NAPLES, Maine — Visit Kevin Noble and Tricia Souza's home in Naples, and you'll realize best friends can come in all shapes and sizes. That includes gentle and obedient English Lab, Camper, and proud and fearless Maine coon and tabby mix, Leo.
In December 2020, videos of Camper and Leo went viral on TikTok when Souza posted one of the Lab pulling a sled with the cat willingly sitting on top of it. The account has since gained tens of thousands of followers. It's something Souza said she wasn't expecting at all, after not having much of a social media presence at all.
"When we watched it, we were like, 'Oh my God, 200 people liked it; oh my God, 10,000. Our minds were blown," Souza said.
She said the most rewarding part of running this account has been the positivity and hearing from fans that Camper and Leo brightened their day.
"I get messages [like], 'I needed to watch this video today because I was having a really difficult day.' It just makes me want to continue," Souza said.
Now, Souza and Noble are trying to bring that positivity closer to home in a more tangible way. Last spring, Souza wrote a children's book, "Adventures of Camper & Leo: Sled Ride" which was just published on November 17. They're selling copies online and plan to donate all proceeds to the organization Maine Paws for Veterans in Brunswick.
"When the phone call came in, I was just shocked," said Tracy Shaw, the executive director of MPV, relaying the moment Noble, a stranger, shared her idea. "It's not like there was an established relationship with these wonderful people."
Maine Paws for Veterans was founded in 2012 and provides service dog training for veterans (with either their own dog or a new dog) who are experiencing PTSD connected to military service. The course runs 26 weeks, and there are monthly refresher classes after graduation. Shaw said these dogs help give veterans a purpose, with training demands and physical exercise requirements. They also provide a sense of comfort in public settings, where a lot of veterans with PTSD typically feel uneasy. People have come to this program from Calais to Vermont and anywhere in between.
"One veteran will say that it's his suicide prevention dog," Shaw said. "That's just a huge statement."
The program is free for veterans who are accepted after applying online, but the cost for the organization is about $3,500 per veteran-canine pair. It's why Noble said he's hoping to sell at least a thousand books. For him, the cause hits close to home, since he served in the Persian Gulf War and struggled with PTSD but found comfort in Camper.
"He's really in-tune to people's emotions. If I get off of my head, he recognizes it, and he barks and just kind of brings you back to the moment," Noble said, later adding, "He doesn't worry about what happened yesterday. He doesn't care about what's happening tomorrow. It's just today."
Souza and Noble now have a third furry friend in their mix: Jack, a cream point Ragdoll kitten. He has already been featured on their social media pages and seems to feel right at home.
"He has really kind of just fit right in," Noble said. "It's like he has always been here."
Books cost $12.99 each. For each book sold, $6.50 will go to MPV, since the rest of the money is being used to pay the distributor. You can buy a book here.