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June 28, 2011

While browsing the internet in Fall 2009, animal advocate Laura Marlowe of Tarzana came upon something that would leave a lasting imprint in her mind and heart — something so unthinkable and senseless — she couldn’t let it be.

It was the story of a 10-month-old pit bull in Illinois that had been starved, beaten, whipped, burned and tied around the neck with electrical cord to confine him, then tossed in a dumpster.

“I was deeply saddened and horrified at the willful, purposeful cruelty inflicted on this poor dog, and just imagined his pain, hunger and loneliness — and I became obsessed with this story,” Marlowe says.

This led to her inquiring about the puppy, donating toward his care and keeping up with his progress long distance. “Through my concern for this dog and my obsession to help him, and my wish to thank the rescue facility for their care, all of a sudden a light went on and a vision occurred; a story formed in my mind,” she said. “I turned my pain, my anger and my obsession into a children’s book, in order to generate awareness of animal welfare and raise money for animal organizations.”

After Tommy the Throwaway Dog (as he was dubbed by his rescuers) was published in Fall 2010, Marlowe traveled to Illinois to meet every “character” from the story, including Tommy, the kind family who adopted him and the staff of Hope Animal Rescues, the foster/rescue facility that cared for him and nursed him back to health.

“Thank God for the city sanitation worker who found Tommy and immediately called 911. He’s the first angel in this story,” notes Marlowe, who made a point to call and thank him personally.

The book has been added to the catalogues of many libraries, and Marlowe does readings at schools, libraries, pet fairs and adoption events. “The children’s responses have been electrifying. I’m asked hundreds of questions, not only about Tommy himself, but about the abuser (who was only charged with misdemeanors), the police officers, and the people who took care of him at the shelter. The chidren have great empathy and want to meet Tommy,” she says.

She makes it a practice to leave out the graphic details, for which she notes the parents and children are grateful. “If they ask exactly what happened, I briefly discuss it in a gentle manner, focusing more on Tommy’s surgery and after care. I don’t like them to focus on the bad, but more on the good that people can do.” She also focuses on the value of adopting a pet over purchasing one, the role shelters play and how they rely on our generosity and kindness, which inspires the children to ask about volunteering.

“I love it that I can fuel the fire for them to share their own stories about visiting, adopting and donating to shelters,” Marlowe says. “They share both negative and positive stories about stray animals and animals that have been given to them. This generation has incredible amounts of empathy, even for dogs they've never met,” she says, and also finds that it crosses backgrounds and income levels, which she attributes to the parents and the values they teach.

“It’s heartwarming to know that many of the kids have visited shelters,” she says. They need to continue on the path and hear more about the good things that happen to needy animals thanks to kindness — and the message is not just about kindness to animals; it’s about how we all need it and we can all practice it. How all of us can give something – and how all of us can benefit from the kindness of strangers. Tommy is a symbol of the value of the kindness of strangers.”

Marlowe also wants to reach children that don’t have companion animals with Tommy’s story, and there is also a Spanish version of the story that is utilized by bilingual elementary schools in Los Angeles, as well as in Mexico. Tommy’s story has even been depicted in an L.A. school musical and a puppet show in Puerto Rico.

An animal activist since her teens, Marlowe has taken up the plight of zoo animals, seals and others in need, and has plans in the works to write more children’s stories with animal welfare themes. “I’ve always wished to be a voice for our needy animals that don’t have a voice, and want to continue,” she says.

“I can’t imagine ever feeling less saddened by what happened to this dog in the early part of his life,” she reflects. “The pictures of Tommy will haunt me forever; but even though he still has physical scars, he’s now in great health. The kindness later is what it’s all about, so I shift my focus to the good. I’m happy that he’s happy today.”

Tommy the Throwaway Dog is available through Barnes and NobleAmazon.comBooksamillion.comWalgreens/Sherman Oaks and Mirror Publishing.

Tommy the Throwaway Dog © 2010 Laura Marlowe