A Family's Best Friend

remembering her childhood dog, one page at a time

Raquel Dorf, photos by Andrea Paulseth

NOT A SHAGGY DOG STORY. Eau Claire author Mary Heimstead’s new children’s book, A Prince of a Dog, is based on the real-life story of the dog her family had when she was growing up.
NOT A SHAGGY DOG STORY. Eau Claire author Mary Heimstead’s new children’s book, A Prince of a Dog, is based on the real-life story of the dog her family had when she was growing up.

Eau Claire resident Mary Heimstead recently penned a tale about the beloved dog her family had when she was growing up. The book, A Prince of a Dog, was recently awarded the 2015 Gelett Burgess Children’s Book Award for outstanding contributions to children’s literature. The national award came with a huge celebration for the first-time author. “Entering the competition was a fun process, and winning a Gold Medal was certainly an honor,” she said.

Based on true events from Heimstead’s own life, A Prince of a Dog tells the story of a dog-named Crown Prince DeGoff – “Garfy” for short – and his determined quest to find a new home. The children’s book is written from Garfy’s perspective, as he and his rabbit friend, Stella, learn life lessons about families.

“Except for the talking dog and bunny, much of the basic story outlined in the book is true,” said Heimstead. The book describes how Garfy, a purebred collie, chose to become a member of Heimstead’s family. “Garfy pretty much ‘adopted’ my family,” she explained.

Prince of a Dog stays true to Garfy’s real story, Heimstead said. “Garfy staked out our property and stayed close for several weeks before coming into the yard.” Heimstead’s dad had to take Garfy back to his original owner twice before they agreed that Garfy could stay with their family. “We theorized that Garfy was looking for a family with young children,” she said.

Prince of a Dog touches on the deep love families can share with their pets. “Most definitely pets can affect families in ways large and small. (Garfy) helped bind my family together with shared memories,” said Heimstead. “He took care of us; we took care of him. He had substance as a dog. I always thought of him as being regal and dignified,” she added.

For years Heimstead had wanted to tell the story of her family dog. “I promised my dad, now deceased, that someday I would create a book about our dog’s story, which seemed like a good topic for children,” she said. Heimstead decided to finally begin the project after she retired.

With a little help from her family, Heimstead had a draft of her children’s book ready in about three months. Heimstead’s daughter served as her editor, and her daughter-in-law was her illustrator. “Because of my daughter and daughter-in-law, I was able to produce a quality product; not sure I could have done that on my own,” she said.

As for what’s next, Heimstead has another children’s book in the works. “And, it’s the type of book that I’d like to publish in Spanish,” the author said.

Prince of a Dog is available on Amazon, or at Books-a-Million and The Local Store.

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