A paws-itive spin on a difficult loss

For those telecommuting during the pandemic, a bright spot of the adjusted schedule has been spending more time with pets.

When Howard Timberlake, a coordinator in the Baylor finance department, began working from home in March 2020, he didn’t realize just how precious the extra time with his four-legged family members would be.

Seven years ago, Howard and his miniature schnauzer, Griffin, grew their family by two: Howard’s now husband, Kevin, and Kevin’s chocolate lab, Jake.

“Kevin had rescued Jake at around 8 months old from a lab rescue when he was living in D.C.,” Howard said. “Kevin had been struggling at that point with living away from family, and Jake had healed that for him.”

The four of them spent many happy years together. According to Howard, Griffin and Jake were instant brothers – not one snap, growl or fight between them.

But when the pandemic began, Jake was 14 years old, and his health had been declining for nearly two years. Kevin was worried about how he would cope with the eventual loss of his best friend. When they laid Jake to rest in July 2020, Kevin and Howard decided to write a book to cope with their grief and help others as well.

“I’ve always been an artist at heart. I have a theater degree. But I honestly never would have thought about writing a book,” Howard said. “With Kevin’s job being in communications, he writes all the time. So him? Maybe. But me? Never!”

It was important to Howard and Kevin that the book model what it means to be a dog owner – loving them through all stages of life, even when it gets hard – as well as the importance of rescuing and adopting animals.

“I think the subject matter, the message, was what made it important that this be a children’s book,” Howard said. “We wrote the book specifically for children ages two to ten. A two-year-old will look at the pictures, but we made the wording very elementary so that younger kids can maybe memorize it even before they know how to read.”

They also kept the details of the book open ended – like the climate in different places Jake travels to – so that child readers can easily put themselves in the story.

Once they had a draft of the book that they were happy with, Howard asked his niece to illustrate it.

“My niece has always been fantastic at drawing cartoon-type stuff, so I asked her if she would like to attempt the illustrations for the book,” Howard said. “It’s definitely been a labor of love and a family affair.”

Since its recent publication, “Jake, the Happy Chocolate Dog” has been well received. While most self-published books sell between 200-300 books in their first year, Jake’s book has sold nearly 150 copies in just its first 3 months.

“We’ve had friends, associates and complete strangers leave reviews on Amazon,” Howard said. “We also have an online children’s book subscription service that we’re working with to get in their line up.”

Readers can get “Jake, the Happy Chocolate Dog” here. For an autographed copy, preorders are available by emailing htimberlake78@gmail.com.

True to Jake’s legacy, $1 per book sale is donated to a pet rescue organization.

By Bethany Strother