If there is an Alaskan malamute heaven on earth, Plumery Tails in Galena is obviously it. It’s also amazing that there are not numerous traffic jams or car pile ups outside 700 Spring St., aka Highway 20, where eight incredibly mesmerizing giant Alaskan malamutes literally stop traffic with their visual presence inside the confines of their spacious front yard. Owner B.J. Schwartz affectionately refers to it as “canine paradise.”
The gigantic malamutes are the showstoppers and virtual billboard for Plumery Tails as it advertises the unique opportunity to interact with the fluffy, friendly dog pack.
“When people ask me how I got here, I usually tell them they don’t have enough time to hear the whole story,” B.J. says.
And B.J. isn’t kidding. With a long and colorful history of growing up in St. Paul, MN, he talks freely and at length about his life experiences – good, bad, and some very ugly – that have brought him to where he is today: writing poetry, children’s books, and raising malamutes. Even B.J. appears to be surprised to see how far he has come from his dysfunctional childhood, troublesome young adulthood, and tough job experiences before he started writing in 2010. He also gives his fiancé, Kim Eastman, a great deal of credit for his refocusing, having met her in 2003.
“My life really turned around when I met Kim,” he said. “The reality was that I wasn’t going to have many more chances in life to do that, and she was everything I ever wanted in a person.”
The couple moved around the country as they sought work, ending up in Davenport, IA in 2007 when Kim landed a management job at J.C. Penny. B.J. then started his own successful landscaping business.
At this point, the couple were starting to lay down some roots and B.J. thought it would be nice to get Kim a cat friend. However, instead of going to the Davenport Animal Shelter in search of a kitten, they came home with a two-year-old Alaskan malamute that weighed in at 120 pounds. They named him Max.
“For Kim, it was love at first sight,” B.J. relates. “This dog was awesome.”
From there, their love of Malamutes grew and, along with it, B.J.’s needed fuel for writing adventurous stories that focus on moral messages for children using Max always as the hero. B.J. said he had been writing poetry intermittently throughout his life, but when Max started accompanying him on his landscaping jobs, storylines started to unfold as Max instinctively interacted with wildlife and the many children they’d meet.
“The books are about things that children are faced with – their happenstances in life,” said B.J., who also writes under a pen name, Bret Terrell. “I wanted to write in a way to bring kids back in time to a better world. The books teach values from basic life situations.”
B.J. explains that the books are written in an ABAB rhyme scheme and 8-6-8-6 syllabic verse. His style emulates the works of Dr. Seuss’ innocence and fun and Shel Silverstein’s cleverness in many ways.
Unfortunately, Max died in 2012. Three days later, the couple adopted “Lil’ Maxx,” a 47 pound puppy and “Bear,” another pup weighing in at 88 pounds. Shortly after, the couple relocated to Dubuque when Kim was transferred and promoted to site manager with J.C. Penny. And along with the move, B.J.’s landscaping business relocated as well.
At this point, B.J. had already published his first two books, The Adventures of Max & I series and his Plumery Tails series. It was at a book signing at Mangelsen Images of Nature Gallery in Galena that B.J. discovered their soon to be new home. By the time the couple moved into their Spring St. home in the fall of 2013, three-month-old “Tundra” had already joined the pack.
According to B.J., the move to Galena gave them more room than they had in their Dubuque home at a much better price – and 12 needed acres for the dogs. “It was just going to be a book store here,” he said.
Then the pack grew. Blackie, Bear’s brother, was found; then came Glacier, Lambeau, Odin, and the newest pup, Nanook. The boys are now nearly a half-ton of Malamute fun.
Needless to say, the dogs soon became a spectacle in their own front yard as people stopped, trespassed, and ventured onto the couple’s property on a regular basis. “I didn’t want it to be a freak show,” B.J. explained. “People were stopping, impeding on my sanctuary – this was not a petting zoo. I just wanted it to be a place to save money for publishing, disseminate my writings and have a nice place for the boys to run free of cages or leads.”
Then B.J. said a lady from Florida – who had also been visually pulled in by the Malamute attraction – helped him see the perfect marketing opportunity by using the dogs as his public relation spokes-dogs to help him achieve his dream of being a recognized as a serious writer. He was already actively sharing the dogs with public appearances at the local schools, at book signings, and just overall public walks and outings. B.J. soon realized, “What good are the books if they don’t understand the character in the books?”
As a result, Plumery Tails was born. B.J. and Kim opened the Mal-Amusement Theme Park in April 2014, offering personal interactions and education about the Malamutes while visiting, hiking, and picnicking on their grounds. For B.J. it’s the perfect forefront for “B.J.’s Bookstore & Souvenirs,” which often comes with B.J.’s numerous stories and recitations of his works. The business has a website, www.plumerytails.com, and an active Facebook page.
B.J. insists that Plumery Tails has evolved into something even more important for him. “When I started writing, it produced so much more understanding of my own life,” B.J. concluded. “I am growing personally in ways I never dreamed of and I have become a much better person because of it. These dogs have become an incredible therapy for me. They are amazing in so many ways.”
But that’s a tale for B.J. Schwartz to tell at another time.