Bernadette Peters (Part 3): Working With Dogs And Children

By Brian Fischler

In the last installment, we learned about the birth of Broadway Barks, Ms. Peters’s annual charity event. This time, we take a look at one of the shelters helped by Broadway Barks, and a very special project with blind children.

“People never would have thought that I would be here doing this,” says Bill Smith, Founder of Main Line Animal Rescue. “I started pulling animals from shelters 16 years ago. I thought it was easy, as I would place the rescued dog with a family member or friend. I thought I was really good at it, then I ended up with a house full of animals.”

Thanks to Bill and the very hard work of others, The Fish and Hunt Club in Pennsylvania is now an animal shelter.

“We do a number of things for the dogs; provide shelter and bed, hospital care, spay and neuter them. Additionally, fifty percent of what we do is outreach,” says Smith.

Over 400 people have helped to make Main Line Animal Rescue a giant success. “I find that all of our wonderful volunteers contribute something unique with their special gifts and talents. There is something for everyone to do and contribute at Main Line,” adds Smith.

Contributing something unique led to Main Line’s involvement with Broadway Barks. “We pitched them the idea of the rescue road trip. People would donate to go to New York City, rescue a dog and meet Bernadette Peters,” Smith explains.

It sounds like a fantastic concept, and Ms. Peters agrees, saying, “I was approached about people coming to New York City, rescuing ten dogs and meeting me. I told them auction off as many as you can sell. Nothing gives me more pleasure than rescuing animals.”

It was Main Line’s work with dogs and children, though, that led to Braille Tails being born.

“We started off doing pet therapy with the Royer-Greaves School for Blind. We would take pit bulls to the school and have the children interact with them,” says Smith. The program was so unique and inspirational that it caught the attention of Jill Rappaport, and the Today Show came to do a segment about their work.

The Today Show segment then caught the attention of Bernadette Peters and Charlene Sloan, who started out as a volunteer for Broadway Barks writing educational and entertaining articles.

“Bernadette had heard about the pit bull program at Royer-Greaves and we thought it would make for an interesting story, so I went to see what it was all about,” says Sloan.

“Main Line brings animals to the school once a month. Seeing the kids socializing with the dogs was an unbelievable experience. At first some of the kids were really shy and nervous around the animals, but after a little bit they became very comfortable with them.

The experience with pet therapy at Royer-Greaves really affected this trio, as they all thought, “How else can we help?” That’s when they thought about Bernadette’s children’s books.

“I never had written anything, and my editor helped walk me through my first book,” recalls Peters. “I wrote a song for the book which I had never done before. The song and lyrics came to me at the same time on a plane at the end of a flight, and I actually finished writing it in the car.” And that’s how “Kramer’s Song” and her first book, “Broadway Barks,” were born. “Stella Is a Star” soon followed.

“Stella Is a Star,” which was illustrated by Liz Murphy, tells the story of Stella, a pit bull who is masquerading as a pig. “Stella pretends to be a pig because no one really likes her and pigs are the best dancers. The book is about not being afraid to be who you are, and not judging people,” says Peters.

“Bernadette’s books are not only entertaining, but they teach children valuable life lessons,” says Sloan. “We thought they would be fantastic for the children at Royer-Greaves.”

There was one major problem though. The books weren’t in braille.

“We looked around to see what it would cost to have a private company put the books into braille, but it was really expensive,” recalls Sloan.

Peters, Smith, and Sloan weren’t going to let a little thing like money prevent them from delivering these books in braille to the children of Royer-Greaves. They started putting the books together themselves. And that was just the beginning.

Stay tuned for part four, coming next week.

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