by Cherice Bock
Editor, Whole Terrain
At Whole Terrain, we like to celebrate the accomplishments of our authors, artists, and staff. Therefore, we are excited to share with our readers about the publication of Painted Dog Pursuit (Maine Authors Publishing, 2017), written by one of Whole Terrain’s About Time editors, Tammy Cloutier, and illustrated by Thomas Block. Painted Dog Pursuit is a beautifully illustrated children’s book featuring Kane, an African painted dog. Through the story, readers follow Kane as he searches for food, encountering many other African animals on his journey. My grade school-aged kids enjoyed reading this story and seeing the pictures. They wanted to know more at the end of the story, which is a good sign! Cloutier plans to make a series of books to continue Kane’s story.
I wanted to know more, too, so I asked Cloutier to share in the Q&A below about her interest in painted dogs, the issues this species faces, the process of writing a children’s book, and painted dog conservation efforts.
If you’re interested in learning more and meeting the author, The Toadstool Bookshops of Keene, Milford, and Peterborough, NH are hosting a reading of Painted Dog Pursuit on Saturday, November 11, 2017 in Keene, NH at 2:00pm. See the flyer below for more details. Profits from book sales will fund Cloutier’s painted dog research, so pick up a copy for the children in your life, educate them about an endangered species, and support conservation efforts, all at the same time.
Whole Terrain: How did you first become interested in painted dogs, and what keeps you passionate about them?
Tammy Cloutier: I first saw this endangered species at the Bronx Zoo years ago. I could barely see them in their enclosure, but saw what I assumed was a life size cardboard cutout of them next to their exhibit. Their huge, saucer shaped ears and mottled tan, white, and black coats (of which no two are exactly alike) caught my attention. I did a little research about them when I got home, but didn’t really start digging deeper until my master’s program, where my research project focused on African painted dog enrichment in US zoos.
As for what keeps me passionate about them, it seems that the more I learn about them, the more I like them. Although my fascination with them initially began with their unique physical appearance, the more I learn about their social structure and behaviors, the more I want to know. They may be the “underdog,” so to speak, in relation to larger species such as African elephants, rhinos, or lions; however, they have their own charm and charisma (at least I think they do)! In addition, the passion of the people I meet who work with both zoological and free-ranging populations of painted dogs is contagious, which makes me want to do that much more to assist with painted dog conservation.
WT: What was the catalyst for writing a children’s book?
TC: I love writing, but throughout my employment and educational experience, I have always written for adults in a more technical (and probably dry) fashion. I wanted to try my hand with a different genre as a personal challenge, but also as a way to reach a different audience. Creating a story with facts incorporated throughout it allowed me to introduce a species I am excited about to other age groups. Nature is amazing, so I also hope that my book encourages both children and adults to learn more about painted dogs and the rest of the natural world.
WT: What are some of the main threats that painted dogs face?
TC: Like many species, painted dogs face multiple anthropogenic and other threats. This includes habitat fragmentation, disease (such as rabies and distemper, which can wipe out entire packs), snaring, and persecution (similar to wolves in North America and Europe).
WT: What conservation efforts are you and others doing to mitigate these threats?
TC: There are many researchers and organizations working on various aspects of these threats both here in the US and abroad. I wish I could give a shout out to all of them. However, I will say that previous and current projects include genetic studies, investigating the effects of climate change on painted dogs, anti-poaching efforts, establishing wildlife corridors both within and among countries, and educating and collaborating with landowners, local communities, and governments about painted dogs and their ecological roles.
My own research focuses on human-painted dog interactions. Human disturbance has been shown to have varying effects on wildlife, including altered reproductive and foraging behaviors, which may ultimately affect survival. I aim to determine if human disturbance at painted dog den sites affects their fitness and survival, and if so, how those detrimental effects can be mitigated.
WT: From your experience navigating the environmental book publishing process, what pearls of wisdom do you have to share with our readers, who may also be aspiring authors?
TC: I am still navigating this process. I have learned, however, to not take rejection personally, and to be my own advocate. Just because one publisher or agent is not interested in your manuscript does not mean everyone will reject it. Also, if you have had a number of rejections, but feel very strongly about your manuscript, independent publishing is always an option.
I have been absolutely amazed by the network of people I have met and the support they have offered by not being afraid to ask questions. It has resulted in me speaking to people I didn’t know, but that I can now call friends. Not only have they been generous with their time, but they have also offered resources, and have not hesitated to connect me with others they think may be of assistance. As someone who tends to take on too many tasks and expects a lot of myself, I appreciated the advice of one children’s author who reminded me: “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.” It’s okay that my website, www.tammycloutier.com, is not 100% complete with all of the educational materials that I want to add, or that I don’t know everything there is to know about marketing and self-promotion. I’m learning to take it a step at a time and set realistic goals, tasks, and timeframes.
WT: Your book sales support painted dog conservation efforts. Can you tell us more?
TC: Absolutely! All profits from the book sales will help fund my current PhD research that focuses on human-painted dog interactions as well as provide support for painted dog conservation. In regards to my research, funds will be used to purchase items that include camera traps (which are my primary data collection method), supporting equipment such as batteries, battery chargers, SD cards, protective housing for the cameras (since hyenas and other species like to chew on or play with them), and transportation costs associated with tracking painted dogs and placing the camera traps. Some of this equipment will also be utilized for future projects that may involve other collaborators. In addition to assisting with data collection, funds will also be donated to organizations that support painted dog conservation.
Bio: Tammy Cloutier is an environmental studies PhD student at Antioch University New England with a master’s degree in wildlife science and BS in psychobiology. Animals and conservation are her passion. They are what led her to pursue a career that contributes in positive ways to the lives of both humans and animals, which she plans to accomplish through her love of research, writing, and art.
Nature has always inspired and centered her – whether it is a walk through the New England woods, listening to the crash of ocean waves, or simply observing animals going about their daily lives. This pull from the natural world is also what pushes her to lend her voice for its protection and appreciation.
Aside from her PhD research that focuses on human-painted dog interactions, she recently published a children’s book called Painted Dog Pursuit. This will become a series.