Freckles cheers children in person and through words
By Joy Franklin, JFRANKLIN@CITIZEN-TIMES.com
Paul and Trish Howey find it hard to believe that anyone would dump a mother dog, barely more than a year old herself, and six puppies in the Sonoran Desert to die.
They’re convinced that someone who realized she was going to have puppies probably abandoned the terrier-mix they call Freckles.
However she got there, the small white dog managed to keep herself and her puppies alive until someone reported seeing her to the Maricopa County (Arizona) sheriff’s department. That was a lucky break for the little dog and her brood.
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has a soft spot for animals, so some of his deputies are trained to rescue strays and the women prisoners at the Maricopa County jail socialize them and care for them until they’re ready for adoption.
When Freckles’ puppies were ready for homes, the local newspaper published an article about them and the sheriff’s program. Trish Howey happened to read it. That was another lucky break for the little dog. Paul was involved in humane education and the Howeys, who lived near Phoenix at the time, were founding members of the board of directors for a pet therapy group. When Trish read about the sheriff’s program, she thought she might like to volunteer, so she went to the jail to check it out. “Just don’t come back with a dog,” Paul warned her. The Howeys already had three other dogs.
When Trish got to the jail, Freckles’ puppies had all been adopted, but nobody wanted their shy mother, who was all by herself in a cell.
“So I went out and I said ‘What’s with the little white dog?’ And they told me that she was the one that had the puppies. So I came back around and I just came in. And she doesn’t come up, she’s not all over you. So I just kind of sat down and she just moved her way in and we just had this little connection and so I said, ‘I think you’d better come home. We’ll find you a home.’” Trish insists she really didn’t plan to keep the dog, though she had to adopt her to spring her from the jail.
“Little did I know that she was going to be changing our lives, literally,” she said.
It took more than a year to socialize and train Freckles, so named because of her brown spots. The dog had been badly traumatized. But the Howeys discovered that she had an amazing mothering instinct. Once, when their granddaughter, Rayna Armitage, was visiting from Asheville and ran ahead on a trail that fell away on one side, Freckles got between her and the drop off and kept her from going near the edge.
Paul, a writer who’s edited more than 60 books and written nonfiction books for adults on a range of subjects, began using Freckles’ stories to teach humane education at Boys and Girls Clubs. Before long he was writing a book about her in his head.
The result was “Freckles: The Mystery of the Little White Dog in the Desert,” a book that won the 2003 ASPCA Henry Bergh Children’s Book Award, and was chosen one of the top five children’s books of the year by Copley News Service.
Through the book and visits with children in hospitals, schools and other groups, the Howeys share a story of compassion.
“We feel that it’s so important. All the research that Paul’s done as far as domestic abuse and that connection with animal abuse and all those ugly, ugly statistics – what we’ve realized is that if you’re trying to teach humane education to adults, you’re either preaching to the saved, or they just don’t care unless they have some big epiphany or something. But the little ones, their minds are still open,” Trish said.
But Freckles’ impact goes far beyond the schools she visits. After a time of healing and training, the Howeys decided that Freckles would make a good therapy dog, so they began volunteering through a group in Phoenix. They soon discovered that she had a special instinct for the work.
On one occasion, Paul was speaking to a group of high school students who belonged to a humane education club. Freckles had worked the room, going from one person to the next.
“Then she went back to this woman in the middle of the room and put her head in her lap,” Paul says. “It was the counselor. And I’m looking at this woman and tears were pouring out of her eyes, which they weren’t until Freckles went there. Afterwards I said, ‘Are you OK?’ and she said, ‘I don’t know how your dog knew this … but I had to put down my dog this morning … and I didn’t want to come to school… . And your dog knew.’”
On another occasion, they were doing rounds in the children’s ward at a hospital and they went in to visit a little girl who was about 4 years old and was very seriously ill. They’d been told that she could only say, “yes” and “no,” so they shouldn’t expect too much.
“We go in there,” Paul said, “and she’s a tiny little thing. We said, ‘Would you like to have Freckles in bed with you, and she said ‘No.’ And I said, ‘May I sit here next to your bed with Freckles in my lap?’ and she said ‘Yes.’ And I sat and I held Freckles up there in my lap and Freckles is stretching toward the little girl and the little girl leaned over and this happened about three times and suddenly she got a puppy kiss on the nose. And I said, ‘Would you like to have Freckles in bed with you?’ and she said, ‘Yes.’ So I put Freckles in bed with her. And I said ‘This is a doggie,’ and she said ‘doggie.’ Her mother is standing behind me and she grips my arm. And I said, ‘Yeah, and her name is Freckles.’ And she said, ‘Freckles.’ And this mother’s fingernails are going into the back of my arm.”
“The mother started crying,” Trish said. “So you never know,” Paul said. “When Trish was talking about changing lives, just to have one opportunity like that, and we get these all the time.”
When he began writing the book, Paul took Freckles back to the jail to talk to the deputy who rescued her. That visit began a friendship that found him returning every few weeks to visit with the women prisoners rehabilitating other dogs to demonstrate the importance of the work they were doing.
“There was an adoption day in Phoenix and this woman came up to the Sheriff Joe adoption van wearing a Sheriff Joe volunteer T-shirt and said, ‘Paul, do you remember me?’ I said, ‘No, I’m sorry I don’t.’ She said ‘Well, the last time you saw me I was wearing stripes. I was a prisoner and you came and spoke. I went out and got a job as a groomer and now I go back and volunteer for the sheriff… . That’s how powerful this program is.’”
The Howeys guess that Freckles is about five or six years old now. They moved to the Asheville area two years ago, in part to be near Trish’s son and their granddaughter, Rayna. They resumed their pet therapy through Paws with a Purpose and many Saturdays will find them on the children’s ward at Mission Hospitals. There are more than 20 therapy dogs in the local Paws with a Purpose group.
“The dogs do more for them than a lot of the medicines we give them,” says Chris Long, a registered nurse who works on the children’s floor. “They look forward to them. I work on Saturdays and when I come in lots of the oncology patients who have been here long enough to know the routine are already asking about the dogs by 8 a.m. Many a nurse, including myself, works on Saturday just so we can see the dogs.”
Paul and Trish stress that they don’t mean to suggest that Freckles is some kind of super dog.
“What I try to get across to kids is that … all dogs have this capacity to some degree or another. Freckles is neat and so is your dog. And your dog is going to teach you things too if you open your eyes and mind. She may have some special qualities, but I never, ever want to portray her as a super dog,” he says.
Then, in a stage whisper, he adds, “Even though she is.”
If you’re interested in having Paul (and maybe Freckles, too) speak to a group, contact him at email@example.com.