Service Above Self

Author - Carmen Leal
Published - June 5, 2024

What started as a simple trip home from the beach on June 18, 2015, ended in a five-car pileup when we were hit while at a red light. My husband, who was driving, suffered no injuries. My career-ending injuries included a severe concussion from the whiplash, moderate frontal and temporal brain damage, and intractable migraines. I recently completed the third and hopefully final surgery to repair the damage that left me without peripheral vision.

In March of 2017, we followed my son from sunny Hawaii to cold, gloomy Oshkosh where he had started his first job as an attorney. Besides Nicholas, his wife, and their son, we didn’t know anyone and knew nothing about our new community.

Six months after arriving I finally decided to adopt a dog; if it didn’t help, at least my canine-loving husband would have a friend when I killed myself. I made mistakes as a dog owner. Lots of mistakes. Costly ones. I can laugh now, but it was a wild first few months.

But walking Coconut each day made a huge difference in my life because dogs are people magnets and conversation starters. The same can be said for living in a 150- year-old character home and gardening in the front yard on a busy street.

I didn’t work in an office, have kids in school, or frequent places where I’d made connections in the past. My big turnaround came when I found a purpose.

During the four years I helped the rescue where I adopted Coconut, I wrote 6,500 doggy bios, rebranded and redesigned their website, wrote grants, created events, and pretty much became the face of the organization. 

I celebrated a big birthday in May complete with my first celebration party ever. The best part of the night was looking around the room and realizing that I have made a difference in this city where I never wanted to live.

As I looked around and listened to the laughter, the music, and the conversations, I realized that while I might not have ever wanted to leave Hawaii, I have built a life. Friends from our neighborhood association, the Oshkosh Chamber Singers, the Southwest Rotary Oshkosh Club, and others were there to celebrate me as an integral part of our new home town.

Finding purpose in life after retirement can be summed up in the three-word Rotary motto: service above self. By finding places to serve we have become part of this community.


Carmen and Coconut (1) (1)

Carmen Leal is a storyteller, Coconut's mom, and a reluctant gardener. She is the author of multiple books, articles, devotionals, and human-interest stories. Carmen relocated from Hawaii to Oshkosh, yes, there is a story behind the move, and has become an awesome dog mom. Carmen and her husband have become reluctant gardeners and, sadly, they know a crazy amount about Wisconsin weeds. She is the mother of Coconut, the best imperfectly perfect rescue dog in the world. Carmen didn’t know enough about rescuing dogs; okay, she knew nothing, but despite her complete lack of research or knowledge, she ended up with Coconut, the rescue who was and continues to be perfect for her.

Carmen is an active member of the Oshkosh Southwest Rotary Club, part of her neighborhood association's leadership team, and is an adjunct professor for Fox Valley Technical College's award-winning E-Seed Entrepreneurship workshop. When she is not writing and speaking, Carmen reads, cooks, and is a major bargain hunter at consignment and antique shops. A portion of every book sold is donated to Second Chance North, an area foster-to-adoption group that helps to rescue more dogs. Follow Carmen on Facebook at #rescuemoredogs.

Find Carmen online at: Her website: Her publishing company: Her Facebook page: Her Personal Facebook Page:


Our four-legged friends have huge hearts. Experience the joy of this collection of true-life stories of humans and the amazing dogs who saved them. Carmen Leal never dreamed tragedy could bring positive change. Suffering a traumatic brain injury after a car wreck, the marketing pro struggled to find her center and reclaim her life. But after finally caving in and adopting a rescue dog, her world changed forever. Flourishing on her new furry friend’s unconditional love, she turned her talents to supporting canines still facing grim futures. Working tirelessly over the course of four years, she’s helped find homes for over 6,500 dogs and collected endless tales of wonderment and triumph. Now, she’s here to share the real-life stories of how a deep connection with these incredible animals can bring fulfillment and joy. In this heartwarming compilation, author and storyteller Carmen Leal interweaves her personal journey with those who’ve experienced renewal at the paws of the dogs they adopted. Bringing together over sixty snapshots, Leal connects both dramatic and simply sweet accounts, including her own, while advocating for help and donating a portion of each sale to a foster-to-adoption group. When Love Wags a Tail is part emotional memoir and part treasure trove of inspirational and humorous journeys. If you like protecting loyal friends who lack a voice, feel-good adventures, and giving back, then you’ll adore Carmen Leal’s touching read.

Publisher: EABooks Publishing ISBN-10: 196361108X ISBN-13: 978-1963611083 Print Length: 256 pages

Purchase a copy of When Love Wags a Tail on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and You can also add it to your GoodReads reading list. 


When Love Wags a Tail offers a heartwarming look at the life-changing impact of rescuing a dog who in turn rescues their person. This delightful compilation is filled with stories of the magic that happens when dogs connect with their person at a critical moment in time.

The therapeutic value of a trauma survivor’s relationship with their dog is something I routinely see in my practice as a licensed professional therapist. With honesty and humor, Carmen Leal, herself a survivor of a traumatic brain injury, weaves her healing journey with her canine companion into a rich tapestry that includes over forty other pet parents.

When Love Wags a Tail is an unforgettable, beautifully written gift to dog lovers everywhere. —Angela Miller, Licensed Professional Therapist

When Love Wags a Tail is a collection of the most heart-warming stories of the unique bonds that develop between dogs and their human family members. You will alternately smile, shed tears, laugh out loud, and be awed by the very personal experiences shared by the author, Carmen Leal, as she writes both her own stories and shares those of many people who have experienced this remarkable connection.

Rescued dogs can bring with them some challenges to their adopted family members, but the spot they occupy in the heart cannot be described more meaningfully than in this book. You will be warmed within these pages as you read how love literally “wags its tail” and enters your life and your heart. Carol Vogel, Retired College Professor and Dog Lover

As an avid gardener and dog dad I can truly say that I’ve never read a book that so creatively blends together nature and dogs. Author Carmen Leal was not a dog lover and was, at best, a reluctant gardener. A traumatic brain injury and subsequent cross-country move led to the adoption of Coconut, the dog who saved her life.

When Leal discovered flooding in her backyard, planting a rain garden solved the problem. She discovered that dogs and gardening created order from chaos and beauty from pain.

When Love Wags a Tail is not a gardening book, but with irrepressible spirit, humor, and charm, Leal seamlessly weaves in stories about the meaning of various flowers and shrubs in her yard and shares the parallels between man’s best friend and plants.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the author’s journey and those of the over forty other contributors in this wonderful compilation filled with inspiring stories of love, loyalty, and laughter. — Brian Pribbernow, Gardener, dog lover, professional florist and owner of uBloom, a creative boutique and gift store

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