The Rapidian Home

'Dog 281′ was 10 years in the making for West Michigan author

West Michigan author will be at the Pet Expo this weekend to sign her new book, "Dog 281."
Underwriting support from:

West Michigan Pet Expo

The Delta Plex Arena

Adults – $6
Kids 12 & Under – $4
Children 5 & Under – Free
Saturday 3/31 – 10am-7pm
Sunday 4/1 – 11am-5pm
More information can be found here.

/Kate Lord

Anyone who has visited a veterinarian's office, animal shelter or humane society in West Michigan no doubt is familiar with Janet Vormittag. Her free monthly publication, “Cats & Dogs Magazine,” can be found in such places from Greenville to Grand Rapids to Muskegon to Grand Haven, and all points in between.

Vormittag, 56, started the magazine in 2006, after the death of both her parents and the breakup of her marriage. In the meantime, she had been working on and off on her first novel, “Dog 281,” which she completed and published last month. Vormittag will be the the West Michigan Pet Expo in Grand Rapids this weekend to sign copies of the book.

The former freelance writer for the Grand Rapids Press and Muskegon Chronicle said her involvement with the magazine inspired her to get back to work on “Dog 281,” which she started in 2000.

“They say when you're writing a book you should write every day, and you should, but I sure didn't,” said Vormittag, a Jenison resident. “There was a gap of years, when both my parents got sick with cancer and my husband left. The three or four years my marriage was falling apart and my parents were sick, I didn't do anything [with the book]. Then my divorce became final and my parents both died within a span of five months, so I still didn't do anything.

“I thought I'd start this fun little cats and dogs magazine. That's gotta be fun, right? And the first issue, I got involved with pet overpopulation, killing animals down the road and then the whole Montcalm issue came up again.”

The “Montcalm issue” involved animal rights advocates protesting the county's contract with R&R Research, a Class B dealer obtaining animals from shelters and selling them to universities and laboratories for research. It's a topic with which Vormittag is familiar, since “Dog 281” is based on that very subject. She was inspired to write the book when her sister's dog, a black Labrador retriever named Fraser, went missing from his Montcalm County home in 2000 and was never seen again. While the novel is a fictional account, much of it rings true for Vormittag.

“We did everything you could possibly do to find that dog, but it was just gone,” Vormittag said. “At the time, R&R Research had a contract with the county and was taking stray dogs out of the shelter. So, you didn't know what happened and it was always in the back of my mind... did he end up at R&R?”

In the 10 years since Vormittag started “Dog 281,” Montcalm County officials have chosen not to renew its contract with R&R, one of three Class B dealers in Michigan (among eight nationally).

“What really got me going on the book again is, I started the magazine and the whole thing in Montcalm started up again,” Vormittag said. “They would sign five-year contracts, so it was coming up for renewal. The group of activists were starting to get word out again about not renewing the contract, so I got sucked back up into the whole Montcalm County thing and I thought, 'I gotta get back to this book. It's still an issue.' ”

Last week, Gratiot County, which also has a contract with R&R, announced it would give just one dog a year to the Class B dealer, since the contract, which expires in 2014, does not stipulate how many dogs are required to be turned over.

Now that “Dog 281” is published and available to the public, Vormittag said she's facing a new set of challenges.

“The hardest thing right now is putting it out there, just sharing what I've been working on for 10 years,” she said. “It has been my little baby, in my closet, and not it's time to share it with the world, and is it good or not good? I don't know. Trying to judge your own writing is hard. I've had several people read it and all been positive. Tricia McDonald, my friend and writing coach, said, 'You're just going to keep giving it to people to read until you find one who doesn't like it and there you go, See? They don't like it.' She also said, 'I'm your friend and I say it's good and ready to go. I got your back. If it weren't good, I would tell you it needed more work. It's ready. Let it go.' ”

Vormittag will sign copies of “Dog 281” for those wishing to purchase the book at the West Michigan Pet Expo March 31-April 1 at DeltaPlex in Grand Rapids. The book also is available via For those interested in a sneak preview, Chapter 1 is available on Vormittag's website.

While she's hoping her novel is positively received, she's even more hopeful readers will see the big picture when they finish the book.

“People keep saying, 'Does it have a happy ending?' ” Vormittag said. “Yeah, the book has a happy ending, if you're reading it just for a novel. But if you're reading it for the bigger picture that you're trying to teach people, that there are Class B dealers out there, and they need to go away one way or another …

“So many people don't want to know and would rather bury their heads in the sand. I think, wouldn't that be a nice way to live? Going through life not knowing some of this stuff?”

The Rapidian, a program of the 501(c)3 nonprofit Community Media Center, relies on the community’s support to help cover the cost of training reporters and publishing content.

We need your help.

If each of our readers and content creators who values this community platform help support its creation and maintenance, The Rapidian can continue to educate and facilitate a conversation around issues for years to come.

Please support The Rapidian and make a contribution today.

Comments, like all content, are held to The Rapidian standards of civility and open identity as outlined in our Terms of Use and Values Statement. We reserve the right to remove any content that does not hold to these standards.