Paula Fitzsimmons is an award-winning pet content writer and journalist who is now using her considerable technical skills to help educate the public about COVID-19. We celebrate her as she also won the 2019 Goodnewsforpets.com Digital Human Animal Bond Award at the Dog Writers Association of America Annual Awards Banquet this past February. I was delighted to personally present the award (pre-social distancing) to her as we celebrated Goodnewsforpets.com’s 20th Anniversary that evening and now equally delighted to introduce her to the Goodnewsforpets.com community. — Lea-Ann Germinder, Editor and Publisher.
Can you tell the Goodnewsforpets community how you got started writing about pets — was there anything surprising about how you started?
I’ve always loved to write and since I’m passionate about animals, writing about them seemed like a natural fit. Some of my first articles focused on companion birds, including one about how to run a parrot rescue for ASPCA’s Animal Watch, which sadly is no longer in circulation.
What project(s) are you working on now related to the COVID-19 outbreak?
I’m fortunate to have steady writing projects with several pet-centric clients who I absolutely love working with, so that keeps me quite busy – although I’m always looking to partner with new clients. I’d like to expand and write about animals for more non-pet markets, and have pondered writing a book and starting a blog. I was thrilled to receive Carol Bryant’s and Maggie Marton’s “Pet Blogging for Love & Money” book in addition to the $500 Goodnewsforpets award grant. I have just started reading that.
Can you tell us about the project you won the 2020 Goodnewsforpets Human Animal Bond Digital Award for?
Yes, the story that won was “The Dogs of Chernobyl: A Story of Tragedy and Hope.” My editors at PetMD.com asked if I’d be interested in interviewing Lucas Hixson, one of the co-founders of the Clean Futures Fund, and I jumped on it! Clean Futures Fund is an organization that by way of their work for humans impacted by industrial accidents started an arm to help the abandoned dogs in the Ukraine, near the site of the 1986 disaster.
I had the opportunity to interview Lucas (he’s American so there were no communication issues) and learn about the amazing work his organization is doing for these dogs.
The story left me feeling humbled. Here you have these Ukrainian workers who are by our standards, living in poverty. Yet they still managed to find money from their own pockets to feed the dogs, as well as to care for them to the best of their ability. If anyone has earned the right to feel defeated, it’s these people, yet they continue to move forward.
It’s a story of the good that can be found in humanity. It is indeed a story of hope.
What do you like most/least about writing?
I love the entire writing process – generating ideas, doing research, interviewing, writing, and editing. I think the things I like the least are the bookkeeping aspects and self-promotion. It’s easier to interview other people and write about ideas than it is to write about myself.
Why did you join the Dog Writers Association of America (DWAA)?
I was looking for additional professional networking opportunities and I liked that DWAA is a solid, recognized organization (they’ve been around since 1935) with an impressive membership and sponsor roster.
What advice would you give now to would be dog writers?
Build your skills; they take time to develop! I’m an established freelancer writer, but am still always looking for ways to improve my writing.
Join DWAA and other professional organizations. It’s essential to network, to get out of your comfort zone and make positive connections with other writers, potential clients, and people working in the field.
I think most writers tend to be introverted, so mingling is not second nature for us. I have found people in DWAA, however, to be most welcoming and genuine.
Reach out to other writers, start your own writing group. Be tenacious. Be willing to keep going in spite of the rejection, criticisms, and letdowns you will inevitably face. I don’t know any writers who started out as an overnight success. Writing, marketing, networking is all hard work – but I wouldn’t trade it!
Volunteer. Most organizations have opportunities for members to get involved; it’s a great way to meet other writers and potential clients, as well as to give back to our community. Be adaptable. This industry is continually evolving and you have to be ready to adapt.
Do you have other interests other than writing? What is it that you love about it?
I also walk a lot, mostly for fitness. I’m a big reader, and I often have at least a couple books on my nightstand. That’s another important bit of advice I have for new writers: Read! It helps you expand your mind, exposes you to new ideas, and introduces you to different types of writing styles.
I also believe in giving back. Most of my volunteer work has been centered on animal rescues and animal welfare organizations – fundraising, lobbying, phone banks, writing projects, what have you – but I’ve also done beach cleanups and church projects in the past.
What was your most recent volunteer project?
My most recent project revolved around advocating for local law enforcement and helping improve community relations. During the three years that I ran this grassroots effort, we scored some big wins. Just some of these included passing a state law (it passed unanimously), holding a special vigil, hosting four community/police officer appreciation parties, successfully lobbying local government to fund additional police officer positions, and spearheading successful letter-writing campaigns that included funding a detective position to combat human trafficking.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Yes. Thank you, Lea-Ann and Goodnewsforpets for sponsoring this award, and to DWAA for hosting the event. It’s an honor.
Paula writes about companion animals as they relate to topics of health, nutrition, science, tech, & lifestyle. For more information, visit Paula’s website at pjpublications.com.