The perfect present of 2024: the storybook “Ellis in Hondenland”
Kel(ly) Bervoets is no stranger to “Dogs and Sensory Gardenland”.
Kel is a creative art therapist and an experienced dog behavior expert. She coaches children and adults with a fear of dogs, works as a grief coach and guides people and dogs after the death of their buddy, their pet.
In addition, Kel is the inspiration and owner of the Sensory and Experience Garden “Instinctief” in Beringen (Belgium). She also created a Sensory Garden in the animal shelter in Genk in 2019 - called the “Bare Paws Path”, and Kel also created a Sensory Garden for the shelter dogs on her own initiative and again completely free of charge in Limassol in Cyprus. In addition, last year she created the “Experience Forest for dogs” on behalf of the city of Peer.
Now Kel has also created a beautiful children's book, her debut as an author and publisher: “Ellis in Hondenland” (in Dutch).
Talk about passion and drive!
As this is an extension to a Sensory Garden for dogs project, we would of course like to know more about this book. We spoke to Kel in detail about her book, her job as Instinctief-coach and the four-legs friends in her life.
The origins of the book
“Ellis in Hondenland” (in Dutch. Soon to be “Ellis in Wooftopia” – in English) is a pleasure to read, partly due to the thick cover, the high-quality paper and the beautiful drawings that appear on almost every page. The book is good for about 200 pages of fun learning and reading for young and old.
Ellis in Hondenland is also the first story book written about a Sensory Experience Garden!
The Dog Sensory Experience Garden plays a major role in the beautiful illustrated book. It is primarily a book about the well-being and safety of dogs and children in interaction with each other. The writing is also recommended for every (dog) professional who works with children (and dogs).
According to Kel, dogs are still often misunderstood and are therefore (unconsciously) not treated very well or downright badly.
“How terrible is it when you do your utmost best, minute after minute, 24/7, to clearly indicate what you want, what you can handle, feel and need, but time after time it is hardly or not at all understood? If you live in a family (or perhaps a kennel in the garden) where people hardly understand your language, your signals, behaviour... Wherever possible, punishment/pain follows every time you communicate and just be yourself, do perfectly normal dog things... Many people do not or insufficiently recognize the language of our beloved dogs. Far too often, dogs are dumped in the shelter due to miscommunication and a lack of (prior) knowledge, skills and empathy.
When a dog bites, it is the loudest cry for help that he or she can finally make. People's expectations of dogs are also often sky-high and unrealistic. Too often they forget the care and costs involved with an animal. And Kel argues when we can finally get rid of this dominance theory? Dogs live with us, as family members, not for us. Every dog is an individual, with a right to exist and of course preferably without suffering. After all, they are such fantastic creatures!!
It was therefore more than necessary for Kel to further highlight and shape dog welfare, and put it into book form! More specifically, a book for children and teenagers, the dog handlers/caregivers of the future.
However, Kel hopes that adults will also read along, given that (grand)parents, etc. , care for the four-legged friend and the children in the house. Be reminded that most biting incidents happen in the home, with adults nearby.
The book contents…
“Ellis in Hondenland” is a 2-in-1, reversible, fascinating, canine book that teaches you how to deal with dogs in an appropriate, respectful way. The language of dogs is also discussed in detail. Topics such as animal shelters, the adoption of dogs/cats and children, the importance of host families and therefore foster care for shelter dogs and children, blended families, the dog passport with accompanying microchip, the construction of a food forest and so many more are included in the book.
Ellis in Hondenland/Wooftopia is actually a double book and therefore contains two stories that are divided into various chapters. The stories are connected by an intermezzo in order to make a leap in time. The two stories will also be available in English as 2 separate e-books in 2024…
Story 1: “Wooftopia, there at the purple beach” – a story that oozes love for dogs…
Story 2: “Chilling instead of screaming” – about fear of dogs and how to tackle that fear…, which story will be called “From fright to friendship”, as the new title of the second e-book in English.
In the first story you can read that a dog called Pup is able to escape from the puppy mill operator and reaches the big metal gate of Hondenland/Wooftopia, completely exhausted. Can the puppy find the courage to go through that gate…? What do you mean by a kidnapping…?!
After turning the hardcopy book over, you can continue reading. In story 2 Maxine plays the leading role. Maxine is a 7-year-old girl who is afraid of dogs. She lives with her foster parents Jane & Simon and big sister Nisa in a house just next to Hondenland/Wooftopia. Together with the neighbour coach, Ellis, and the four-legged friends George and Mila, she tackles her fear of dogs.
Readers can get in touch with Kel. There is a questionnaire in the book and this list is also downloadable from the book website. This way children can give their opinion about the book and ask Kel questions. They can also tell Kel more about their fear and/or love for dogs. This also opens the door for adults to have a conversation. How fun and valuable is that!
The sources of inspiration…
Ellis in Hondenland/Wooftopia is a tribute to Bordeaux Dog George. He briefly lived with Sterre, Kel's English Bull Terrier. After Sterre's death, Jane, a Malinois-Cane Corso mix, was adopted.
George, Jane and Sterre also became a book character @ Ellis in Hondenland/Wooftopia.
Dog Mila is also a very important character in the book and she is also Kel's assistant in daily life in guiding children and adults who are afraid of dogs. Mila is a Labrador Retriever who is now almost 8 years old. Mila behaves softly and calmly, she reads people very well, never jumps on them, does not impose herself... She is also the favourite dog of many children and adults who have been able to assist Kel in their anxiety management processes. Years after the end of that coaching process, visits are still being requested to see Mila again...
Jane is the other (adoptive) dog that Kel lives with. There are also two very elderly cats in the house: the adopted Nina and foundling Astarte.
Dog Jane is almost 9. She has been anxious all her life and has enormous sensitivity. Jane does not like interactions with unknown people or dogs, has difficulty finding peace in locations outside her familiar environment (house and garden) and therefore quickly becomes overwhelmed. Fortunately, Jane found a new source of support in Mila - after her grieving process for George - although things did not always go smoothly in the beginning.
The Instinctive - Experience Garden
As “Sensory Garden 4 Dogs”, we are curious why Kel created a Sensory Garden in her own garden. Especially because she was the very first in Belgium and the Netherlands at the time.
Kel says it all started when she was looking for ways to make Jane's life a little more pleasant and easier. To better support her physically and mentally without having to reach for medication. After all, walks with a loose, long leash were hell for Jane. Even in forests, remote areas, field roads… she had a hard time. Early in the morning or late at night, with as few other people present as possible... it made little difference. Time and time again there was that one dog or person or the sudden sound of a tractor, a waving flag or... Stimuli and triggers everywhere. Off-leash areas were completely excluded, visits to and from family and friends were almost impossible...
During training weeks abroad with Suzanne Clothier and Grisha Stewart, Kel visited several sensory gardens for people on her days off. This is how she came up with the idea of transforming it and equipping it for dogs that have difficulty with stimuli in society and the outside world. She hoped that in this way and in that safe setting, Jane could be a real dog (again), truly happy.
Knowing that sniffing reduces stress and is therefore very useful and beneficial for dogs, Kel combined nose work with various other sensory experiences. So, she decided to transform her extensive garden with many old trees and adjacent meadows into a sensory and, above all, sniffing garden for Jane (and Mila).
In the animal shelter of the city of Genk (Belgium) where Kel helped at the time as a behavioural expert, there was no equipped Sensory Garden for the dogs and therefore no opportunity to relax off-leash and escape life in a shelter cage. That gave Kel the idea to create a kind of sniffing and experience garden for the shelter dogs. While waiting for the realization of that “Bare Paws Path” at the shelter, shelter dogs and puppies regularly came to her garden and indoor puppy class and this is how the Sensory and Experience Garden “Instinctief” was finally born...
Adventure Forest for dogs in the city of Peer
The dog adventure forest in Peer is now a year old, and around this time last year, I had an interview with Kel about this public Adventure Forest for dogs. It was very busy at the time. Now, a year later, Kel says that things are going very well. It is a wonderful place for stable dogs that appreciate contact with other dogs and have limited open space at home. After the initial media interest, peace has returned, and the dogs and their caregivers can now fully enjoy the tepees, wooden bridges, tree trunk obstacles and more.
Grief counseling, from child to dog
Finally, we also spoke with Kel about her work as a grief coach.
Kel adds that she doesn’t only assists adults and children, but also dogs who are grieving the passing of their friend. For example, some dogs temporarily stop eating after the death of their human or dog buddy, they sleep a little more, play less, go searching...
Important advice that she always gives: also involve the other dog(s) in the death, the goodbye. You can do this by placing the deceased dog in a quiet place so that the other dog(s) can understand what is going on, can sniff that dog if desired, lie down with it for a while and so on. However, some dogs will ignore the deceased dog, which is also fine.
Don't forget the children. They also need to say goodbye (physically). That is a very important first step in the entire grieving and integration process. Make room for questions, be sincere in your answers - no matter how hard and difficult the truth is. Because that truth will always be less heavy than the imagination a child has about things to which he or she hasn’t been given answers.
If you would like to know more about Kel and her amazing children's book “Ellis in Hondenland/Wooftopia” or if you would like to order the book (Very original and nice as a gift!), you can find more information at www.ellisinhondenland.com
You can simply order via email: [email protected]
You can read (in Dutch) more information about her coaching work via:
New website about the e-books, available in 2024 (in English): www.ellisinwooftopia.com
Like all great things, we started small. We took a few like-minds with a shared vision—and ran with it. Today, we’ve grown into something big.