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Catskills Author Donates a Mountain of Goodies

Volunteer uses profits from sales of wildlife book to benefit shelter animals

Volunteer uses profits from sales of wildlife book to benefit shelter animals

They’ll never know it, but the wild creatures who roam the Catskill Mountains in New York recently made a shelter full of animals much happier.

The beavers and owls and foxes and raccoons and bats are indirectly responsible for the 12 new resting beds, the “whelper helper” den where nursing mama dogs can keep their babies safe, and the two truckloads of sturdy, disinfectable toys that showed up at the Humane Society of Central Delaware County earlier this year. Of course, author, volunteer, and all-around nature nut Nancy Furstinger had a little something to do with the treasure trove: she wrote a book about the wild animals who share her mountain—and used all the proceeds to buy comfort items for their domesticated counterparts at the shelter.

A former editor at Simon & Schuster who now freelances from her home high above sea level, Furstinger began writing Catskill Creatures because she was curious about the critters inhabiting her backyard. “And I went to try to find a book on it, and there was none available,” she says, “so I decided, ‘Hmm, I should try to write one.’ ”

Furstinger contacted local small presses but discovered they didn’t publish children’s books anymore. She ended up getting a small grant to self-publish the project, and while the book was in progress, she also became involved with a new group called Friends of the Delhi Shelter. Soon she was standing in front of grocery stores begging for donations and asking people to purchase items on the shelter’s wish list as they shopped for food. She was attending fairs and festivals, and she was visiting the shelter to help walk dogs. She was applying her writing and editing skills to a pet column for the local newspaper and to the shelter’s first newsletter in memory, “The Shelter Scoop.”

And she was still working on the book that would one day turn cash into comfort items for the dogs and cats at the shelter. Through her research, personal experiences, and guidance from wildlife experts, Furstinger found some fascinating facts about the furred and feathered in the Catskills—and she highlighted those that she knew would be the most intriguing to young and old alike. From the book, readers learn that the bat is the “original bug zapper,” hailing from the era of dinosaurs and gobbling 1,200 insects in an hour. They find out that a sticky white substance secreted through the warty spots of the eastern American toad makes some predators sick. And they learn that the shy black bear actually races away from humans at speeds of up to 35 miles per hour.

That is, unless he is stealing chocolate frosting and champagne out of a refrigerator, as a bear once did at a house not far from Furstinger’s, she says. “We even had a black bear on our deck once,” she says. “It was late at night, and I didn’t have the light on. ... I opened the door, and I was nose-to-nose with a black bear, which was actually quite wonderful. He lumbered off the deck and he went for the bird feeder because apparently sunflower seeds are like an aphrodisiac.”

Through her insights into the world of wild animals, Furstinger hopes to show children and adults how to help creatures struggling to survive in increasingly shrinking habitats. The end of her book features two pages of tips about everything from building a bat house to checking chimneys for raccoon nests before starting up the first fire of the season. “I try to instill a love and respect for all creatures in children,” Furstinger says.

The book has certainly made creatures at the humane society feel loved—proceeds from the 400 copies sold have already helped Furstinger buy a whelper helper and 12 $90 hard plastic resting beds for shelter pooches. Before making those purchases, Furstinger consulted with Shelter Manager Deb Crute to find out her preferences. “I couldn’t get regular dog beds with fleece and cedar because they would be chewed to shreds, and you have the sanitary consideration there,” she says. “So I sent a whole bunch of Web site [links] to Deb and asked her which ones she preferred, and we decided on this one particular model together. ... It’s very heavy, plastic material that’s really easy to hose off, and it’s nonpenetrable by teeth.”

Easy disinfection and sturdiness were also critical factors in selecting the cat and dog toys and a huge “exercise ball” that dogs can push around outside with their noses. “I wanted the animals not to be bored if they’re waiting for a new home,” says Furstinger. “I went there with my dogs to present [the toys]. It was like Christmastime—the dogs were going just crazy with the toys. They were having such a wonderful time, especially the puppies with tug-of-war. ... The shelter workers all just took a break and came out, and it was really heartwarming to see their reactions, too, because they have such a difficult job.”

At home with her Labrador/rottweiler mix, her Labrador/Airedale/Doberman mix, and three bunnies who are the constant objects of slobbering canine affection, Furstinger writes other books such as Fun Stuff to Do With Your Best Friend: The Interactive Dog Book. Through a search on the Web, she found a British artist with a loving eye for animal details to illustrate both the Fun Stuff and the Catskill Creatures books; Bob Ebdon’s tender and skillful drawings show critters doing what they do best—being critters. “I’d like to do a part two,” says Furstinger, “because people are always coming up to me and saying, ‘Well, why didn’t you include, like, the porcupine?’ ”

To order Catskill Creatures, send $12.60 to Diamond Dreamer Press, HCR 1 Box 63, Margaretville, NY 12455.


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