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January 26, 2024
A sponsored Q&A with the author of 'The Mutt for Me'

In what BookLife Reviews called “a must-read for dog lovers,” Hughes explores the highs and lows of adopting an animal with behavior problems. Though not planning to adopt, “something” persuaded him to take home Barbie, who was just days away from being euthanized. After a lot of hard work on both of their parts, Barbie is now well on her way to being a happy, well-adjusted companion.

Did you always want to write, or did this book’s development come as a surprise?

I never planned on writing a book. The Mutt for Me was a big surprise. When I started volunteering at the Maricopa Animal Control and Shelter, I would write an email to my friend Jenny about my experiences with the dogs, cats, and people at the shelter. Some stories were funny while others were sad. I started calling my weekly emails Dog Tales. After I adopted Barbie, my emails focused on how things were going with her. During the low periods, the emails were therapeutic.

Jenny pushed me to do something with my stories so others could see the importance of volunteering, adopting a rescue dog, and not overlooking the dogs with behavior problems. I wove the stories into a manuscript focused on answering the big question of who saved whom. My father had died the year before I met Barbie, so we both had issues to deal with. Because Jenny loved the “book,” I shared it with family and friends, who encouraged me to submit it to a publisher. I was shocked when Greenleaf Book Group said they were interested in turning the rough manuscript into The Mutt for Me.

What originally inspired you to volunteer at the animal shelter?

Jenny introduced me to a new world of animal rescue and euthanasia lists. I began donating to the rescue she ran and to other animal rescue organizations. But I began questioning whether I was really doing enough. I thought I didn’t have the time to do more than write checks, but that was just a convenient excuse. If we truly want to make the world a better place, donating money is simply not enough. I felt an obligation to give of myself.

Volunteering at the shelter was the most rewarding and heartbreaking thing I’ve ever done. It both made me question my faith in humanity and restored that faith, often in the same day. As an adoption counselor, I saw firsthand just how badly humans can treat dogs and cats. But working with the dedicated staff and volunteers and seeing how happy the families were when I placed a dog or cat in their forever home made it all worthwhile.

If you could go back in time to when you met Barbie for the first time and tell yourself one thing, what would it be?

That Barbie is the one, despite her significant behavior problems. She needed someone to believe in her, and I was going to be the one who did, even if she and I didn’t know it at our first meeting. There were major red flags that should have warned me off, such as the lack of real interaction at any of our meetings, her fear of men, and most everything else. I would also tell myself that love is really all you need to make this new relationship work. Despite all the missteps and mistakes, seeing Barbie happy, safe, healthy, and affectionate will make all the tough times worthwhile.

Do you have any advice for someone who is fostering or adopting a dog with behavior problems?

Be patient. There is a great dog just waiting to come out once you get past the fear. Remember the rule of three: three days to decompress, three weeks to learn the routine, and three months to truly become comfortable in her new home and with her new family.

What’s next for you and Barbie?

Additional training, more exposure to people and situations to get her past her remaining fear of strangers, and more adventures exploring Arizona’s state and national parks. Barbie loves to play in lakes and streams.