for me.

The Brittany Foundation is a no-kill rescue. It was really clean and the dogs were well taken care of. During the taping, I had fallen for Loren and a crazy little terrier named Roxy, so I inquired about how I could help. Within a week, I was cleaning out kennels and walking dogs. Now I’m a board member and volunteer coordinator.

We’ve made a lot of improvements over the last few years and attracted a lot of new volunteers, so I’m really happy about how the Brittany Foundation family has grown. While it’s not ideal for any dog to be at a rescue for months, years or their whole lives, the dogs at Brittany Foundation really have a lot of love and better living conditions than many dogs that are in “homes.”

Additionally, I’m a board member and the PR director for Bow-Wows & Meows, a non-profit which hosts an annual pet fair for L.A. County shelter animals. Last year, we adopted out 155 dogs and cats in five hours. The founder, Yvonne Allbee, is now one of my best friends and the board is incredibly dedicated. I’m honored to be a part of it.

How many dogs do you have? What breeds/ages?
I am the proud mother of two bully breeds, both of whom I found as strays. I tried to find their owners, but, surprise surprise, they were never claimed.

Sam showed up on my porch Christmas Day 2000, after initially coming up to me and my pack during our morning walk. He is now 11 years old and, I suspect, an American Bulldog/pit mix.

Buster I found while covering a story at a shopping center. He was wandering around the parking lot, a little brindle puppy with one ear sticking up. Buster is now six and I believe he’s a Staffordshire Bull Terrier mix of some kind.

I love them both dearly and appreciate that they don’t get mad when I spend time to help other dogs who are less fortunate. At least, I think they don’t. They have a pretty nice life in the mountains.

If you don't have a copy of Pit Stops yet, you're missing out! You can purchase the book HERE. $1 from every purchase goes to benefit The Brittany Foundation (so you get to feel extra good about spending money!).

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