By BRUCE DENNILL
You’ll hug your cat or dog more tightly after reading The Dog Lady of Mexico, the remarkable true story of Alison Sawyer Current and the nonprofit rescue organisation she launched more than 20 years ago. Today, Isla Animals is still going strong and giving hope to neglected cats and dogs on the island of Isla Mujeres, Mexico. Current experienced a calling – a powerful pull that she couldn’t ignore – and gave renewed hope to the starving, unwanted cats and dogs roaming Isla Mujeres and set a profound example for others to follow. The Dog Lady of Mexico shares Current’s remarkable journey, which began when she and her husband, Jeff, were soaking up the sun on the Mexican island during a much-anticipated month-long honeymoon. The stray animals roaming freely seemed to be woven into the island culture — just another aspect of the backdrop. Until she took a closer look. First, a tiny, pregnant, toothless cat caught Current’s attention. Then along came a dog with a litter of 12. The animals were suffering, disease-ridden and without any sources of food or clean water. Current’s honeymoon became the catalyst to a lifelong pursuit to save as many neglected cats and dogs as humanly possible. Her first rescue took place in 2001, and before she knew it, she was assisting with the creation of the island’s first spay and neuter clinic. Alison is a recipient of The Doris Day Animal Kindred Spirit Award, and in 2007 she was invited to Mexico City for the first Forum on Small Animal Overpopulation in Mexico.
How do you know when an idea is worthy of developing into a book? With songs or other shorter formats, you can get to a point of knowing if something will work relatively soon, but getting several thousand words into a manuscript and then deciding it’s a waste of time is far more frustrating.
It took me ten years to write this book. What I felt was worthy of attention was working in a foreign country and the change one person could make. Plus the surprises that I experienced during situations where I expected an entirely different outcome.
When you do decide that a theme or story is worth exploring, how do you go about unpacking that?
I had written down many stories as they happened because they were so unpredictable. I had considered writing a book of short stories, but I don’t actually enjoy reading those myself. It took a long time to decide the order of events and put them in story form.
Research: how much do you do, and how detailed is it?
Most of the research for this book was the 20 years of my own experiences. I did research the history of the area and the politics involved. I love doing research.
How much planning do you do before beginning in earnest? Do you have to know where you’re going to end up before you start?
I went over my stories, picked out the ones that were the most extraordinary and organised them in a way that best served to illustrate the work, humour and heartbreak of dog rescue. I did not know how it would end when I started.
If the hundreds of memes about writing are to be believed, sitting down and actually putting words on a page is perhaps the toughest part of the job. What are the distractions you battle with the most when trying to work?
Everything bothered me when I was writing. I made sure that there would be no interruptions and if there were I was done for the day.
Daily goals: what, for you, is an acceptable daily target, in terms of wordcount or the quality of what you complete, be it a sentence, a paragraph or a chapter?
I did not judge my daily accomplishments by word count, but I encouraged myself to write a minimum of three hours a day and if it was going well I usually wrote longer.
What have you found are the best ways to get this done?
It’s so difficult to keep believing in a book. I managed as long as I experienced enough good days to push me through the bad ones.
How did completing a book fit in with your other duties?
I worked at my Mexican rescue from October through to May. I spent the summers in Canada and that’s when I wrote.
Marketing new books – print or digital: what fresh ideas do you think could be introduced to the process to make new work more accessible and appealing to both new and established readers?
This is my second book. It was very frustrating marketing my first book. Now, with print on demand, I think things are much easier. A good book will make it from reader to reader.