BRATENAHL, Ohio – Rescue animals often somehow end up “rescuing” the people who take them home.
Bratenahl resident Leslie Yerkes explores such a relationship in her first children’s book “Lost, Found and Forever: When You Make a Promise, Keep It.”
The heartfelt book, aimed at young children 9 and older, was released this month and is available on Amazon and Lostfoundandforever.com for $ 8.95.
While it is aimed at children, it has also been well received by adults and people in the animal shelter community.
Randy Martin’s digitally enhanced illustrations help bring the story to life.
The story centers on a young girl, who bears a striking resemblance to Yerkes, and her rewarding relationship with a rescue dog.
The inspiration for the book came from Yerkes’ own journey with a large, loving, life-affirming South African mastiff that earned the name – appropriately enough at 150 pounds – Big Boy.
Yerkes, although highly regarded as an educator, speaker, advisor and author, admits she was burned out by the demands of her career, as well as her own perfectionism, when she encountered the abandoned pup on Labor Day 2013.
“I saved him, but in the process I found my own grounding, well-being and well-being,” she revealed.
Yerkes was looking for a neighbor’s lost pet when she spied the “junkyard dog” in an industrial area on East 140th Street.
The food she brought to lure her neighbor’s well-socialized dog eventually went to Big Boy, though he wanted little to do with Yerkes. Instead, he quickly picked up the paper plates she had put down and ran off.
Yerkes was not deterred.
‘I said to him,’ I come back every day to feed and water you, ‘she said.
Months passed, with Yerkes and a few cordial construction workers feeding the wary dog. Maybe it was Cleveland’s cold weather in the late fall, maybe it was the food, maybe it was Yerkes’ dedication – whatever it was, Big Boy realized one day he’d found a forever home with Yerkes.
Big Boy quickly adjusted to life in Bratenahl with Yerkes and his canine companion, Buddha Bear.
He accepted far fewer human men, and saw in them those who had broken his bones and beaten his spirit. With the help of a trainer, he eventually came to experience people’s better angels.
“In the end he was only 150 pounds of marshmallow,” Yerkes noted.
Yerkes’ dedication meant that almost everything in her life was changed in dramatic ways, which could be considered a hardship, but certainly not by the author.
Big Boy and Buddha Bear needed space to play, so she moved out of her high-rise apartment and settled in a small house. The pace of life immediately slowed as Yerkes’ priorities shifted.
“You couldn’t have an agenda with a rescue,” she explained.
Caring for Big Boy required sessions with the trainer, trips to the vet, making sure he had enough nutrition not to worry about his next drink or meal, as well as a lot of love and patience.
And then, in a scenario that Hollywood might dismiss as too predictable, Yerkes took on another rescue: her mother.
Hospice didn’t expect the aging matriarch to last, but with the love of Yerkes and the two canine companions, she lived an entire year.
Sadly, Big Boy followed her path to his next eternal home in 2019. Bone cancer left him riddled with pain, though it didn’t affect his big heart.
Yerkes knew what had to be done, even though he didn’t.
“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,” she revealed when she took him down. “He looked at me and I could see him saying, ‘I’ll deal with this pain just to stay with you and my brother.’ ”
Yerkes has planned a series of children’s books centered around Big Boy and the relationship between rescue animals and owners. The next one – lavishly illustrated and told from Big Boy’s perspective – is expected to hit shelves in July.
Yerkes – who has written numerous books on workplace relationships – still teaches at Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherhead School of Management, while also running her own established company, Catalyst Consulting Group.
Yet her mind rarely strays far from the rescue animals that have redefined her life. The author’s publicist recently joked that National Rescue Dog Day, May 20, is “every day for Leslie Yerkes.”
Yerkes plans to auction full-size autographed prints from the books and offer pro bono speaking engagements, with all proceeds benefiting area shelters and animal rescue organizations.
“Honestly, if I can help fund as many rescues as I find along the way, I’ll be happy,” she concluded.
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