GRAND RAPIDS - Every once in a while, a dog story so special will captivate hearts everywhere, even ones not fond of canine tales.
|Carole Sarkand with her book "And Candy Smiled" and her dog, Candy. (Photo: Enoch Wu/Sentinel-Tribune)
Think of the four-footed travelers in "The Incredible Journey," Rin Tin Tin, Balto, Marley.
Candy is one of those stories.
She was always a special springer spaniel, but when tragedy struck - and then Candy overcame it in spectacular fashion - her owner decided her tale needed to be told.
"And Candy Smiled," written by Kenwood fourth-grade teacher Carole Sarkan, is due out this month
It's easy to see why the Sarkans fell in love with the puppy 11 years ago. The dog fixes her visitors with an intent stare, bounds ahead to rooms then looks back expectantly to see if her guests are following. She races up stairs, howls hello and barks obediently - if not a little impatiently - for treats.
Candy came to the Sarkans at just a few weeks old in June 2001. She immediately made her puppy print on the household, chewing through anything she could sink her teeth into: Kleenex, socks, a pan of brownies.
"She was very ornery," Sarkan said. "She ate toothpaste! She's an escape artist, too."
Spunky Candy also flunked out of puppy school, dashing Sarkan's hopes that she would become a therapy dog.
"She would get out of the yard underneath the fence that wasn't fixed. … It only happened twice before the accident."
When Candy was four, Sarkan remembers getting the heart-stopping call from her husband, Mark: "come home. Candy's been hit."
Dr. William Lutz at Whitehouse Animal Hospital saved Candy's life, Sarkan said, and tried to save her front left leg.
Even before Candy started the healing process, Sarkan felt a call to write a book about the experience. Lutz, she said, writes children's books and the week Candy had her leg amputated, she met author Sandra Phillipson. Phillipson was visiting Crim Elementary, where Sarkan was teaching, talking about her springer spaniel, Annie, who had also lost a leg.
"It was like it was meant to be, and there was divine intervention everywhere."
Candy's healing process was a painful one. She had to re-learn how to walk, manage the stairs, and relieve herself. The dog would stare out into the backyard of the Sarkans' Front Street home, seemingly watching her former worn circle path around the outside of the yard grow over.
"One day, I'll never forget this … she finally got up and ran through the yard," Sarkan said. "She started making her path again. It was three to four weeks later."
The pull to write about Candy kept growing.
"I had to do something to celebrate her life and not just hers, but others who feel like that they can't go on - there's hope."
While recovering from surgery last year, she took the framework and crafted the whole story. She also recruited Emily Christoff Flowers, who lives in Virginia but has many ties to Northwest Ohio, to illustrate.
The result is a captivating story about a dog growing up through the seasons, losing her leg, then learning to live again, also through fall, winter, spring and summer. The girl in the book is modeled after Sarkan's daughter, Christine, and the family's cats also make an appearance.
Christoff Flowers' pictures are elegantly bold, extremely detailed and breathtakingly real. Candy's brown and white wavy fur shines on the pages. Sarkan hopes her friend is eventually nominated for a Caldecott Medal, which is awarded to the best illustrator of children's books.
"And Candy Smiled" is dedicated to Brock Bushman, a student she met at Crim. The 11-year-old died of a tumor in May.
Sarkan has already written her next book, "Aunt Mary's Pottery" and Christoff Flowers is on board to illustrate again.
Look for "And Candy Smiled," published by Dog Ear Publishing, on amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com. Sarkan and Christoff Flowers are also on facebook. She plans on signing copies of the book Sept. 8 at Grounds for Thought during the Black Swamp Arts Festival.
On YouTube: www.youtube.com/watch?v=pfrmGn7zQls