Willy’s Legacy

Left to Right: Martha, Gary, Emily Brown with Willy. Photo courtesy Gary Brown.

Never underestimate the power of a good dog story.

On a hot summer day in 1998, “Willy,” a black English Cocker Spaniel, was running along Route 54 overlooking Keuka Lake. He was spotted by Gary and Martha Brown and their son, who brought him to their home. The true story of that rescue – and the transformative power of a loving home on a young dog’s life – is told in a new children’s book, Willy of the Crooked Lake. Proceeds from the book’s sales are among the fundraising initiatives supporting the completion of a new animal shelter in Bath.

“The book was a rather sudden inspiration, simply based on the experience of finding Willy, and then watching him get healthy and become a part of our family,” recalls first-time children’s book author Gary Brown, a retired Congregational minister and Corning native. “I intended to make this a fundraiser for the Finger Lakes SPCA from the beginning, but by the time the book was ready to be published, the FLSPCA had developed this new farm and ambitious new shelter facility that required lots of fundraising. By then, both my wife and my dog had died, which made the book project a perfect memorial for Martha and for Willy.”

After rescuing the dog, the Browns called a Bath radio station that alerts listeners to missing or found animals, and Willy’s owner was located. The dog, less than 2 years old, needed more care than his owner could provide so the Browns bought him. Willy enjoyed a happy life at their lakefront home and lived close to 16 years.

Artwork and text portray a profound bond

Through the author’s simple prose and the captivating illustrations of Bonnie Brooke Mitchell, the book shows how Willy survived and thrived. “The artwork and text fit together well,” says Brown, who, along with Mitchell, underwrote the book’s production costs.

“It was a perfect collaboration,” agrees artist Mitchell. A longtime family friend of the Browns from White Plains, New York, she met them in the 1970s at a church where she worshiped and Gary ministered. When Gary began to plan a storybook about Willy, he and his wife approached Mitchell to illustrate it. Visits to Keuka Lake fueled Mitchell’s familiarity with Willy’s life at the “Crooked Lake.”

“I enjoyed being with them and taking long walks along the lakeside road when I was a very happy house guest, and I took many photos then,” she explains. Her drawings reflect how Willy was adored by Martha. “The bond was profound. Willy was super-sweet and returned Martha’s love completely.”

Martha is described in the book as “the woman with the kind face.”

Vicki Mosgrove, FLSPCA’s executive director, has been with the organization for 25 years, and loves the book’s theme. “The story of Willy does so much to teach compassion and empathy to young children, and that, to us, does much to prevent the potential of animal cruelty.”

Book sales have been robust. By early spring, 500 copies had been distributed with $12,000 in donations. The response helped meet the challenge of a $25,000 matching grant to the new shelter campaign.

The book is suitable for children aged 4 to 6 years, but is enjoyed by many adults, especially at Brown’s book signings. As a minister, he developed strong communication skills by writing church newsletters, sermons, prayers and other worship materials. Storytelling for youngsters was often incorporated into his sermons and worship services.

The book went through revisions as it gathered feedback from Brown’s children and grandchildren. Mercury Print in Rochester handled the desired wide layout with pages measuring 22 inches across when open. “The importance of the road in the story led me to choose the landscape format with pages opening to feature a long stretch of road,” explains Mitchell.

The New Shelter

“We couldn’t be more grateful,” says Mosgrove of the book’s contribution to the new shelter. The FLSPCA campaign has raised over $1.7 million, reaching approximately 67 percent of its goal. It has allowed for the purchase of River’s Edge Farm and the construction of a handsome insulated shelter with red steel siding, white window frames, and gray panelized stone masonry wainscoting. The heating system and septic system are installed, all the wall studs are in place, but nearly $500,000 is still needed for the interior finish out.

Until then, the society’s current shelter on State Route 54 continues to house homeless animals from around Steuben County, one of the state’s largest counties, as well as those from the surrounding Finger Lakes Region. Built more than 60 years ago as a veterinary clinic, it was designed to accommodate an animal for one to three days. Today, as a shelter, the small enclosures are too cramped for the length of stays that average 30 days or more. The facility holds 40 to 50 cats plus 20 dogs, but with limited separation between their housing areas. The small building has little parking and is difficult to maintain. It also lacks soundproofing and air conditioning which hinders visitor and animal interaction – key to finding new owners.

Despite the challenges, there is optimism. The River’s Edge Farm with 33 acres was bought in 2008 and FLSPCA moved its administrative office into an existing farmhouse a little over a year later. The historic location has links to Bath’s founding families, the Camerons and the Davenports. From the post-Civil War era to the 1950s, a home for female orphans was located on Cameron Street, and the farm provided provisions for residents. In more recent times, D.H. Rumsey, whose name is still visible on the gambrel barn, used the buildings for various animals.

The new shelter, nearly 6,000 square feet, has been designed for efficiency, featuring more spacious and home-like animal enclosures to accommodate an increase of 20 percent more animals. Its architect, William B. Daggett, Jr., AIA, from Charlottesville, Virginia, specializes in animal shelters. Light streams in through windows and doors, which provide views of surrounding pastures and lawns. The floor plan includes separate adoption and admission lobbies, and areas for examinations and isolation when needed. An air exchange system provides fresh air.

“The building was designed with the professional guidance of lead veterinarians and the medical support staff of Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine,” explains Mosgrove.

The River’s Edge Farm location is busy offering FLSPCA programs which aim to keep animals from needing to be sheltered. These include canine training classes, wellness clinics and spay/neuter clinics, among others. There may be the occasional horse on the grounds because it is the only shelter in its area that provides some emergency rescue and housing for equines. “We rescue, rehabilitate and re-home equine animal cruelty victims,” explains Mosgrove.

“There are many things that are special about our organization, but my favorite thing is that each homeless animal that comes through our door is valued and treated as individual and special – as they all are,” says Mosgrove. “Additionally, our nonprofit organization feels so very fortunate and grateful to be located in a community that is so supportive and that makes the difficult and demanding work of helping to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves possible. The successes of our shelter are a direct reflection of all the support we receive from our community.”

William B. Daggett, Jr., AIA, from Charlottesville, Virginia, specializes in animal shelters. Light streams in through windows and doors, which provide views of surrounding pastures and lawns. The floor plan includes separate adoption and admission lobbies, and areas for examinations and isolation, when needed. An air exchange system provides fresh air.

“The building was designed with the professional guidance of lead veterinarians and the medical support staff of Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine,” explains Mosgrove.

The River’s Edge Farm location is busy offering FLSPCA programs which aim to keep animals from needing to be sheltered. These include canine training classes, wellness clinics and spay/neuter clinics, among others. There may be the occasional horse on the grounds because it is the only shelter in its area that provides some emergency rescue and housing for equines. “We rescue, rehabilitate and re-home equine animal cruelty victims,” explains Mosgrove.

“There are many things that are special about our organization, but my favorite thing is that each homeless animal that comes through our door is valued and treated as individual and special – as they all are,” says Mosgrove.  “Additionally, our nonprofit organization feels so very fortunate and grateful to be located in a community that is so supportive and that makes the difficult and demanding work of helping to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves possible. The successes of our shelter are a direct reflection of all the support we receive from our community.”

 

Willy

Where to find “Willy of the Crooked Lake”:

Both FLSPCA locations in Bath
7315 State Route 54 and 72 Cameron Street,

Bath Veterinary Hospital
154 E. Morris St., Bath

Two shops in Hammondsport
Shethar 57, 57 Shethar Street and Finger Lakes Fiber Art, 67 Shethar Streets

At fingerlakesspca.org. Use PayPal or print the order form. Enclose a $15 donation for each book, or credit card information, and mail toFLSPCA, 72 Cameron St., Bath, NY 14810.

 


For information about FLSPCA

programs, shelter services, volunteer opportunities, hours, and how to donate to the new shelter’s completion and future endowment:

Web: fingerlakesspca.org

E-mail: info@fingerlakesspca.org

Phone: (607) 622-5363

 


Story by Laurel C. Wemett