BRIDGEWATER, NJ - She has been writing stories since she first learned how to hold a pencil, writing poems and stories all the time.
“After I had a job and a family and a house to take care of, it became harder to find time to write,” said Bridgewater resident Susan Willett. “But I always had a yearning to get back to my own creative vision, not just the word-for-hire person I had become in my jobs as creative director or communication strategist.”
Willett started a blog, which gave her a reason to write and a place to post what she wrote – and now more than a decade later, she can boast a successful site, and stories in two new installments of the “Chicken Soup” book series.
“I began with a site I called ‘Complete with Dogs’ because I thought my life was complete as long as I had dogs,” she said. “Then I adopted two cats and the title no longer fit, so I changed my platform, imported all the content I had created up to then and LifeWithDogsAndCats.com was born.”
Willett said that, in the beginning, she would post stories of her dogs and cats only, in addition to photos. From there, she said, she started experimenting with humorous, photography-based posts, and began creating “Dogs and Cats Texting,” “Haiku by Dog” and “Haiku by Cat.”
“They are exactly what you think they are,” she said. “‘Dogs and Cats Texting’ shows a picture of one of my pets, along with a humorous text exchange. The haiku also features photos, along with an accompanying three-line poem, written from a dog or cat perspective.”
Then, Willett said, she posted a picture of her tuxedo cat, Calvin, lying in one of the dog beds with the caption, “I don’t always sleep in a pet bed, but when I do, I make sure it’s the dog’s,” a play on the pop culture ads for Dos Equis beer.
“The picture went viral, and I set up social media accounts where I continue to post photos of Calvin,” she said. “Calvin is a uniquely photogenic cat, as he will look straight into my camera as if he is posing, as if he knows he looks good in his cat tux. And he does.”
Today, Willett said, the blog is a mix of humor, heart and help, and she includes hints and tips she has learned about life with dogs and cats. Along the way, she said, she has won multiple awards for her writing, poetry, photography and humor, and found friends among the pet-blogging community.
As for her inclusion in the Chicken Soup book, Willett said there is a website where they post potential topics for upcoming books. Although she had submitted stories unsuccessfully in the past, she tried again in January when they were looking for stories about dogs and cats.
In “Chicken Soup for the Soul, The Magic of Cats,” Willett wrote “Calvin’s Best Friend,” about the special relationship between her cat Calvin and her dog Tucker.
“Previously, my cats either avoided Tucker, who was a very bouncy, very loud and very playful terrier or they would swat at him if he bounced too close to them,” she said. “So Tucker learned to be very wary around my kitties. One time, when Tucker was injured and had to wear a cone, Calvin slowly approached him, leaned right into he cone and began to groom him. He was trying to comfort the dog.”
In a second book, “Chicken Soup for the Soul, Listen to Your Dreams,” Willett wrote “Shooting Star,” about a dream she had one night after seeing a brilliant meteor. She said the dream was about a dog that was search for her, swimming across a lake into her arms.
“It was so vivid that the next day, I went online and searched for the dog,” she said. “When I saw a picture of a scruffy terrier looking right at me, I knew it was him, and, within a few weeks, he was on his way from South Carolina to become part of our family.”
Willett said that was Tucker, who died last summer from hemangiosarcoma, an aggressive and incurable cancer.
“Like a shooting star, Tucker came streaking into our lives, lit up our home and everyone he touched, and was gone,” she said. “He was my heart dog, the dog of my dreams.”
Finally, Willett is publishing two stories in the book, “Second-Change Cats: True Stories of the Cats We Rescue and the Cats Who Rescue Us.” In “The Wrong Kittens,” she writes about how she adopted two black and white cats, Calvin and Elsa Clair.
“My youngest child was about to head off to college, and I was facing an empty nest, at least as far as human go, when I fell in love with two kittens who were up for adoption at our veterinarian’s office,” she said. “When I went to pick them up, I found out someone else had already adopted them, and there was a different pair of black and white kittens who needed homes. I had minutes to make a decision, and I wound up welcoming the wrong kittens into my home, and of course it turned out that they were the right kittens after all.”
In “Calvin’s Gifts,” Willett wrote about how Calvin brings her special toys at night.
Willett said that for her, a home without a pet is like a body without a soul.
“Dogs and cats bring so much to our lives, so much uninhibited joy and so much uninhibited love,” she said. “They make us laugh. They give us reasons to get up in the morning. They bring us together.”
“Even in this time of division among people, we can share our common love of our pets,” she added. “I hope my stories tap into that connection and offer readers a sense of everything that our pets give us.”
Willett said that with the books coming out, she is disappointed not to be able to attend regular book signings in a bookstore where she can meet the readers. But when the two Chicken Soup books published, she said, they held Twitter parties, where many of the contributors tweeted back and forth.
Still, Willett said, she is hoping to see readers soon.
“The pandemic prevented that, and I don’t see in-person book signings happening for quite a while,” she said. “That said, the stories in the three recently published books are timeless. So I can look forward to a moment in the future when I can connect with animal lovers over a good book. To me, it’s all about the opportunity for connection.”
Now, Willett said, she is working on a memoir about her life with dogs, cats and a depression that she calls Agnes.
“I found that naming something as insidious and intangible as mental illness gives me the power to take control of it,” she said. “And my dogs and cats are a perfect antidote for Agnes. The memoir covers the years in which I adopt two dogs, then two cats, another dog and then two more cats.”
Willett said it is her chance to fill an entire book about life with her menagerie.
“Actually, I have enough material to write several books,” she said. “I find inspiration every day. Sometimes it’s hiding in a box, splashing through a mud puddle or taking up an entire couch.”