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Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Guest Post: The Healing Role Animals Can Play in Our Lives by Lynn Austin, Author of Long Way Home

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I'm excited to share this guest post from Lynn Austin with you all today. She is the author of many novels, most recently Long Way Home. Below you'll find her article as well as more info on her new book and links. Hope you enjoy!


The Healing Role Animals Can Play in Our Lives

Anyone who has ever adopted a pet knows the comfort, companionship, and love these faithful friends offer us. Animals have an uncanny understanding of their beloved owners’ hearts and can respond in amazing ways when we’re hurting. Whether it’s a therapy dog making a hospital visit, horses helping autistic children, or petting farms for adults and children with special needs, animals are well-recognized for the healing roles they play.

I was remembering some very special pets in my life when writing my newest novel, Long Way Home. A stray dog named Buster is one of the novel’s main characters, playing a healing role in the life of his heartbroken owner, Peggy Serrano. Here’s her story in her own words:

The bedraggled stray showed up out of nowhere nine years ago when I was eleven, barely a week after Mama’s funeral. . . . If you could have seen that dog back then, you wouldn’t wonder why everyone in town chased away his mangy hide. But I cleaned him up, took care of him, and fed him, and he turned out to be a real nice dog. . . . Buster and I became best friends. He was all I had, really, in the way of friends. I liked to think Mama was looking down at me from heaven and that she sent Buster to me.

In writing about Peggy and Buster I thought of my younger sister and her cocker spaniel, Lady. The little dog joined our family after being rescued from an abusive owner and was very shy at first. Not long after we adopted Lady, my mother became ill with tuberculosis and needed to be hospitalized for nearly a year. My two sisters and I went to live with our grandparents and were not allowed to visit Mom. My younger sister, who was only three years old at the time, grieved terribly for her mommy. But Lady seemed to understand her sorrow and quickly became her constant companion, always by her side, comforting her when no one else could. The special bond between them lasted long after we were happily reunited with our mother, and we never forgot that very special dog.

The stray dog Buster has another healing role to play in Long Way Home. He and his owner, Peggy, have a longtime friend, Jimmy Barnett, who lives in the house across the street. Jimmy served as an Army medic during World War II but suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome after returning home. He is admitted to a veterans’ hospital after attempting suicide and doesn’t respond to anyone. Peggy is desperate to help her friend and decides to sneak Buster onto the hospital grounds with the help of Jimmy’s Army buddy Joe. Peggy tells us what happens next: 

I was shocked to find Jimmy seated in a wheelchair this time. I crouched in front of him. . . . “Hi, Jimmy. It’s me, Peggety. I thought we could go outside again, okay? I have a surprise for you.” It turned out that the wheelchair made it easy for me to maneuver Jimmy to the rear of the little park by myself. I spotted Joe and Buster sneaking their way along the edge of the hospital grounds and hoped that none of the orderlies did. I parked Jimmy’s chair at the very end of the sidewalk and turned it so Jimmy could see them coming, then crouched beside him. . . . [Joe] let go of Buster’s leash and the dog bounded toward us in his lopsided, zigzagging run. He went straight to Jimmy, planted his front paws on his chest, and licked his face as if it was covered with ice cream. Jimmy made an odd, strangled sound and I tried to pull Buster away—then realized it was laughter! Jimmy was laughing!

“Down, boy. That’s enough,” I said after a few moments. Buster calmed down enough to sit at Jimmy’s feet with his head on his knees, while Jimmy stroked him and scratched behind his huge ears.

It was a wonderful, breakthrough moment for Jimmy, made possible by the love of a faithful dog. Our pets have that soothing, healing power. A few years ago, my daughter and her husband adopted a rescue cat named Dexter. Their patience and love transformed him from an aggressive, nearly wild cat into a much-loved family member. When my granddaughter Lyla was born, we all wondered how this rambunctious cat would adapt to a newborn vying for his owners’ attention. We needn’t have worried. This once-unlovable animal soon became Lyla’s steadfast friend and guardian.

I babysat for Lyla when her parents went to the hospital to give birth to her younger sister. Lyla awoke in the night, crying inconsolably, and I couldn’t calm her. Then Dexter jumped onto her bed, rubbing against her and purring like a motorboat. Amazingly, the cat was able to soothe Lyla’s tears. She lay down again, hugging Dexter like a teddy bear, and fell asleep.

I’m guessing any pet owner could tell a dozen stories like these. But my own special memories have convinced me that animals like Dexter and Lady—and my fictitious dog Buster—have the ability to bring comfort and healing when we need it the most.

About the Author

Lynn Austin has sold more than one and a half million copies of her books worldwide. A former teacher who now writes and speaks full-time, she has won eight Christy Awards for her historical fiction and was one of the first inductees into the Christy Award Hall of Fame. One of her novels, Hidden Places, was made into a Hallmark Channel Original Movie. Lynn and her husband have three grown children and make their home in western Michigan. Visit her online at lynnaustin.org.

About Long Way Home:

In this gripping portrait of war and its aftermath from bestselling author Lynn Austin, a young woman searches for the truth her childhood friend won’t discuss after returning from World War II, revealing a story of courage, friendship, and faith.

Peggy Serrano couldn’t wait for her best friend to come home from the war. But the Jimmy Barnett who returns is much different from the Jimmy who left, changed so drastically by his experience as a medic in Europe that he can barely function. When he attempts the unthinkable, his parents check him into the VA hospital. Peggy determines to help the Barnetts unravel what might have happened to send their son over the edge. She starts by contacting Jimmy’s war buddies, trying to identify the mysterious woman in the photo they find in Jimmy’s belongings.

Seven years earlier, sensing the rising tide against her people, Gisela Wolff and her family flee Germany aboard the passenger ship St. Louis, bound for Havana, Cuba. Gisela meets Sam Shapiro on board and the two fall quickly in love. But the ship is denied safe harbor and sent back to Europe. Thus begins Gisela’s perilous journey of exile and survival, made possible only by the kindness and courage of a series of strangers she meets along the way, including one man who will change the course of her life.


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Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. ~ Philippians 4:8

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