Jo Anna Dressler Kloster is a veteran elementary teacher, an author, a volunteer with the River Bend Community Organic Garden, and a Humane Policy Volunteer Leader with the Humane Society of the United States.
Her middle-grade novel, LILY UNLEASHED, is a coming-of-age story. It focuses on an underdog whose love inspires one girl to speak up for this puppy mill rescue and all the other dogs locked in puppy mill cages.
Ms. Kloster attends animal welfare events with her educational table and her book to inform others on how to end the puppy-mill-to-pet-store-pipeline.
Her message: Adopt don’t shop for puppies at pet stores. Wonderful dogs await you at your local shelters, rescues, and with reputable breeders.
Sherri: Welcome Jo Anna. It is so nice to have you visit my virtual café. As a dog owner, I know this book is a labor of love. Why don’t you share what inspired this book?
Jo Anna: My family had just adopted a small white puppy mill rescue dog. We had no idea what a puppy mill was. I started reading about them online and was appalled. During this time, Cagney started exhibiting behaviors I was reading that many puppy mill survivors have. So, during writer’s workshop, as I modeled the writing process for my students, I started writing about a topic I was working with every day: Cagney’s behaviors. All the while this tiny Maltese quickly became my shadow and my Velcro boy. He never left my side. And over time Cagney became my heart dog. I have never been so loved by another living creature. My husband is okay with this, too.
Well, the more I read about the inhumane treatment of dogs at puppy mills, being locked in cages 24/7, the more I fell in love with this little dog that endured such cruel treatment. Never being touched, never leaving his cage, never playing or walking on grass. His experience of living in such harsh conditions inspired me to write a book to teach kids why you don’t want to buy pet store puppies because it condemns their parents to lives locked in cages pumping out litter after litter.
Sherri: Your book is written for a younger audience, but it is a message that everyone needs to hear. Why did you choose to write a middle-grade story?
Jo Anna: Funny you should ask. My goal was to simply write a good story. And then I realized how much kids want to make a difference and feel they have the power to be the change they want to see in the world. I could not find a book that talked about the problem of pet store puppies and the inhumane treatment of puppy mills. So I decided to write one, and make it a middle-grade novel. Though, I’ve had as many adults read Lily Unleashed and felt they learned a lot. It certainly kept their attention. So I guess I achieved my goal.
Sherri: What can a fictional story do that preaching the truth cannot? Why is this the best medium to get your message out?
Jo Anna: That’s a great question. In this fictional story, I am able to flesh out the problem and a solution wrapped in characters that, hopefully, face challenges to overcome that the reader can identify with. This fictional story allows me to add more drama and problems that will grab the reader.
Sherri: What was the hardest thing you faced when publishing this story?
Jo Anna: I’d say the hardest things was not sounding too preachy. I had to step into the shoes of a twelve year old again. And it was actually fun. Getting lost in that world. But I had to ask myself all along this story…how would 12 year old Lily say this? Or how would Renzo handle that situation?
Sherri: Do you have plans to write another story? What are you working on now?
Jo Anna: I am thinking about writing a sequel – on another issue about animal welfare. Possibly the problem of people not spaying or neutering their pets and how that contributes to overcrowding at animal shelters. Or possibly the topic of factory farming and the treatment of pigs, chickens, and dairy cows and how they are treated.
Sherri: Jo Anna, thank you for writing this story and joining us at Creekside Café. If you all enjoyed this interview and would like to get Jo Anna’s book and talk to her in person, you can find her at the Book Festival, Sunday, November 20th, 1 to 4 pm at the New Bern Farmers Market.
More info can be found below about her work: