ELWOOD – Cold, rainy March Saturdays and dozing go together.
Just like some owners and pets go together.
In her first children’s book, “Eva’s Heart,” Sue Milo of Elwood shares the story of how one rejected shelter dog found her permanent home in what Milo calls “a miraculous set of events.”
And Milo decided to write that story to encourage young readers – really, people of all ages – to believe in their dreams and never give up on love.
Here’s how it happened.
In March 2010, Milo and her German Shepherd Chloe were missing Bonjo, a basset shepherd mix that had died the previous August. On one bleak Saturday, they curled up for a nap. While sleeping, Milo dreamed she would adopt a dog named Eva.
The following weekend, Milo, nervous about an upcoming business trip to Mexico, decided to attend an adoption event at a Mokena pet store. Milo had no intention of adopting a dog; she only wanted to look to calm her nerves.
In the midst of “mass chaos” of excited puppies, Milo saw one dog sitting quietly. That dog wore a sign: “I’m selling kisses for a dollar.”
Intrigued, Milo tucked a dollar into the dog’s jacket and began petting her. Milo said a volunteer came up and told her, “Oh, look! Eva really likes you.”
“Tears came to my eyes,” Milo said. “I knew that a miracle had happened and, somehow, she was meant to be with me.”
Milo was uncertain of Eva’s breed, saying that Eva “is a brindle and has beautiful coloring.” But that didn’t matter to Milo. She couldn’t believe several families had rejected a dog that remained so calm and loving, despite being returned several times to the shelter.
But Milo had an explanation for it.
“She knew she was going to find the right home,” Milo said. “She never gave up on her dream.”
But first, the obstacle.
Chloe did not readily accept other dogs. But then, a second miracle occurred. The volunteer was also a dog trainer. Milo said the volunteer felt Milo and Eva belonged together and offered to work with Chloe – for free – to ease the transition.
So the following week, Milo said Chloe met the trainer’s golden retriever. By the end of the afternoon, to Milo’s amazement, both dogs were happily romping together in the yard. Soon afterward, Milo took Chloe to meet Eva at the shelter.
What Chloe did stunned Milo.
“She licked her on the nose,” Milo said.
After Milo brought Eva home, she reflected on Eva’s past circumstances, which led Milo to also think about the troubled youth she helps on a volunteer basis – and the despair and sadness they feel when no one listens to them and how they blossom with the proper guidance and attention.
“I thought Eva’s story was perfect because she never gave up hope,” Milo said. “She got returned four times, but that didn’t matter. She was still a happy girl.”
So one morning while journaling, the story spilled out of Milo. It took only 20 minutes to write, but five years to find the right publisher. In the meantime, Milo located an illustrator who could work with Eva’s photographs to create beautiful art for “Eva’s Heart.”
Although it’s a children’s book, “Eva’s Heart” is intended for readers of all ages. According to Milo, its message, “Don’t ever lose sight of your dream. It doesn’t matter if no one else acknowledges it. Just hang onto it,” is appropriate for everyone.
“Eva’s Heart” was released at the end of 2016. Milo said she is donating part of the proceeds to local rescues and shelters, which, she said, work heroically to place animals in permanent homes.
But even during the publication process, “Eva’s Heart” had an uplifting message for Milo.
Last summer, Milo learned Eva had cancer. Milo said the diagnosis was a huge wake-up call for her.
“She continues to teach me lessons I need to learn,” Milo said. “I learned I wasn’t living in the moment. I was continuously worrying about the past and the future. Her cancer brought us front and center and taught me to just love her while she’s here.”
Eva was given six months to live, but those six months have come and gone, and Eva is still alive. Milo attributes that partly to an alternative treatment that Eva tolerates well.
“So the miracle continues,” Milo said.