By JACKIE MOE
Lisa Wiehebrink is on a double mission to change the world for both children and their furry friends.
The Orange County-based author and founder of the Tails That Teach non-profit, an organization dedicated to educating youth on the importance of kind and gentle treatment of pets and people, believes that by teaching kids to care for their pet with love and empathy, they will grow to practice those qualities through adulthood.
Wiehebrink wrote two children’s books “Gray Whiskers” and “Love Me Gently,” to educate kids about kindness towards their pets and people, as well as partners with schools, shelters and local and national organizations to spread the word of kindness and empowering children to make good choices as they learn the responsibilities of caring for a puppy. She is also the founder of National Rescue Dog Day, to bring awareness to the countless number of dogs in shelters waiting to be adopted, promote humane education for young children, and encourage spaying and neutering.
Wiehebrink is the wife of KTLA meteorologist and sportscaster Henry DiCarlo, mother of two sons Henry III and Jack, and a Cal State Fullerton alumni. Backstage SoCal chatted with her about the Tails That Teach organization, her book series and her mission to make the world a kinder place.
What inspired you to write the “Love Me Gently” and “Gray Whiskers” books?
I witnessed a young boy pulling his puppy roughly with its leash and explained to him that it probably wouldn’t feel good if someone was doing the same to him. Innocently, he responded with, “I didn’t think of that way.” It was at that point that I realized the profound connection between animals and people and there was a need for books that taught children life lessons of kindness, compassion, and empathy in a way they could easily relate. The books parallel needs of people and pets, which are often very much the same.
Can you share a moment in “Love Me Gently” and/or “Gray Whiskers” that you feel has the strongest impact on your readers?
I use repetitive phrases in my books to keep children engaged while reading. The very first time I read to a classroom, the kids unexpectedly began repeating the phrase, “and that makes him happy,” along with me and it was at that time that I realized the importance of my message.
In what ways have you seen your books impact the way that children interact with their newly-adopted dogs? Any particular stories you want to share?
My books empower children to be responsible for their actions. They serve as guides and offer relatable, real-life scenarios. Parents and educators often tell me they notice the child practicing the lessons they learn in the books such as gentle touch, patience, respect of boundaries, forgiveness, and kindness-not with just pets, but people too. A parent recently shared with me that she delightfully caught her son explaining to his younger brother he shouldn’t pull ears and tails because he wouldn’t like it if someone did that to him.
What was the inspiration behind creating the Tails That Teach non-profit organization?
I wanted to develop a method for donating books to humane societies and schools across the country to inspire kindness to all living beings.
What are some of the accomplishments or major movements the Tails That Teach organization has made so far?
To date, our books have been donated to schools and animal organizations in over 20 states to enhance their character and humane education programs by starting them off on the “right paw.” Thanks to the Angels Baseball Foundation, we were able to donate over 7,000 books to K-2 students in the Anaheim School District. TTT is also the proud founder of National Rescue Dog Day observed annually on May 20 to honor rescue dogs in our lives and to bring awareness to the countless shelter dogs in need of homes.
How has your life changed personally since you started the organization/began writing your books?
I have a proud purpose of being a catalyst for change. Helping kids understand how to treat people with kindness starts with how they treat their pets. If I can save one dog from being returned to the shelter and one child from being bullied, I’ve made a difference!
What is the overall message or goal that you and your organization hope to spread/accomplish?
To save the lives of animals and change the lives of children.
Are there any current developments that you want others to know about in regards to the organization?
I’m working on a third book that focuses on empathy. This book will complete the trilogy of kindness, compassion, and empathy. We are also working on an initiative to rehab animal shelters in need of repair and upgrades.
How can others become involved in the Tails That Teach organization?
By sponsoring a school district or animal organization, we can give every child ages five to eight a special print book with full page recognition of the sponsor to teach them about kindness and encourage literacy.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
The world needs positive change. It’s time to get back the core basics of kindness, compassion, and empathy. We must lead the next generation in a better direction to create a fundamental shift.
For more information, visit: www.tailsthatteach.org
National Rescue Dog Day: www.nationalrescuedogday.com