Animal advocate Jennifer Skiff turned to writing inspirational books more than a decade ago following a career as a journalist that included working for CNN as a correspondent and producer.
Her first work, published in 2008, was “God Stories: Inspiring Encounters with the Divine,” in which she describes her “miraculous recovery” from bone marrow cancer at the age of 32. She will discuss her third and latest book, “Rescuing Ladybugs: Inspirational Encounters with Animals that Changed the World,” during an appearance today at Explore Booksellers starting at 5:30 p.m. Published last year, “Rescuing Ladybugs” highlights people who found themselves in unexpected situations in which their compassion for animals led to instances of rescue.
Skiff is a trustee of the Dogs’ Refuge Home, a no-kill animal shelter in Australia. She also works with other charities to help abused and abandoned animals. The Aspen Daily News caught up with Skiff, a resident of Maine and Australia, in between her hikes on local trails this week.
Aspen Daily News: Give me a brief synopsis of the book you will feature, "Rescuing Ladybugs.” Is it a personal work in that the encounters are yours, or do they concern the experiences of others?
Jennifer Skiff:“Rescuing Ladybugs” is a combination of memoir and true stories of global heroes I’ve met while advocating for animals. It’s about the moments they chose not to look away from seemingly impossible-to-change situations and instead, had an encounter with another species that changed their life. In their work to protect that species, we learn how they changed the world for the better for all of us.
ADN: From what I’ve read about your background, this book and others that you’ve authored relate to your compassion for animals. At what point in your life did you develop this feeling about animals? Is it an inherent part of your persona or did it develop over time? When did you know that your stories about animals would be your “life’s calling?”
JS: Throughout our lives we’re presented with choices. The paths we take often define who we are and most often, enlighten us to our purpose. I grew up engulfed in love from dogs. They were often there for me when people weren’t. It was natural for me to empathize with their plight and want to protect them when I grew up. And then, in 1998, I met a bear in Laos (whose story I tell in the book) and it became clear that my work to help animals must include all species.
ADN: Are you in Aspen to promote your work, or are you here for leisure, with this event being something you’ve been asked to do in your spare time? Did you already have an understanding, prior to coming here, that many in our community of Aspen share your intense passion for animals?
JS: When I’m on a book tour I usually visit places where I have friends. I have great friends in Aspen! Over the past few days I’ve hiked and explored with them and now see why so many call it one of the most beautiful places on earth. Truly, I wasn’t aware of the intense passion people here have for animals but it makes sense when nature is your cathedral.
ADN: Your second book, “The Divinity of Dogs: True Stories of Miracles Inspired by Man’s Best Friend,” was published in 2012. Having not read it, I have to wonder: Are we talking about actual “miracles” here that might be ascribed to a higher power, or are we simply talking about great things that dogs might have the ability to do, such as rescuing a sleeping owner from the threat of fire by waking them up in time?
JS: Many of us see animals as being a conduit for messages that are divine. “The Divinity of Dogs” is true stories of modern-day miracles inspired by dogs. Yes, it’s dogs saving their guardians from fire, intervening during suicide attempts, detecting cancer and being the heroes they generally are.
ADN: Many people believe that the world is overpopulated by animals, especially common pets such as dogs and cats, and that more should be done to limit and regulate breeding. What’s your opinion of efforts to create laws that seek to regulate the breeding of animals for profit? What do you advocate?
JS: According to the Humane Society of the United States, there are more than 10,000 puppy mills in the USA. These mills glut an already saturated dog market with millions of dogs every year. The path forward to ending the unnecessary euthanasia of healthy dogs — at this point in time — is a team effort that includes sterilizing pets and shutting down puppy mills. In my opinion, there is no reason that millions of taxpayers, nonprofit animal shelters, volunteers — and most importantly the innocents who are euthanized — should pay the price for those who profit on the backs of these helpless dogs [and cats]. I advocate and work to see a shuttering of all puppy mills.
ADN: If you ever met Michael Vick, what would you say to him?
JS: What a question. If I were placed in the position of having to speak with Michael Vick, I would take the opportunity to tell them that in addition to the pain he caused to the innocent dogs he tortured, he caused many millions of people immense suffering, including me. I would tell him that I’m proud of those people who used his acts of horror as a conduit for change. And, I’d pass on the good news that last month, the United States outlawed dogfighting and cockfighting in U.S. territories — something I’m proud to have worked to make happen with many other advocates.