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l a n io t i d n o c Un Don Landy's three books discuss the life-changing love humans and their pets share. P unta Gorda author Don Landy’s dog Sabrina changed his life in more ways than he could have ever imagined. As a cat breeder, Landy and his wife, Carla, never saw dogs as a part of their lives. At the time, Landy was a “high-powered, cross-continent-traveling automotive executive.” While inching home one snowy day in Nashville, Tenn. after a business trip, he was greeted on the long driveway to his house by a large golden dog. His wife said that “the very large, tired and hungry dog” had shown up a few days before and continued to hang around the house. The dog was extremely friendly, but because of the cats he had inside, it seemed like a bad idea to bring the dog into their home. He searched for a good home for the abandoned dog. As luck would have it, a great home was found, with an autistic boy whose mother had answered the ad. Unexpectedly, the moment the dog left for its new home, Landy regretted it. He even tried to persuade the new owner to return the dog, but her son had formed a strong bond already, and she did not want to upset her child. So, Landy went on a search to adopt a new “family member.” He found Sabrina, a German Shepard, and his life was changed forever. He and his wife loved their cats; they loved going to cat shows and cherished the strong bonds formed with those cats. But this dog? It got to him. ³ Story by Robin Gardner Photography by Sue Paquin & Don and Carla Landy Sabrina taught the Landys so much more about life than they expected. H ARBOR STYLE | 73

Unconditional

Robin Gardner

Don Landy's three books discuss the lifechanging love humans and their pets share.

Punta Gorda author Don Landy’s dog Sabrina changed his life in more ways than he could have ever imagined. As a cat breeder, Landy and his wife, Carla, never saw dogs as a part of their lives.

At the time, Landy was a “high-powered, cross-continent-traveling automotive executive.” While inching home one snowy day in Nashville, Tenn. After a business trip, he was greeted on the long driveway to his house by a large golden dog. His wife said that “the very large, tired and hungry dog” had shown up a few days before and continued to hang around the house.

The dog was extremely friendly, but because of the cats he had inside, it seemed like a bad idea to bring the dog into their home. He searched for a good home for the abandoned dog. As luck would have it, a great home was found, with an autistic boy whose mother had answered the ad.

Unexpectedly, the moment the dog left for its new home, Landy regretted it. He even tried to persuade the new owner to return the dog, but her son had formed a strong bond already, and she did not want to upset her child.

So, Landy went on a search to adopt a new “family member.” He found Sabrina, a German Shepard, and his life was changed forever. He and his wife loved their cats; they loved going to cat shows and cherished the strong bonds formed with those cats. But this dog? It got to him.

An Unconditional Love

It’s hard to tell if a pet owner picks their pet, or the pet picks the owner. Either way, Sabrina came into their lives and taught the Landys so much more about life than they expected.

Eleven years later, Sabrina taught them perhaps the most important lesson of life…grieving.

“It just about tore me apart,” Landy said. “I wrote a lengthy letter to myself the night she went to sleep in my lap about all the things she meant to me.”

That special relationship with Sabrina, and the letter he wrote, would lead to a special project. About a year later, he found the letter and thought, why not try to write a book? That letter became his first book, Unconditional Love. It not just a happy story of dog ownership. The book tells the story of the loss of a pet, what it takes to understand that loss and the importance of working through it.

Sabrina battled some very debilitating illnesses throughout her life. She wasn’t even expected to live long. In the end, she didn’t just survive for 11 years, she lived every day with the zeal of a puppy. Everyone who met her loved her. Her bravery throughout all her struggles taught Landy learned the real meaning of courage, and when she died, she taught him the importance of allowing yourself to grieve.

“What I learned as a result is about grief and grieving, the loss of a pet, what it takes to understand it and how to work your way through it,” he said. “I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t get over it.”

He found the Iams Pet Food Support Line.

“A fellow by the name of Mitch, a counselor there, got on the phone with my wife and I. We talked for over an hour. We talked, we cried. We couldn’t understand what was happening to us,” he said.

When they were through talking, Mitch told him, “Whenever you feel like talking, please call back.” Landy did call back – several times. Landy then followed up that first book about the unconditional love he shared with Sabrina with two more stories. The second book deals, again, with pain and grief.

After that huge hole in his heart was created by Sabrina’s loss, he had that feeling that many pet owners have after losing their best friend… “never again.”

Well, Landy “did again,” but only after taking the time to properly grieve for Sabrina, really working through his pain and feelings of loss. Mitch had told him that when the feeling was right, he would know it.

At first, he was resistant – finding another German Shepard was out of the question. Was he ready? Was it too soon? Would he be thinking too often of Sabrina? But Mitch was right, and with the encouragement of his wife, Landy moved forward with another dog, welcoming Tia, a German Shepard, into the family.

Tia was a good dog who filled up his heart quickly, and for four years their bond grew strong. He could put the loss of Sabrina in the right place, deep in his heart where he could always cherish their time together.

Tia would bring back his joy, and he was grateful for her unconditional love. And then, shock and sadness hit the Landys when just four years after they brought Tia home, she was diagnosed with inoperable cancer and given only a 10 percent chance to live six to eight months.

They were heartbroken, but through their unwavering support, great care and an unwillingness to accept that fate for Tia, she became their miracle. “Tia overcame more than 20 months of chemotherapy and medications,” Landy said. “It looked like she was going into total remission.”

Tia turned 10 last March.

And so his second book became A Letter to Tia, but really, it’s the thoughts and feelings he was holding onto as he helped his dog navigate her illness – confronting the grief he felt and keeping the hope that everything will be all right.

“It talks about the pain when you realize you may lose your pet, but it’s not just a pet –it’s a member of your family,” Landy said.

The message he really wants to offer people reading A Letter to Tia is that just because you are told that your pet may very well die, “don’t throw in the towel.”

“We got pet insurance when we got Tia, and it really came in handy,” he said.

Getting the Word Out

It’s funny how obstacles can land in your lap and cause your life to take unexpected turns. The Landys were cat people, who, by fate, also became dog people. Landy was a corporate executive who took early retirement to enjoy life, but, as fate would have it, became an author and a sort of pet grief counselor.

That is the true legacy of the pets he has loved. The pets we all love. They make their way into your life, take over your heart, and lead you on a great adventure that will forever leave you changed, hopefully for the better.

He sent his first book to Proctor & Gamble and explained to them how helpful it was to be able to reach out to the Iams Pet Food Support Line.

“It really saved my life mentally,” he said. “And nobody knows it exists.”

He asked them to read his book and maybe there would be a way for them to work together. And with that, P&G invited Landy and his wife to the International Dog Show.

“We met. We talked, but nothing really happened,” he said.

So, after he wrote A Letter to Tia, he contacted them again, and again tried to explain how their support line brought him through such a dark time.

“Every six seconds of every day, a dog or cat is put down and someone is realizing they haven’t lost just a dog or cat, but they’ve lost a family member,” he said. “They don’t understand why they are feeling so down and depressed. So torn up.”

Two years after they went to the first dog show, P&G suggested they go back again.

“They gave us a booth and told us to tell our story to everyone who came up,” he said.

According to Landy, there were more than 100,000 people in attendance.

“We had a great time. We sold a lot of books, met a lot of people that had lost their pets,” he said. “We ended up becoming their spokespersons for pet loss.”

A year ago, the couple traveled to New York and met with more than 200 media personnel from radio, television and print to talk about pet loss and his books. Landy was given the opportunity to tell his story to a national audience and even wrote a piece for the USA Today Magazine.

“It really opened some doors up for us on the national level. What I really wanted to do was get my message out to people that there are steps you can take to understand pet loss,” he said.

“There are also steps you can take to get over it, and there are people out there who can help you. Don’t just sit in a corner and cry over the loss of your loved one. There is a lifetime of amazing memories to cherish.”

A Lighter, Funnier Tale

What would be the inspiration for a third book?

When Landy sat down at his computer, working on a novel he started many years ago, he wasn’t quite feeling it that day. So instead he started to think about his favorite cat, a very special chestnut Oriental shorthair cat that was born with a heart murmur. His name was Charlie Brown, after the character in Charles Schultz comic strip Peanuts.

“The vet told us don’t put him to sleep, but to enjoy him for as long as we have him,” he said. “We wouldn’t treat him as if he had one foot in the grave. We were going to have fun. We are going to take the show circuit by storm.”

But as a young cat, Charlie, just like his namesake, was the consummate loser.

“He never finaled [won]. He was the laughing stock of the show circuit,” Landy said.

When he was an adult cat, Landy decided to try again, even though everyone in the cat show world snickered at him. This time, however, the loser became a winner. Charlie went on to be the second-best cat in the Western US. He missed first by five points.

Charlie was one of those cats who was gifted with an outgoing personality. One of the favorite memories Landy has is sharing a piece of carrot cake, Charlie’s favorite treat, at the cat shows.

Charlie’s life story would make a great third book, Landy thought, and a great way to honor his friend. “We had a lot of fun.”

Oh No, Charlie, Not Again is a lighter, funnier tale than the other two books. At first, Landy wrote because it gave him an outlet for his emotions. “I never expected to write,” he said. “I always tell teachers I meet at shows that they need to teach their kids the importance of writing. It will take them so far in the future if they can put it to good use.”

Hearing his story, it all becomes so clear, how all these different pets that found their way into Landy’s life changed him.

“Having those pets come into my life is the best thing that ever happened to me,” he said, “No matter what you do to a pet, their love will always be unconditional.”

All of Landy’s books can purchased on Amazon.com or on his website, www.Adognamedsabrina.net.

Read the full article at http://trendmag2.trendoffset.com/article/Unconditional/2834558/424397/article.html.

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