Upper St. Clair resident Susan Castriota has been an illustrator for 25 years. She never had written a children's book before, until an adopted dog came into her life.
"Once I started investigating his past, it became such a great story to share with others," Castriota said.
She found her new dog, Wilson, through PetFinder — a website which allows users to adopt animals from shelters. Having two Havanese dogs already, Castriota thought a poodle would fit right in. One day she started clicking around and found the fluffy, champagne-colored poodle mix in a Westmoreland County shelter.
"I got up there before they were even open," Castriota recalled. "Once I held him, I could not leave without him."
Wilson was only seven pounds and was in desperate need of a loving home.
"When I got him he wouldn't eat or drink," Castriota said. "He was diagnosed with kennel cough, which was resistant to antibiotics. But the third one started working."
Castriota spent weeks sleeping on her bedroom floor, so she could be near Wilson in his crate.
After two months of tender, loving care — and a number of trips to the veterinarian — Wilson stopped coughing and weighed a healthy 12 pounds.
Being such a beautiful – but sick — dog, Wilson had Castriota very curious about his past. After some research, she made contact with the ex-wife of his owner. Turns out Wilson's owner was a very heavy smoker and had recently died.
Castriota further discovered that secondhand smoke is not just harmful for humans, but very dangerous for pets as well. She said it's a good lesson for people to learn at a young age.
"I'm not an anti-smoking crusader," Castriota explained. "I hope people know by now that smoking is bad around children, but what I want to do is take it one step further and let people know that smoking is really bad for animals too."
Animals don't just inhale the smoke; the particles also get trapped in their fur and ingested when they groom themselves.
Castriota's new book, "Wilson Gets Adopted," brings readers on Wilson's journey through adoption and sickness. It teaches children the dangers of secondhand smoke and the rewards of volunteering and adopting pets from a shelter.
The book promotion comes during an appropriate time. May is pet cancer awareness month. Organizers hope to raise awareness and funds to prevent the number one killer of pets.
Learn more about the children's book, get your child involved in the coloring contest or become Wilson's friend of Facebook by clicking here.
Castriota hopes to make Wilson the main character of her next book. One that she said will teach children manners.