Faces of Long Island celebrates the uniqueness of everyday Long Islanders. In their own words, they tell us about their life experiences, challenges and triumphs. Newsday launched this social media journey into the human experience to shine a light on the diverse people of this wonderful place we call home.

‘She said that if I didn’t take Ollie, she would take him to a shelter…’

Jeff Voesack, St. James

“Ollie, our border collie, was born on a farm in upstate New York. From the outset, he was different. His siblings were all the typical colors: back and white. He was the only brown and white border collie in the litter. Because his coat made him look different, he was the last to be adopted, by a member of my family.

“Ollie was happy with his new home. He was treated like the baby of the family, had the run of the house. He went hiking with his owners. When they bicycled, he ran alongside them. Then things changed. The couple had a baby. Now that they were busy with the baby, Ollie didn’t get as much attention. He was so upset about the situation that he would growl at the baby. And that’s when the family member called me up. She said that she had a dog that wasn’t getting along with rest of her family and wanted to know if I wanted him. She said that if I didn’t take Ollie, she would take him to a shelter in upstate New York. The animal lover in me couldn’t let that happen.

“The thought that if Ollie wasn’t adopted after a waiting period, he might be put down was horrible. So, I thought, what’s one more dog in the house? My spouse and I have always had two dogs. This way when you go out and leave them alone, they have company. Ollie had visited us before with this family member, and he’s cute and sweet, so I decided to go upstate and bring him home and let him join our pack, which also includes Theo, Samantha and human Bob. Ollie was good with our other dogs, everybody got along. But he was taking a little while to get used to his new home. It was like he felt he was visiting. I’m sure he was always wondering when his former family was going to come and bring him back home. But Ollie’s sweetness, friendliness and most of all his uniqueness got me to thinking. I have always enjoyed writing stories. Might Ollie’s story be told in a way that other people who feel ‘different’ might benefit? I, too, have had challenges and felt different at various times in my life. I survived with the support of my spouse, my friends and my pets. I eventually found a safe place among caring people. And that led to another chapter in Ollie’s life and mine: children’s book publishing.”

Ollie has a Facebook page with over 4,000 members around the world.

“Ollie was unique in another way. Most dogs have two dewclaws, one each on the back of their front paws. Unlike other dogs, Ollie also has dewclaws on his back paws as well. After a couple of months of Ollie living with us, I thought the true story of a different dog would make a children’s book that kids would want to read. Kids are all different, too, I thought, so they might relate to that. I was joking around one day, saying, if someone can write a book about an orphaned monkey and a man with the yellow hat, why not tell Ollie’s story?

“It took less than a month to write the draft. I sent the manuscript out to several illustrators, one of whom was particularly interested. Penny Weber, who has illustrated many children’s books, got back to me immediately. She loved Ollie’s story and just had to do it. She helped make the story flow and to develop each human and dog character. We collaborated to create the actual book as it would be seen on a bookstore shelf, from the cover to where the words are placed on the page and the type font. A couple of mainstream publishers expressed interest, but they wanted the option to change the story. I wanted to tell Ollie’s true story, so I decided to self-publish with Amazon.

“In the autumn of 2022, ‘Ollie: The Dog No-One Wanted!’ was published. It’s currently available in 42 countries. Ollie has a Facebook page with over 4,000 members around the world. When we do readings or signings, Ollie joins me. When people buy the book at these author signing events, all the money is donated to Home Sweet Home Animal Rescue of Long Island in Huntington. Ollie’s second book, ‘Ollie’s Camping Trip,’ came out in January. It covers his vacation to the Blue Ridge Mountains, where Ollie has many adventures, including an encounter with a bear on a hike. I currently have planned two more books in the series. All are based on Ollie’s adventures. When we do the public events, people often come up and say, ‘I’m a Facebook friend of Ollie’s.’ Ollie is now 7 years old, and he adores all the attention. The experience has been so fulfilling – for both Ollie, me and our family – that there might even be an Ollie AI-created cartoon in the future.”

Interviewed by Jim Merritt