Irmo Elementary teacher Geri Algar can check one more thing off her list of lifelong goals.
“I always wanted to write a book and now I can say that I am an author. It’s a wonderful feeling,” said Algar after a recent book reading to her first grade students. “It was one of those things that was definitely on the list of things I wanted to do eventually but wasn’t sure how I would go about doing it. It’s funny how people come into your life when you least expect it … well people and in this case a very special dog.”
Algar shared her first published children’s book, “Chase Gets a Pen Pal,” during school assemblies in the fall. Published through AuthorHouseBooks and illustrated by artist and Irmo Elementary parent Sarah Flowe, the book was co-authored by Algar and former journalist Peter Buttress as a second installment in the fictional account of real-life therapy dog Chase.
In “Chase Gets a Pen Pal,” a young girl named Caroline becomes a pen pal with the courageous and helpful Chase after he visits her at a hospital. The back-and-forth correspondence between the two characters explores both the day-to-day experiences of Caroline, an elementary school-aged girl, and Chase, Buttress’ Border Collie.
“Someone said to me one day, ‘You know, he would make a great therapy dog,’” said Buttress. “I had never really thought about it. So, I decided to do some research … and eventually, we went through the process of training Chase to become a therapy dog.”
Therapy dogs are trained to provide affection and comfort to people in hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, schools, hospices, disaster areas and to people with learning difficulties. Unlike service dogs, they are not protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and visit facilities upon request. Certifications are available for therapy dogs through several national organizations, and Chase is certified through Therapy Dogs International.
“Most people aren’t aware of the work of therapy dogs, but they are used in a wide variety of ways,” Buttress said. “The book allows children of a very young age to learn lessons about the work of dogs like Chase and about having good character.”
School officials hope the book will spark interest in book writing among students and teachers alike.
“This was a fantastic experience,” Principal Shannon McAlister said. “Irmo Elementary School is extremely proud of Mrs. Algar for fulfilling one of her life-long dreams of writing and publishing a children’s book. We thank her and her collaborative team for sharing their writing process, and know that it will inspire our writers to continue to learn.”
In mid-December, students in Algar’s class sat crossed-legged in a reading circle enthralled by both the story and Chase himself, who sat quietly receiving several gentle pats from students and coyly giving an occasional lick to an outreached hand.
“In the book, we learned about Chase, what he does and why it’s important to help others,” Dunn said. “I think he’s a great dog … and Ms. Algar is a good writer.”
Submitted by Lexington-Richland 5