Mom’s Choice Awards is excited to announce another post in our interview series where we chat with the inventors, designers, publishers, and others behind some of our favorite family-friendly products.
Greetings, Mom’s Choice readers! We hope this finds you well- thanks for joining us for another installment of our interview series. We were privileged to speak with Mom’s Choice Award-winning Author Rob Kortus, who wrote the children’s book When Dog Pals Fly Across America. This book is a colorful children’s book that teaches kids all about different parts of the United States. Keep reading to learn more about Rob and this incredible book!
MCA: Hi Rob! Thanks for giving us some of your time. We’re glad to be talking with you today. Can you start by sharing a little bit about yourself with our readers?
Rob: I was born in Fayetteville, NC and lived the majority of my childhood in the Orlando FL area. I was raised by wonderful parents and grew up with two fabulous brothers. After graduating from high school, I joined the Army where I was a crew chief (sergeant) and graduated
from flight school flying Blackhawks (warrant officer) at several military installations across the USA and overseas bases in Korea and Germany.
After flying with the Army for 10 plus years, I transitioned over to the Coast Guard where I received my officer commission. Here, I flew various types of missions to include search and rescue, drug interdiction, homeland security patrols, etc. In total, nearly 28 years served, rated in five
different types of helicopters, and I retired as a Coast Guard Commander. I would do it all over again!
As for hobbies, I have always loved playing sports. I have cycled for many years to include several years in the Asheville area where I first retired from flying. Asheville is a mountainous region and so I loved climbing up to Mount Mitchell (elevation 6,683’) from
my home on my Trek Madone bicycle. Just over three hours up and 1.5 hours down the mountain with a total accumulated climb of over 7,500”. Great workout and effective training prep for those century rides I participated in to raise money for various charities.
MCA: Well, it makes sense after hearing your bio how you came to write such a wonderful book with this subject matter! I think it goes without saying that your experience as a helicopter pilot, and you’ve also mentioned dog trainer, gives you major credibility to write a book like When Dog Pals Fly Across America.
Rob: I have been an advanced master dog trainer and educator since 2012 and graduate of a wonderful dog trainers academy, Jo Thor’s Dog Trainers’ Academy. Throughout several of the course requirements at the academy, I had to have my personal dogs attend the courses. Sophie was used at the onset of the courses where I learned valuable techniques and knowledge of dog training and she had to pass a test to graduate as well. Sulley was brought in to the master’s certification where I wrote the search and rescue curriculum for the academy and he too had to pass an actual search in order for us to graduate. All in all, I have put in over 2,100 hours in just academy time.
As an entrepreneur, I own and operate my dog training business Commander in Leash Dog Obedience & Behavior training and the CEO of my non-profit therapy dog testing and registry company, Invisible Paw Prints, Inc.
If I had to pick out a highlight of my flying career which interacts directly with the book, I would choose my helicopter flight across America. Myself and crew flew a Coast Guard H60 Jayhawk from Elizabeth City, NC to Sitka, AK! Yes, a trip of a lifetime! I will never forget it. So, the pieces coming together? I flew a helicopter across the USA and now my three cartoon dogs are doing the same thing!
MCA: That is incredible! You’ve lived a life with experiences that so few get to have- but that’s got to be one of the peaks of human life, flying high in the air! Allowing your readers to experience that through the eyes of your dog characters is such a fun adventure. So, throughout your book you’ve interwoven various colors. Can you tell us more about how and why you did this?
Rob: Sure, Here goes! The helicopter in the book is purple and yellow. It is a cartooned H60 Jayhawk helicopter like the one I flew in the Coast Guard. Have you ever watched the movie, the Guardian? This is the same helicopter used in the movie. I wanted these two colors for several
reasons. Let’s start with purple. Purple is the pancreatic cancer awareness color. Nine plus years ago, my brother was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer and he is still alive today. He still takes chemo treatments but overall, he has been very blessed. My wonderful aunt passed away from pancreatic cancer in her 60’s. The military also rewards wounded soldiers with the Purple Heart. My grandfather was in WWII and was awarded the Purple Heart.
Let’s also talk about yellow on the helicopter exterior. In Japan, the color yellow resembles courage (my mother was Japanese). So, the purple and yellow go hand-in-hand if you will (cancer and courage). Additionally, a yellow ribbon back in the day was wrapped
around trees for families waiting on those they love serving overseas in the military and waiting for them to come home safe.
How about those color of the aviator scarves Sophie, Sulley, and Wallace are wearing? I specifically selected these colors for the following reasons. Sophie is wearing a lime green aviator scarf. This lime green scarf represents all of the therapy dog teams in my
non-profit therapy testing and registry company, Invisible Paw Prints, Inc. Each dog wears a lime green scarf with their name on it. These wonderful therapy dog teams volunteer their personal time to give back to their respective communities in such a wonderful capacity. Sulley is wearing white. White is the lung cancer awareness color. My mother passed away from lung cancer. Wallace is wearing the purple scarf which we have discussed already in detail.
MCA: Some wonderful nods to things and people who are meaningful to you. The personal elements you’ve added to your book make it even more special! And on top of that, some of the characters in your book are based on real-life dogs and people you know, is that right?
Rob: Yes, my three canine companions are the primary book characters. Sophie the border collie is the oldest at 10 plus years old who is the pilot or aircraft commander in the book. I also wrote my first book Invisible Paw Prints about Sophie and her therapy dog work and the people she has met and their stories. This particular book contains bible verses for each chapter. Sulley is a chocolate lab mix at 4 plus years old and is the flight engineer. Lastly is Wallace the border collie at 3 plus years old who is the co-pilot.
There are other animals in the illustrations I purposely added in. My father’s orphanage page has his black lab mix Nellie stepping into the helicopter. My son is walking his Irish Wolfhound Cahira in the background of the Swetsville Zoo in Colorado. My youngest
son Sean and his wife Alicia’s two dogs are in the Gentry Farm maze in Tennessee. Romeo is in the bottom left and he is a black and white lab mix along with beagle Dakota on the far-right side of the page. Dakota has been in doggy heaven for several years now.
You asked about some of the venues I illustrate and the people in those illustrations. My father Richard and his younger brother Robert were taken to a place called Mooseheart, which my father always referred to as an orphanage at the approximate age of 11. Richard’s mother passed away at the age of 28 and shortly thereafter his father was off to war. During the war, his father was killed in action. Back then and now Mooseheart is called “Child City & School”. Richard left the orphanage after graduating from Mooseheart high school and went on to college. My brother and I have taken our father back to Mooseheart on two separate occasions years back and it was a wonderful and
emotional visit. The history of this place is definitely worth the read. So, Mooseheart is in the book along with the actual residence my father stayed in while at Mooseheart (the New Jersey Residence).
The page where Wallace is being hoisted down and bringing up coffee is my daughter- in-law’s (Billie Jo) coffee shop in Coeur d’Alene Idaho. And, that’s Billie Jo handing off the coffee tray from the drive through window. There is a fellow fishing off the stern of his vessel in Washington state and that is a long-time friend Chuck who I flew Blackhawks with in the Army. Also, in the same illustration, I pay homage to the Coast Guard who I flew helicopters with for 17 plus years and retired from this wonderful organization by adding in the Jayhawk helicopter and the 45′ Response boat.
MCA: It’s so helpful and entertaining to learn about all of the personal aspects that go into your work- these details make it all the more special. How did you come up with the venues that are found in Dog Pals?
Rob: The venues were chosen during extensive research. I wanted to find those lesser known venues which I knew would create interest in both young and old. I think you’ll like the fact that I spent several days on an Airbnb boat docked in Charleston SC researching and writing my book. This type of venue provided peace and quiet.
Some of the venues, like the igloo hotel in Alaska, is not even open. I did this on purpose. The igloo is simply remarkable and the intent of the book is to get both children and adults into the computer to actually delve deeper into these venues to find out really cool facts. In fact, I researched and found the fella who lived in Buford WY the population of “one” and sent him a copy of my book. This was an interesting story,
should any readers want to delve deeper.
I do get asked if I have been to these venues in the book. The only two that I have personally visited is Mooseheart in Illinois and the coffee shop in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. If I had to choose one venue that would be the first to visit, though, it would be the Track 61 under the Waldorf-hotel in NY.
MCA: That’s fascinating! Thanks for sharing so many of the key details of your work. So, to wrap up, if you could ensure your readers walked away with one thing after reading When Dog Pals Fly Across America, what would it be?
Rob: I would definitely want them to google each venue and read up on the cool data that most will have. It is truly interesting. At the conclusion of the book, I added in a small “test” where the reader attempts to recall the venue to the state adding in a nice educational twist.
Another purpose of my book (method behind the madness – if you will) is to have both daughter and son, mom and dad, sitting down together reading this what I call a “adult’s children’s book” and become inspired. For the children, it becomes “self-discovery.” This is about a child “finding a purpose in life” by reading not only my book but also other books that create self-discovery.
MCA: Thank you so much, Rob, for sharing your time, knowledge, and talents with us! We are excited for our readers to get to learn more about our country and some of its unique places.