By CRISTINA JANNEY
A very special dog was the inspiration for a new series of children books aimed at teaching character and encouraging children to talk about their feelings.
Gus, a black goldendoodle, was a therapy dog who worked along side school counselor and author Cindy Cook Gant. When Gant decided to publish a series of books based on Gus, she tapped into the talents of Hays resident and former colleague Beth Arnold DeMont.
The first book, which was released in 2018, is titled “Gus Gets a New Home.” It will be one of six books each highlighting character traits in “The Adventures of Gus, A Therapy Dog and So Much More” series.
Gant,62, based the books on the same character trait program she taught when she was a counselor in public schools. Gant and DeMont, 61, worked together in White City, where DeMont worked as an art teacher, Gant worked as a counselor and Gus served as a therapy dog.
The first book teaches the character trait of caring. The book highlights that Gus was the only black dog in a litter of blonde pups. He overcomes challenges and difficult feelings to embrace his new home with the Gants. Questions in the book encourage adults to ask children about how they feel about the story or times in their own lives when they have felt left out, dealt with change or felt scared or nervous.
Gant said she hopes the book will allow adults and children to more freely talk about their feelings.
DeMont described Gus as the light of the school. He was a comfort for both students and staff.
Gant said children would often lay on her office floor and use Gus as a pillow. They would talk about the their problems as Gant would work on her computer. Depending on the child’s age, Gant would pretend as if Gus was whispering something into her ear and then she would tell the student what Gus thought about their problems.
“What might take be two or three sessions to accomplish without Gus,” she said, “I could do in one with Gus.”
She said Gus was very loving and seemed to know exactly what a child needed. She gave a couple of examples of when Gus aided children.
One child was crying and inconsolable. Gus licked his tears, and the child started to giggle.
Another child had missed a dose of medication. His mother thought he had taken it, but he hadn’t. The mother was on the way with the medication, but, in the meantime, the child was tearing up the principal’s office. He was throwing papers on the floor and screaming. Gus came in the office, and the boy laid down on the floor and began calmly petting him.
“His sense of what people needed was very rare and unbelievable,” Gant said of Gus.
Sadly, Gus died from cancer after Gant’s retirement from the school district.
DeMont said her hope for the books and her illustrations is they will help kids, “because Gus helped kids.”
“The main thing is that Gus was such a loving, caring dog with the kids and adults. There were a lot of adults that would need time to go pet Gus,” DeMont said. “Just to see him took your concerns away from the day if it was a bad day. He helped so many kids with anxiety and grief. It is amazing how he worked in that school. …
“You couldn’t help but love Gus,” she said. “Even if you didn’t want to, he made you. He was just one of those dogs.”
Gant said when she decided to write the books on Gus, she knew she wanted DeMont to illustrate them because she knew Gus. DeMont said she initially didn’t want to do the artwork, because she had never done book illustrations before, but this project was special.
The first book was terrifying, DeMont said. She said she had no idea about illustrating a children’s book. She reached out to a Facebook group of children’s book illustrators for feedback.
“A lot of the younger people said they really liked it because it had a vintage feel,” she said. “I think I really drew that from my Golden Books when I was little. I loved books.”
Now that she has the second book under her belt, the work is becoming more enjoyable, she said.
DeMont said she always loved to draw even when she was little. One of her early memories is getting in trouble for drawing on the side of her school building when she was in kindergarten. Art was her favorite class in school. However, in 1971 DeMonte’s family lost their home in Ashland to a fire. The family moved to Kendall, Kan., which had no art program.
She continued to pursue art in her free time, and the journalism instructor allowed her to draw illustrations for the yearbook. Her small high school closed after her junior year, so she started college a year early at Garden City Junior College. She thought she might study pre-vet, but decided she didn’t have the math background the complete that program. Her mother suggested art classes.
The first day of college art class the instructor told the students to create a color wheel and the left the room.
“I was just sitting there because I didn’t know what a color wheel was,” she said. “He came back in and said, ‘Why are you still here?’ I said, ‘I don’t know what a color wheel is,’ and he looked at me like I was crazy.”
DeMont’s teacher, Bob Scott, was kind and helped her through the assignment and mentored her through her time at the college. She eventually transferred to Fort Hays State University where she earned a degree in art education. She worked for 33 years as an art teacher before retiring in 2014.
She said teaching did not leave her as much time to pursue her own art as she would like, but it did force her to experiment with many media. She was constantly working with new media and techniques so she could pass those on to her students. She is a sculptor, a painter, has worked in oil, pencil and collage.
“I enjoy it, so when I get tired of one thing, I jump to another,” she said. “I have a lot of variety. I am not afraid to try something new. I like the challenges.”
DeMont said her favorite media continues to be drawing, just as it was when she was drawing horses in her bedroom as a child out of the Western Horseman magazine. However, these days she is working more in paint and collage, which stems from her love of color.
“The thing about illustration is that it is such a different type of art,” she said. “It is hard to explain. You are expressing yourself when you do your own artwork, but when you are doing a book, you are doing what someone gave you.”
DeMont had an exhibit in the Hays Art Council Fall Art Walk titled “Daring to Change.” She and Gant also sold autographed copies of the first Gus book at the event. DeMont will be a part of show with Hays Society of Layerists in October and another show with the group in April at the Deines Cultural Center. She also has a show coming in September 2020 with her sister at the Deines.
Gant and DeMont have another book launching in about a month in the Gus series, “Gus Goes to School.” In this book, Gus learns responsibility as he attends school to become a therapy dog as well as starts attending school with Gant.
The Gus series is published by Dorrance Publishing and is available from the publisher, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or personally from Gant or DeMont. You can contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org or the illustrator at email@example.com.