Fur-covered love inspires and encourages; will be a movie! Who’s gonna play me?
Friends from Roswell who faced insurmountable odds were blessed with a miracle service dog. First he writes a book; now he stars in a movie! Here’s the story of a service dog whose narrative is being made into a movie – a movie about a boy who lives with fetal alcohol syndrome and a Golden Retriever who gets another chance at love, with a family desperate for HIS special kind of help.
He got a second chance at love as a service dog for a family desperate for help. Now their story is being made into a MOVIE!
A service dog brings calm to a family torn apart by fetal alcohol syndrome. Writes book about it; movie’s in the works! Think he knows?
This is a story of broken hearts, Titanic alcohol damage, and second chances. It is a story I have been blessed to help unfold over the last six years; a story that joyfully, and brilliantly, is becoming very well known, despite its being started by epic unraveling thousands of miles away.
A little background: an eternal optimistic opportunist, I see 50 ways that something will work where most sane folks only see downside. Where others see a single thread, I see entire tapestries. It is a blessing and a curse.
I needed a thread or two back in 2006 when I was working on a fundraising race to raise awareness for fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs), an umbrella term used to describe the range of effects that can occur to an individual whose mother consumed alcohol while pregnant. The most severe form of FASD is called fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). FASD is not “a warm and fuzzy”; people do not get all whoopty-do about it. Most would rather NEVER hear about it, much less tell our sisters they can’t have a glass of wine for nine months. So when I heard about a particularly enthusiastic participant in the race, I was eager to meet her.
So, I met Donnie Winokur, a wisp of a woman with intense brown eyes and wildcat mother energy; that “I-will-fight-to- the-death-for-my-children-and-kick-your-butt-from-the-grave” urgency that I, as a long-time single mom, had run on for years.
Donnie’s urgency was about learning as much as she could, and connecting with as many people as possible, to figure out what to do for a precious little boy who was in a world of hurt, hurt that was hurting everyone in his world.
The little boy was her son, a dream-come-true who’d been adopted, like his sister, from an orphanage in Russia, on what was a kind of second honeymoon for Donnie and her husband, Rabbi Harvey Winokur. “We didn’t try to get pregnant for long, opting instead, since we were older and this was the second marriage for both of us, to start the adoption process not long after we got married,” she said.
To cut to the chase here, Donnie and Harvey’s son and daughter, adopted in Russia and brought home to Roswell, GA in 1999, made them an instant family. The daughter developed beautifully, and today, at 14, is, physically and intellectually so much like her adoptive mother it is as though their souls were roommates in heaven for a million years before they were both made human.
The dream-come-true story with the little boy, however, started crumbling about the time he turned three, when epic meltdowns, mood swings, and rages grew with intensity as the little boy grew in size and strength.
After many consults with many doctors, the truth unraveled in the form of a “broken” umbilical cord. You see, the boy’s Russian birth mother might have been an alcoholic. Or not. Or she might not have known she was pregnant when she drank alcohol. Whatever the case, she’d had enough to drink at some point during her pregnancy with this precious child, that his brain had been hurt badly. Very badly. The very cord that gave him life also delivered deathly alcohol to his developing brain, affecting, in particular, the parts of his brain that regulate mood, emotions, memory, and the ability to communicate, discern, and deal with “no.”
I met a desperate Donnie Winokur a couple of years into her sometimes frantic search to learn about her son’s FAS, and to find anyone and everyone who might be able to help keep this family, knit together from oceans apart, from falling apart.
She was an enthusiastic volunteer. And opportunist that I was, I saw in her pain – a face for this cause. She became, once some trust was established, a willing accomplice. She, too, saw tapestries where others saw threads.
I asked for an interview. She let me write her story, using her talents as a journalist to help edit it, and her wildcat mom energy to be sure I told it tenderly.
I asked to feature her family in a video. She had a persuasive dialogue with the reluctant rabbi, who ultimately let us film in the synagogue.
I asked her to be on a fundraising committee. She did it.
I asked her to give me input on a book I was writing about stopping the cycles of addiction and abuse, my way of using my pain to help myself and others. We cried. We laughed. Our friendship deepened.
I asked if I could write a fundraising letter about her story. We made money on the letter and gathered new advocates for our cause.
She told me she wanted to get a dog to help her son, a dog that would be the first service dog ever to help a child with FAS by sensing an immanent outburst and using its love to help calm the child in ways no human can. I told her I thought it was a great idea. She told me her husband was dead-set against it. I told her, from experience, that mothers do rabies-crazy things because we are so in love with our children, and to listen to her gut.
She and her precious father and children brought home fur-covered love – a rescued golden retriever named “Chancer,” because hers was his second family; his second chance at love – that helped her son and became the rabbi’s best friend.
We did another video. The CDC did a video about her family and their experience with FASD in hopes of raising awareness of the fact there is no safe amount of alcohol, or safe time to drink if you are pregnant or could be pregnant.
We had awareness-building and fundraising schemes, dreams, and roadblocks that, as we climbed over them, made us stronger. And a little tired. After all, we’d hit our 50s together.
She was working on three books and we were both run ragged by children and traffic and board meetings and life and events and she decided to put her focus into the books. We stayed in touch, with emails and phone calls and rushed lunches or coffees and even a rare girls’ night out, just two moms and a hot dog.
And now, six years from our first meeting, her story has been told in an incredible award-winning book by her daughter. And in a second book, also published by Better Endings New Beginnings, that has garnered international awards and is the story of, and “written by,” the dog. And now in an epic feature spread in nothing less than the Sunday’s New York Times Magazine(2.5.12), written by a best-selling author who has woven this story and all its intricacies and miracles so beautifully, that I firmly believe there is a thread-for-thread matching tapestry of it hanging in heaven.
I invite you to get a second cup of coffee or tea and read this story (link below). Savor every word of it because you will want to read more. And more. And you will want, I believe, to see it told on a big screen. I know I do.
Donnie do what she is so very, very good at doing: making sense of her family’s pain by using her experience, strength, and unfailing optimism to help others.
UPDATE AS OF 11.5.12 – Chancer’s story WILL become a movie! It is being written by Writer/Co-Producer Karen Hall
, who’s written for some of the most well-known TV shows of the last 30 years and the legendary movie “The Betty Ford Story”, and brought to the screen by Emmy Award winning director Martha Cotton
. Dreams are coming true. I am just wondering who’ll play ME in the movie. J
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