Through the success stories of 25 lucky rescue dogs, Little Rock mother + businesswoman Grace Vest inspires other Arkansans to become ardent animal advocates.
By Barrett Gay | Photography by Meredith Melody Photography | Hair & Makeup by Kaity Knoff with Red Beauty Lounge
What began as a routine afternoon at the dog park for Grace Vest and her rescue dog Rascal turned into an unexpected happily ever after, when she met a man and his best friend.
Grace, marketing coordinator at digital marketing firm Team SI, married Patrick Vest in the summer of 2015, six years after their initial encounter at Paws Park – but Patrick wasn’t the only one vying for her affection. His rescue dog Jake, a yellow lab, was his most loyal companion. That is, until Grace entered the picture. “Jake became my sidekick, he was my buddy. He was Patrick’s dog, but he did everything with me,” she recalls.
Grace’s family always adopted shelter dogs, so animal rescue advocacy has been a central component throughout her life. After Jake’s passing in November of 2015, Grace sought a way to properly honor him and simultaneously encourage others to become advocates. After noticing a national picture book showcasing shelter dogs, she thought, “Why doesn’t Arkansas have a book on rescue dogs and their stories?” Recognizing it as a compelling opportunity to raise awareness for our state’s rescue animals, Grace pursued her idea with great enthusiasm.
Eager to curate content, she created a Facebook page soliciting personal testimonies. Soon heartfelt messages came pouring in from across the state. With only 25 success stories planned to comprise the book, she painstakingly narrowed down the 560 candidates. Grace made certain to include a variety of experiences, so people understand the scope of what these pups have overcome. “I wanted to get a good representation of all different kinds of situations that dogs face,” she notes. The other stories aren’t lost, however. She plans to feature them on her blog, with a second book possibly in the works.
Because the story acquisition process was so personal, Grace developed many new friendships – something she didn’t expect. “It allowed me to meet so many different kinds of people from different backgrounds,” she says.
Throughout all the busyness and deadlines, her husband Patrick offered an uplifting presence. “Even through hard processes or when I get frustrated, he knows how to calm me down. He keeps me motivated.” She also greatly appreciates her contributors – Erin Wood of Et Alia Press, editor and publisher, her stepsister June Upton of Aromatique, creative director, and Whitney Bower of Whitney Bower Imaging, photographer – without whom, the book would not have been possible. Their collaboration helped shape and improve Grace’s vision. “You just don’t know where you’ll end up in the writing process, but it turns out to be even better than you thought.” She also notes, “We’re four businesswomen in Arkansas coming together to do what we love to raise awareness for rescue dogs, so that’s a cool aspect.”
In just three words, the title, Home Sweet Home, encompasses Grace’s perspective on how dogs – like her rescue Champ, the book’s cover model – impact our lives. “I think a dog is a great representation of what a home is.”
The response from readers has been a well of encouragement for Grace. “The most rewarding thing is when people tell me, ‘I’ve never been to a shelter before, but I went because I saw your book.’” Congruent with her advocacy mission, a portion of the book sales support Rock City Rescue, a network of rescuers + foster families who rehabilitate adoptable dogs and find them loving homes.
“I still find myself looking at the book thinking, ‘Oh my gosh. How in the world did this happen?’ But I’m so happy it did.” The Vests know that Jake is happy about it, too.
• Home Sweet Home can be purchased at Moxy Modern Mercantile, Rhea Drug, The Savory Pantry, Barbara/Jean, Bark Bar, Domestic Domestic, White Goat, Baumans, WordsWorth Books & Co., Freckled Frog, Heights Corner Market, Hounds Lounge, Box Turtle, Patrick Vest Agency, Panache Aromatique, Etta Margaret or online.