Branford Eagle – New Haven Independent Feature Story on Mark Winik
Dog Healers Inspire Us
by| Jun 7, 2016 9:57 am
“The Dog Healers,” a first novel by Short Beach resident Mark Winik, centers on the mystery of Isabella, whose work with dogs and horses, is at the heart of a story of love, growth and survival.Winik’s novel begins with the disappearance of Isabella and her puppy, Echo, from their home in a small town in Argentina. It takes nearly 200 pages for the mystery to unravel and along the journey, we learn about the power of animal healing and Isabella’s triumph as a jockey with a horse named Tango whom she restores to life and greatness. Through the process, Isabella also learns how to love again.
The story also focuses on a man named Carlos, a dog healer as well. We learn of his fears and hers and their mutual dedication to a world of dogs in a country that thrives on them. Sometimes the book reads like a novel; sometimes like a work of non-fiction. Winik says he created Isabella as a fictional character but he met Carlos when he was in Buenos Aries, Argentina, his wife Norma’s home city. They visit every year.
Isabella is the transformative character in the book as she moves from one adventure to the next. Her most powerful moment comes when her most devoted dogs come to save her after her plane crashes in a blizzard soaked section of the Andes. When she most needs her pack, they find her. We won’t give away the final scenes. They need to unfold for the reader.
Winik Heads To Buenos Aires
“What really captured my attention in Buenos Aries were the dogs … there are hundreds, maybe thousands of dog walkers there. There is a wealthy class, and a not-so-wealthy class and the wealthy class love their dogs, and they are out during the day. And you can see hundreds of these dog walkers with anywhere from 2 to 3 to 5 to 20 dogs at a time. And they are all on one lead, and they just walk together. It is an amazing sight,” he said in an interview.
In Buenos Aires he heard about Carlos, who was known as a special dog walker and a unique dog healer. “That really fascinated me,” Winik said. Carlos’s life with dogs and his healing prowess with animals are based in large measure on actual interviews Winik had with Carlos.
Both characters and the many dogs in their lives embody the central theme of this book: Dogs provide an intuitive, therapeutic interaction with the humans they love and will go to any length to help them.
Winik said when he visited Buenos Aires, he was determined to find and meet Carlos. He walked and walked around certain sections of Buenos Aires. “And I almost gave up but after some time I met him and ending up spending a couple of days with him. And after hearing his passion for dogs and watching him work on the dogs, I said this is a great story. His stories are great. His dreams are great. So I decided I am going to write a story about this.”
Paco and His Grandpa
Winik also recalls his own very personal experience, one that gave him insight into how dogs help humans in need. At the time his father was in the intensive care section of a hospital after failed surgery. He showed no awareness or feeling. Winik said doctors were unable to get his father out of his vegetative state.
“He had absolutely no feelings. He was not aware of anything. There was nothing at all there,” Winik said. One day, Winik said he decided to bring his dog Paco, a Wheaton Terrier, to visit his Dad. They were old friends. “And my dog Paco got up on him and lay on top of him.”
“Then Norma said to me, ‘Look at your father. He knows the dog is here and he has tears dripping from his eyes.’ So we were all blown away and we all started crying at the same time. Two doctors came in and they said ‘we can’t really explain this. It is just amazing.’”
Sometimes people who have not talked for months, do so when their dog comes to visit or when a dog they have never known greets them. Then they come alive, responding to a bygone time, speaking the name of a beloved dog from their past.
So Winik began thinking of his experiences and the power of animal love and therapy. He had never written anything before this work of fiction. By day Winik is a state marshal and he also serves as chair of the town’s Water Pollution Control Authority. He and Norma also spend time at the nearby Short Beach community dog park; they founded the dog park, the first community dog park on the shoreline. He said he wrote his novel when he could grab some time and as a result, it took more than three years to complete. He decided to publish it himself. “I set up a limited liability company called Tango Press.” .
We asked Winik what experiences moved him most in writing his first book. “The scariest part of this whole process is when you first start sending the book out to people you are close to. You can’t send it to strangers. It is a scary process. Feedback, honest feedback is extremely important. I needed to know how to improve the book.”
He was lucky, too. Rachel Bergman, a next-door neighbor for a good part of the writing of the book, taught creative writing at a nearby college. She read the manuscript and helped Winik fine tune his characters and develop his plot lines. This isn’t the first time, however, that he found a story to write about. Some years back Winik co-wrote a screenplay entitled “Seven and a Half Shrinks.”
He says the response to the Dog Healers book, which was published in January, has been “phenomenal.” It’s available from Amazon for $14 (the Kindle edition is $8.50) and locally at Branford Book and Card Shoppe across from the town green.
And then there is Facebook, an entity he had never heard of a year ago. A friend suggested he try it. Now the Dog Healers FB community is going strong with more than 22,000 followers who daily share their stories.
Isabella’s story continues on Facebook, too. In the end, we are left with wanting to know more. That’s a good sign for a new book by a new author. We want to know more about some of the dogs who help to rescue Isabella.
And we want to know more about Isabella and Carlos, whose love story is just beginning.