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Jonesboro writer's dog is her muse

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Jennifer Dunagan was at home recovering from multiple surgeries in 2004, when literary inspiration came to her in the form of a Chihuahua, English cur, mixed-breed dog named "Santana."

Dunagan, who is a former substitute teacher for Henry County schools, and is currently a paraprofessional at Morrow Elementary School, received the dog as a gift from her husband, Curtis. Santana's purpose was to lift Dunagan's spirits as she recuperated.

He ended up doing much more for the Jonesboro resident.

"He's just so much fun to be around," Dunagan said. "When I see him with his brother, Bosco, and his sister, Lucy, I get all kinds of ideas."

Dunagan and Santana will participate in a book signing with McDonough author Dale Cramer on May 31, from 3 p.m.., to 6 p.m., at Vintage Photographs, 131 N. Main St., Jonesboro.

Dunagan will sign copies of her 2006 book, "Auntie Jennie's Puppy: The Adventures of Santana," and Santana will then also sign the book with his paw print.

Jennifer Dunagan was recovering from surgeries to remove a tumor from her spleen, and two blood clots which had traveled to her legs, when Curtis Dunagan began searching for a dog to lift her spirits.

"She always wanted a dog, and I kept saying 'no,' " he said. "Then I saw that she was just sitting at home and feeling depressed, so I said to myself, 'It's time to get her a dog.' I knew it would lift her spirits, but I had no idea how much it would end up helping her."

Curtis Dunagan found himself wondering what kind of dog would be the best fit for his wife. Should he get her a big dog? Or a little dog? He decided he could not get her a dog with lots of fluffy hair, because it might aggravate her sinuses. Ultimately, he decided a small house dog would be the best fit.

The question then became what type of house dog would make the best pet?

After going to several kennels in search of a dog who would be the ideal fit for his wife, he found out a relative in Houston owned a dog whose sibling needed a home. "He's a part of the family now," said Curtis Dunagan. "It's been a life-changing experience for us. He's uplifted her spirits a lot ... No matter what your day has been like, a dog always remains the same. That's why I appreciate him so much."

Santana did not start out being Jennifer Dunagan's muse when he came into her life. He was just there to keep her company as she recovered from her surgeries. As the months passed, she was able to go to local schools and work with children again.

As she was sitting in the back of an elementary school classroom in Fulton County one day, observing a teacher prepare students for the Criterion-Reference Competency Tests (CRCTs), Dunagan pulled out a note pad and began writing notes about Santana and how he came into her life.

She had done some writing for student newspapers when she was in high school and college, so she just resurrected those skills to bring the tales of Santana to the page. "The ideas just started coming to me," she said. "Since I work with children so much, it allowed me to know what they might like in a children's book."

Dunagan's son, Eric Strange, drew the pictures for "The Adventures of Santana," so it ended up being a family affair. She shopped the book around before settling with AuthorHouse, a self publishing company.

Santana continues to serve as his owner's muse. Dunagan said she has gotten ideas for seven more books by watching Santana play with other dogs. The second installment of the "Auntie Jennie's Puppy" Series, entitled "Santana's Harrowing Halloween" will be published by BookShelf Global Publishing later this year. A 9-year-old relative did the artwork for that book.

"She doesn't do this for the money," said Curtis Dunagan. "She just loves writing children's books and reading to children ... If we had the money to afford it, I think she would just write these books and give them away for free."

Yvette McDonald, who co-owns Vintage Photography with her husband, Larry, said the couple had already set up a book signing for Cramer, who is a family friend, when Jennifer Dunagan came into the shop to introduce herself. "She was a very delightful person to talk to," Yvette McDonald said. "She had Santana with her and we struck up a conversation about her book.

"My husband and I ended up saying to ourselves, 'Why don't we have a double-book signing.'"