For the love of cats and dogs

Mary Knight, pictured here with her beloved cat Muggins, has a short story called “That’s My Cat,” included in the latest “Chicken Soup for the Soul Book.” - Cynthia Woolbright
Mary Knight, pictured here with her beloved cat Muggins, has a short story called “That’s My Cat,” included in the latest “Chicken Soup for the Soul Book.”
— image credit: Cynthia Woolbright

Cats and dogs -- everybody loves them, right? Or at least, they love to hate them? Or do we hate to love them and all the personality they bring?

Well, in any case -- in a day and age when doggie totes are just as much a noted accessory as a watch, it's evident that dogs and cats have become an integral part of people's lives.

"Pet owners understand the devotion, love and daily life of living with dogs and cats," said Clinton cartoonist Art Bouthillier.

Case in point: Look at Karma, one of the Bouthillier family's Dobermans, and the dog's regular placement in the cartoonist's drawing studio.

"She's the princess dog with her bed right there in front of the heater. We don't get that," he said.

His daughter, 5-year-old Sierra, and the family dogs Kaos and Karma are often gag writers for the artist.

"Who needs comedy writers when you have them?" Bouthillier asked.

And now, the family pets' inspiration has become famous.

Bouthillier has cartoons included in both the recent "Chicken Soup for the Cat Lover's" and "Dog Lover's Soul" books.

And he's not the only one sharing pet tales.

Langley author Mary Knight's short story, "That's My Cat," is included in the recently published "Chicken Soup for the Cat Lover's Soul."

The two books are the latest editions of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, which often hits the New York Times bestseller list.

The Chicken Soup for the Soul books were first published in 1993.

There's now been over 80 million copies sold and 65 titles in 37 languages.

To gather the stories needed for each book, Chicken Soup editors put out a national call via ads, radio spots and the Internet. They often receive more than 2,000 replies for each book. For the "Cats" book, this number was whittled down to 150 during reading sessions at Chicken Soup for the Soul headquarters. From there, a select readership decided the final 101.

The books contain all new stories about cats and dogs -- all real, the cats, the dogs and the stories -- and the people who love them.

The stories are a mix of touching, humorous and serious to the simply silly.

Knight's favorite in the cat book? The tale of a kitty who gets his head stuck in a garbage disposal.

"It's just downright funny, thank goodness it wasn't on," she said.

Some are written by animal owners like Knight and Bouthillier, others by veterinarians, shelter workers, groomers, pet sitters and even cat-and-dog-show buffs.

Knight's story "That's My Cat" is an excerpt from the manuscript called "My Mystical Life with Muggins the Cat," a memoir she's looking to publish.

The tale recalls Knight's visit to an animal shelter looking for a friend, but how in the end she finds much more.

"Most of the time when you desire something it doesn't come out how you thought it would," Knight said. "'That's my Cat' tells the story of how a one-in-a-million coincidence, or what I call a synchronicity, confirms what my heart already knows to be true," Knight said.

All this in only 1,200 words.

But, Muggins really has turned into everything Knight was looking for. He's her constant companion and teacher. Knight reports he's affectionate, knows his own magnificence, knows his own mind, asks for what he wants (and often gets it), and he always has good eye contact.

"And he's incredibly soft," Knight said.

At 14 years old, Muggins remains healthy, vital and still able to stalk the neighborhood birds with the best of em. Don't worry, though. He's a constant stalker, not a hunter.

The memoir took her a little over a year to write. It was after finishing the opening scene and after a friend coaxed her to do it that Knight submitted her work for the Chicken Soup publication.

"I figured, 'Why not?,'" she said.

Knight came to Whidbey eight years ago from Traverse City, Mich., where she'd been a resident for more than 22 years.

She graduated from Dennison University in Ohio with a degree in English with an emphasis on creative writing. Knight has been a professional writer for more than 20 years, writing for magazines, as well as working scripts for film and video production.

Much of her work was published in regional, local and state publications around Michigan, but her work has also gone national and she now also works with Washington publications.

She's the author of "Love Letters Before Birth and Beyond," a mothers journal, and has also contributed to "Mother's Nature: Timeless Wisdom for the Journey into Motherhood."

When she came to Whidbey she found her soul mate -- Richard Burdsal, a retired Boeing worker. And Muggins found a new home by the sea.

Knight often spends countless hours writing in the upstairs studio of her Langley home. In it she is nestled in a nest of inspiration, encircled by shelves of books, pictures, the tools of her writing, a comfy couch and an inspiring view of Saratoga Passage.

Muggins the cat can also often be found in the studio. He's a near permanent fixture there, when not stalking the neighborhood birds or lounging in one of his other favorite chairs in the house.

Walk into Art Bouthillier's drawing studio in the upstairs of his Clinton home and you'll notice something a little different. No, it's not the abundance of posters, toy figures, cartoons and other memorabilia he has on the walls for inspiration.

It's the second desk.

"That's Sierra's desk," Bouthillier said.

Sierra is a drawing phenom in her own right.

"She takes after her dad and likes to draw dogs," Bouthillier said.

"See? It's a kitty cat," Sierra said.

Sure enough, it is. And nearby back in her dad's studio are drawings of ghosts, rainbows and other sketches she's completed proudly for her parents, and anyone else who walks into the house.

Drawing cat and dog cartoons is his forte, the artist said.

"We always had cats, even though we don't have them right now. And we love dogs," Bouthillier said.

Bouthillier has cartoons included in both the "Chicken Soup for Cat Lovers'" and "Chicken Soup for Dog Lovers'" books and his work has also appeared in "Dog-a-Day" and "Cat-a-Day" calendars.

Bouthillier has been a professional cartoonist for over 20 years; he also the South Whidbey Record's editorial cartoonist.

After a youth filled with the enjoyment of drawing in California's Bay Area, Bouthillier decided to take the leap and become a professional in his early 20s.

"I did it because I liked it, and because at the time I didn't want a real job," he said.

While he wanted to make a living at cartooning, at the time he was living in California and he did have a "real" job. When he first began, he split his time between drawing and his job as a removal deputy for the local county coroner's office.

"I knew I had to do something for a while so I didn't starve," Bouthillier said.

He began taking classes and kept a record of every single cartoon he drew, every single cartoon he sent out, and every one that was purchased for publication.

As of Monday afternoon his count reached 19,108 cartoons drawn. Of that, a little more than 10,000 have been sold.

His first cartoon sold? That'd be No. 148, published in "Horse Fancy" magazine. It sold for $20 on Nov. 9, 1984.

"That's the date that I really count my career by," Bouthillier said. "There was definitely a 10-month period where I was sending stuff out and nothing was happening. But after that it was like something broke in the dam and everything came rushing in," Bouthillier said.

He moved to Whidbey less than a year after he sold his first cartoon, and he now resides in Clinton with his wife Jenny and their daughter, Sierra.

Cartooning is a competitive business, Bouthillier said, and he always has to create new work and send it out to as many publications as possible.

He often sends stacks of cartoons to men's magazines, family magazines (including "Good Housekeeping"), medical publications, educational publications, and women's publications (including "Women's World"). There's also a number of overseas magazines in Spain and Australia.

For his work, Bouthillier received the Toonie Award in 1997 from Cartoonist Northwest and is also a former Washington Newspaper Publishers award winner in editorial cartooning.

"I'm trained to think a little different than other people," Bouthillier said. "I'm always checking things out, seeing things a little more cynical."

He's been an editorial cartoonist for the South Whidbey Record for more than 15 years.

"I feel privileged because it's the only place that I get editorial cartoonist credit," he said. "It's a unique opportunity that not many people have to express their opinion on a weekly basis."

"It's definitely one of my harder jobs, because there's no walking in saying, 'Sorry guys, I'm all out of ideas this week.' I have to be on," he said.

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