By Rebekah Benoit
It seems hard to believe now, but well-spoken, gregarious author Charmaine Hammond was once a shy wallflower, a quiet kid who tended to blend into the background as a junior high student. “I was a super shy child,” Hammond says. “As a kid growing up, I tended to sit on the sidelines. I didn’t do much to get noticed, and I avoided any kind of uncomfortable situation or conflict.”
While not a target for bullies herself, as a quiet observer she saw other children being picked on regularly, lacking the knowledge of where to go for help. It wasn’t until Grade 9 when Hammond found her voice, inspired by a Grade 9 English teacher that she still remembers with fondness.
“She was amazing, the way she taught and the way she created her classroom as a powerful learning environment. It really helped me come out of my shell,” Hammond recalls.
In high school, the issue of bullying really came to the fore for Hammond. “I really started to see bullying – kids in class were segregated because of where they lived in the community or what their last name was,” she says.
Hammond’s experience nudged her towards her first career as a corrections officer, where her work with young offenders opened her eyes to the uglier aspects of bullying. “I dealt with bullying every day in the group homes and shelters where I worked – kids were bullying one another right there in the facility – it was right there in front of your face,” she explains. “I had lots of opportunities to intervene in those situations, and I also saw opportunities to be in the conversation of kindness a lot more.”
Hammond went on to become a mediator, where she witnessed bullying in its grown-up form, workplace bullying and harassment. “Bullying happens a lot in the workplace, and there’s a misconception that it happens from a superior to the people being supervised, but I intervened in lots of situations where bullying was happening amongst colleagues, or in retail situations where customers were being incredibly abusive to staff,” Hammond says. “Bullying can happen in so many places, not just the playground.”
Hammond vaulted to fame after adopting a Chesapeake Bay retriever named Toby from an animal shelter, only to have her house and her life turned upside-down by the dog’s wild antics. When Toby found success as a pet-therapy dog, Hammond decided to turn the family’s story into a book. On Toby’s Terms has been wildly successful and is now in the process of being made into a motion picture. Hammond followed up her success by penning a children’s book about Toby and his work with children in the hospital.
During her many visits to schools with Toby, Hammond saw an opportunity to address the issue of bullying with children. “We’re always travelling to schools, and the conversations we have always in elementary schools always boil down to kindness, acceptance and respect,” Hammond says. “We were talking to Grade 2 students about how to show kindness on the playground, and one of the kids shouted out, ‘You have to be a buddy, like Toby.’ Another kid shouted, ‘Yeah, you can’t be a bully.’”
“I thought, ‘What a great title for a book!’ These wise little Grade 2 kids planted the seed to do another children’s book,” Hammond says.
Hammond’s second children’s book, Toby the Pet Therapy Dog Says ‘Be a Buddy, Not a Bully,’ follows Toby to a fictional elementary classroom to receive a friendship award, where the children have a conversation about what bullying is and what they can do about it.
“The book really tries to give kids tips and skills to deal with bullying situations. The whole goal of the book is to learn the skills of friendship and not to be a bystander,” Hammond says. “Our hope is that, as children get older, they have the confidence, the skills and the words to intervene and get help for others who need it.”
Hammond says that telling the story using Toby as a vehicle makes it much more appealing to kids. “The [lesson] comes through the story of a dog, without the stereotyping of age, gender or physical appearance. We don’t stereotype what bullying looks like, because a little dog bullies our dog, not a human,” Hammond explains. “Kids really do draw assumptions from what they see and read.”
The book also contains an underlying message about kindness to animals, which Hammond says has a direct link to bullying prevention. “One thing I saw as a correctional officer that terrified me was that many inmates charged with violent crimes, whether in the adult or the young offender system, began their violence towards animals. I saw that time and time again,” Hammond recounts. “Years later, that was in my mind, teaching children that kindness can’t just be towards other humans, it has to be towards the animals living in our community as well.”
In the fall, Hammond will embark on a North-America wide speaking and book tour to promote her books. “It will have a huge philanthropic component, getting our books into schools, and we’re working on developing a resource for teachers to help them use the book,” she explains.
All of Hammond’s books, including her new bullying book, are available on Amazon.com.
Charmaine and Toby have generously donated a book to CONNECT to give away to the public. If you would like to be entered into the draw for the book, email your name and phone number to email@example.com.