Patricia Petrusik, author of The Sober Cat retired from the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation in the Pittsburgh area. She holds a guidance certificate K-12 and an addiction certificate , C.A.A.P. She also developed an educational game, “The Slippery Slope of Substance Abuse.”
In addition to working with special needs students to help them transition from high school to college or the work force, Patricia also spent several years working with families in crisis who were struggling to overcome addictions. She became convinced parents need to start a dialogue with their children about the dangers of substance abuse in kindergarten or elementary school.
Patricia decided a book would be the best way to help families start talking She wanted to tackle the serious issue of substance abuse, but she wanted to add some fun elements to keep children interested and involved. She modeled “the sober cat narrator” after Jazmine, a rescue she adopted and she chose Cathy McKeever, a retired teacher to create a fun age appropriate math component for The Sober Cat.
After reading the book, I decided to invite Patricia and Jazmine to answer a few questions about The Sober Cat and substance abuse. Be sure to read my review of The Sober Cat in this issue of This Awful Awesome Life.
Here are my questions and her answers:
1. What inspired/motivated you to write a children’s book about substance abuse and addiction?
My motivation for The Sober Cat was twofold: I wanted to have something for ages K-12 for my website www.theslipperyslopeofsubstanceabuse.com. Second, with my clients, the average age of onset was age nine and the normal substance was alcohol or marijuana.
2. What research did you do before writing The Sober Cat?
My research is based on my 36 years of working as an OVR counselor and as a member of the state drug and alcohol work group for the Commonwealth. I am a certified addictions counselor.
3. Why did you decide to incorporate math lessons in the book?
The Sober Cat is a children’s book and visual learning is an important tool to help children learn.
4. How did you select Cathy McKeever to create the age appropriate math for the book?
Cathy is a teacher that I had the pleasure of meeting, so I hired her to do the math because I do not have those credentials.
5. What is the right age for children to begin learning about the dangers of drugs and alcohol? Why?
I believe with my whole heart that drug prevention and learning good coping skills should begin at home as early as possible. It should be taught along with numbers and colors and tying shoes etc. Children learn about drugs one way or another, I think parents should teach children about the danger of drugs before they meet other students or acquaintances tell them how cool it is to use drugs.
6. What made you decide to feature Jazmine as the Sober Cat?
Jazmine is a star and a diva. It is a natural fit for her to headline The Sober Cat. And, children can relate to animals. Jazmine wants people to remember that addicts are people too, not just addicts. When a person dies from an overdose, they leave behind grieving family, friends and pets.
7. Why is it important to open a dialogue about drugs and alcohol with your children?
Children need to see their parents having fun and coping with life without using drugs. Children need love and support and drug prevention to navigate the journey of life safely. Remember you can die with your first use of a substance.
8. How should parents use this book as a teaching guide?
The Sober Cat is a primer to start the dialogue on drug prevention going. Get the conversation going! Children will ask questions.
9. Many events in this book are very serious. How do we avoid scaring our first and second graders and help them focus on the positive outcomes of prevention?
The slippery slope of substance abuse is scary. The outcome is death or incarceration. Drug addiction is scary just like touching a hot stove, you will get hurt. I use one scary picture of heroin. The word overdose is a daily news event. It is a word most children have heard and The Sober Cat is an example of authentic learning.
10. Jazmine is adorable. Who took the photographs and who drew the pictures of Jazmine?
I took Jazmine to J.C.Penny's for her photo shoot. It was a memorable event. My Mom and I dangled toys to keep her attention. Both of us had sweat rolling down our backs trying to keep her in the studio and attentive. Outskirts Press added the cartoon cats.
11. Tell us about your website, theslipperyslopeofsubstanceabuse.com. How should we use the website to reinforce the messages in the book?
The website, www.theslipperyslopeofsubstnceabuse.com contains drug prevention lessons with a math theme for older children in Grades 5-12. When a person starts using they usually try other drugs and the consequences of drug use take on very serious legal, societal and educational issues. These math lessons tell that story: Like The Sober Cat, these lessons are written for a caring adult to present to students. My game, “The Slippery Slope of Substance Abuse” is a conversation starter and we all need to start talking about drug prevention. Prevention is part of the treatment for the epidemic we are facing.
12. Where is the safest place to store over the counter drugs and prescription drugs in our homes?
Prescription drugs should be stored in an out of the way locked container. They should be considered just like guns because they can kill. I had clients that would attend open houses just to steal prescription medication out of the medicine cabinets.
13. How do I talk to my kids about alcohol?
Jazmine has some good ideas for teaching kids about alcohol in the book and I have information on my website.
14. What is the best way for me to help my kids make responsible choices about drugs and alcohol as they grow older and begin to experience peer pressure?
Set a good example as a parent. Have fun, enjoy life, deal with depression, loneliness, pain and anger etc. without becoming addicted to drugs or alcohol.
15. If I suspect one of my children is experimenting with alcohol or drugs what should I do?
If you suspect that one of your children is using drugs, do everything you can to love them and to get them help before it is too late. There are plenty of resources available. Dr. Rachel Levine has written a general prescription so anyone can go to a pharmacy and buy Narcan. If I had an addict in the house I would have Narcan in my home too.
The Sober Cat is available on amazon.com and on theslipperyslopeofsubstanceabuse.com