Making a difference on a grand scale

A little over eight years ago, Emily Scott Pottruck lived through a nightmare: she witnessed the savage mauling of her tiny Yorkie Andy by a dog twenty times his size. The little terrier sustained such severe injuries – spinal cord damage just the beginning – that doctors warned Pottruck to brace herself for the fact Andy might not live.

Pottruck, Andy, and Boomer

The hours following the attack sent Pottruck into nearly inconsolable despair, and her family feared she might not survive the ordeal. But she mustered the strength to call on friends who knew profound relationships with their own pets and could empathize with her overwhelming grief. Even strangers offered comfort across the ether as Pottruck turned to the Internet to share her frustration, anguish, and disbelief.

As the days wore on, Pottruck struggled to accept that even if doctors were able to save Andy, the dog would be changed forever. In fact, it was her own life that was never the same.

Turning pain into hope

With specialists working frantically to keep Andy alive, support from people all over the world continued to pour in. Pottruck, deeply moved by the response of so many animal-loving humans, began to feel a simple thank you was not enough. So as is so often the case in the midst of great pain, a work of great beauty emerges, and the idea for Tails of Devotion was born.

In the early stages, Pottruck knew only two things. The first, she would publish a book illustrating the boundless devotion between animals and their humans. The second, fully 100 percent of the proceeds from the book would go to help animals in need. And so began Pottruck’s journey to find people and pets who could translate their unspoken devotion to each other to the printed page.

Inspired to give back

Her quest took her to the farthest corners of the Bay Area, from makeshift homeless camps to celebrity estates. The range of diversity was hardly accidental: Pottruck was determined to show that a love of animals crosses all economic, racial, and gender lines. The result is a collection proudly and unmistakably San Franciscan in its composition.

“It’s inevitable,” Pottruck explains. “No matter what the social situation is, I gravitate toward the other animal lovers in the room. So it was important to me to represent in this book that no matter how different our looks or our family makeup, we’re bound by our common interest.”

All told, the coffee table book Tails of Devotion took one year – all 365 days of it – to create. It features exquisite photos of 58 different families flanked by handwritten love notes from people to their pets – and vice versa. Sales of the book generated over $250,000, of which the entire amount was donated to over 60 animal welfare organizations in 21 states across the country. Out of a print run of 10,000, all but 35 copies of the book remain.

“Do something.”

Pottruck admits that her own devotion took root relatively late in life. She describes her feelings towards animals, prior to acquiring her Yorkies, as having been “benignly apathetic.” But raising Andy and Boomer profoundly changed that. Now, Pottruck is a vegetarian – “I don’t eat anything with a face,” she says – and a tireless promoter of animal welfare.

Though Andy’s accident is now nearly a decade old, Pottruck is as impassioned and motivated today as she was that fateful September afternoon. Her energy fills up an entire room, and not surprisingly, her message is one of action: “Do whatever you can,” she says, “even if it feels like you’re moving just one grain of sand.”

While Pottruck is proud of – and grateful for – the success of Tails of Devotion, she admits that publishing a book is a lofty and expensive endeavor. Her attitude, however, remains matter of fact: “I realize that most people don’t have access to the resources I do,” she says. “It doesn’t matter. Do something.”

Unquestionably, Andy’s experience changed Pottruck’s life, but for the record, Andy’s life changed too. He’s alive and thriving, to Pottruck’s delight, albeit not completely healed. He doesn’t have the muscle range he did before the accident and a slight limp impairs his gait. But not surprisingly, neither he nor Pottruck seem to mind.