SALT LAKE CITY UT May 24, 2016
Joe Putnam had sent off his manuscript, a non-fiction account of saving baby seals in Russia, to several different publishers with no success. Generally he was told they loved the story but didn’t think a book about saving seals in Russia would be marketable in the U.S.
WiDo submissions editor Allie Maldonado disagreed with that assessment. “People love animal stories, regardless of the setting. This is a heartwarming story of the ringed seal, endangered in that part of the world. Yet rescuing them is such a bureaucratic nightmare nothing was being done.”
As a staff officer in the army, Joe Putnam did a lot of writing, but story-telling had never been his forte until about nine years ago. He had just begun to write opinion editorials for local newspapers and had an interest in writing, but no real experience in writing books, until he heard the story of Slava and Lena.
Slava, the son of Putnam’s Russian wife Tatyana, and his girlfriend Lena had rescued a baby ringed seal in the course of Slava’s work as a veterinarian in St. Petersburg. The two worked together to nurse it back to health, despite it being against the law to keep these seals. The government wanted Slava to release the animal immediately, which would have guaranteed its death. They kept the seal hidden in their apartment while they gave it proper care.
“Back in 2007, Tatyana used to talk to Slava and Lena several times a week,” Putnam recalls. “When she got off the phone, I’d ask what they’d had to say…just being polite. When I heard about their efforts with their first seal, Hita, I thought what they were doing was quite remarkable. After two or three weeks of Tatyana’s reports, I started to recognize a great story unfolding and thought I should go write it down.”
In the coming months Putnam would ask Tatyana for an update after each phone conversation and then go to write down what she said. “After more than a year of writing their story, I finally told Tatyana what I was doing,” Putnam says. “I told her not to tell Slava and Lena because I didn’t want it to influence their actions in any way. In other words, I wanted to keep it a secret from them until the story reached a natural conclusion by itself.”
After a total of two years of writing, the story did come to the conclusion Putham had expected and hoped for. “Then, we told Slava and Lena I’d written it all down,” he said. “They laughed and were flattered that somebody thought enough of their work to record it.”
A lot has happened since Hita was released: Slava and Lena actualized their dream of establishing a permanent facility in which to continue their work. Last season they had 31 baby seals they saved. Caring for them is like caring for 31 human babies: feeding them several times a day, administering medicines, cleaning up after them, separating them when they start to fight with each other and even doing surgery.
Putnam states: “They do it out of their love for animals and I’ve never known two more courageous or selfless people.” Slava and Lena were able to secure the financial support of a huge company, Vodokanal “water channel”, that has helped them save dozens of seals.
“These two, Slava and Lena, have been on TV so many times they have developed a continuing relationship with the press,” Putnam says. “The press comes to all their releases so as to have something positive to report amid so many depressing things that go on in the world.”
“It is a captivating story that Joe has written with compassion and authenticity,” says Allie Maldonado. “We are excited to be bringing Slava and Lena’s adventures with saving ringed seals to American readers, thanks to Joe.”
Joe Putnam retired from active duty as a Lieutenant Colonel after serving 23 years in all components of the Army. He holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Central Oklahoma and a master’s degree from Oklahoma University. After retiring from the army, Putnam taught Junior ROTC in Texas high schools for eleven years, and spent five years working for the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics before retiring to private life. He lives with his wife, Tatyana, originally a native of St. Petersburg, Russia, in Oklahoma with Kenzie, their adorable and freakishly intelligent, frisbee-catching Border Collie.