UA Little Rock alumnae publish book of stories of Arkansas rescue dogs

Erin Wood and Grace Vest

Grace Vest owes a lot to the many four-legged friends she has adopted and fostered over the years. 

The most memorable event for Vest, a 2015 mass communication graduate of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, was a chance encounter that led to meeting her husband.

“When I was 19, I rescued a dog called Rascal,” Vest said. “I went to Murray Park in Little Rock and met a guy with a rescue dog named Jake. Seven years later, we are married.”

Now Vest, a marketing coordinator for Team SI, is sharing her love of dogs by creating a book, “Arkansas Rescue Dogs and Their Stories,” and donating a portion of the profits to animal rescue groups.

Erin Wood, a fellow UA Little Rock graduate and co-owner of Et Alia Press, which specializes in books on local histories, emerging artists, and health and wellness, is publishing the book.

Box Turtle, 2616 Kavanaugh Blvd. in Little Rock, will host a launch party during First Thursday Shop n’ Sip from 6-9 p.m. Nov. 2. Partygoers will have the opportunity to meet rescue dogs featured in the book and check out dogs available for adoption from Rock City Rescue.

Another event will be hosted by Bark Bar, 1201 S. Spring St. in Little Rock, from 1-3 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 11.

Legacy of love

Vest’s father instilled in her from a young age a love of working with animals.

“My dad would take us to shelters and teach us that happiness doesn’t come from extravagant trips,” she said. “You can get a rescue animal and bring it home.”

After receiving some inspiration from “The Dogist,” a popular blog that photographs and documents the stories of dogs, Vest decided to write a book that documents the lives of rescue dogs in Arkansas.

“This is the love story of my love for animals,” Vest said. “I’ve always volunteered at rescue organizations. I just wanted to find a special way to help dogs in need and show my passion. That is what inspired me to do this book.”

Vest found a love of writing during her days at UA Little Rock when she worked for Trojan Athletics and wrote for the university’s newspaper, The Forum.

“My favorite thing about UA Little Rock was the culture,” she said. “It was very laid back. I loved being involved in athletics, and all of my teachers were just amazing. I am still friends with many of them.”

In October 2016, Vest put out a call for stories about rescue dogs on the Internet and received more than 560 submissions. As she was looking for a publisher, Emese Boone, the owner of Box Turtle, introduced Vest to Wood, who was immediately interested in joining the project.

“I could tell that Grace was a go-getter and had a firm idea,” Wood recalled. “My best friend was a 138-pound bull mastiff, and I still miss him every day, five years after he passed away. I was moved reading the dogs’ stories.”

Wood first got experience editing publications while working for UA Little Rock’s literary magazine, “Quills and Pixels.” Wood’s professors were of great help with her graduate experience in the professional and technical writing program. One of her professors, Dr. George Jensen, former chair of the Department of Rhetoric and Writing, is also a partner in Et Alia Press.

“The support and encouragement of the professors and graduates sticks with me,” Wood said. “I love maintaining those connections. We support each other in our pursuits.”

Vest’s book includes heartwarming stories of dogs in Arkansas. There is the tale of Frankie, a dog found in a shopping center parking lot in Little Rock that would go on to become the first dog trained to detect thyroid cancer through a sniff of his nose.  

Steve and Judy Ostrowski adopted Rocky after Steve found him abandoned while deployed to Louisiana with the Arkansas National Guard after Hurricane Katrina. Tripp was fortunate enough to survive and be adopted by Anna Serpente after a puppy mill locked Tripp and other puppies in an abandoned school bus and left the animals to die.

Priscilla Louise, a dog found abandoned in a box at 10 weeks old, grew up to be a therapy dog at Arkansas Children’s Hospital as part of the Therapeutic Animal Interventions Lifts Spirits (TAILS) program. Priscilla’s owner, Rennie Karnovich, moved to Phoenix in 2016 so Priscilla could work at Phoenix Children’s Hospital.

Vest and Wood hope that the book will inspire people to rescue, and adopt dogs, and to support rescue organizations in Arkansas.

“I had nights where I would go to bed crying from some of these stories,” Vest said. “But they all have happy endings, and the dogs all ended up in good homes. I hope all the rescue dogs in Arkansas will go to loving homes.”

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