MSU alumna uses her unusual dog as star of book series to inspire young scientists | Local

A Montana State University graduate who owns a dog with the world’s longest tongue is hoping her St. Bernard will help more children become excited about science.

Passionate about science as well as rescue dogs, Carla Rickert of Bozeman recently incorporated both in her new book, “The Adventures of Mochi the Dog.”

It’s the first in a series of scientific books that target children between ages 2 and 8. The initial book — a combination of fact and fiction — features the 145-pound dog that Rickert rescued about seven years ago. It tells how Mochi was shunned and teased for being different, but eventually found a loving home where her uniqueness was appreciated.

This first book hints at science, but focuses more on compassion, respect and resiliency. Those are qualities that will help children value themselves, others and eventually the environment, Rickert said.

Each upcoming book will address a topic in environmental sciences, such as bugs or water quality. Like her first book, the books will draw upon what she learned as a master’s student in MSU’s Department of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences.

“We are very excited about this book series and its potential to excite kids about science,” said Tracy Sterling, professor and head of the environmental sciences department. “It’s well established that the innate curiosity of children draws them into science inquiry every day as they explore their surroundings, and Carla’s book series about Mochi’s adventures will be an excellent way to get them even more excited about learning how our world works and their participation in it.”

Mochi, in real life, is different from other dogs because her 7.3-inch tongue (measured from nose to tip by a veterinarian and verified by Guinness World Records as the longest tongue on a living dog) makes it hard for her to breathe and exercise, Rickert said. While lying on the ground, her tongue collects leaves and dust. When Mochi drinks and eats, her tongue flings food and water as far away as 4 feet.

Mochi came to Rickert as a frightened 180-dog with medical problems and trouble socializing, Rickert said. She had been locked in a barn, abandoned and neglected. She was blind in one eye and partially deaf. The breeder couldn’t sell her because of her looks.

Then she was rescued by the Big Dogs Huge Paws organization and eventually adopted by Rickert, who wasn’t the only one to notice Mochi’s unusual feature. Her veterinarian commented on Mochi’s “ridiculously large” tongue. He nicknamed the dog “Gene Simmons” after the rock star known for his own long tongue.

“Then she became a world record holder of this weird trait,” Rickert said. “Now she has a life of fun, entertainment and leisure.”

Mochi loves peanut butter, sweet potatoes and dressing up, Rickert said. She has some 25 costumes, ranging from a ballerina to scuba diver. Her best friend is another rescue dog owned by Rickert. The Newfoundland dog named Cuda is also a part of Rickert’s first book.

Mochi now has the confidence that allowed her to enjoy meeting thousands of Canadians during a recent media tour organized by Guinness World Records, Rickert said. Guinness also placed Mochi’s picture on the cover and inside pages of its new book, titled “Amazing Animals 2018.”

Rickert said she planned to write a book before knowing who the main character would be. But after Mochi won the Guinness title, she decided her first book would incorporate Mochi, Cuda and elements of resilience and compassion.

Rickert — who was 5 feet 9 inches tall in third grade and the tallest student in her high school class in Sioux City, Iowa — said she wasn’t bullied as a child, but she was puzzled when her elementary school friends nicknamed her “Amazon.” Her mom explained the origin of the word and told Rickert that it meant she would grow up to be a strong, beautiful woman.

Rickert doubts that bullying or teasing will ever stop, but said, “If you go through being bullied or teased, we need to be able to stay strong. Follow your dreams no matter what you go through.”

Always passionate about science, animals and art, Rickert said she climbed trees at age 4 to collect insects. She picked up snakes from the highway and turned to the encyclopedia to identify them. She got her first microscope at age 9. She later earned the Gold Award, the highest achievement within the Girl Scouts.

“I wasn’t in band or sports; science was my passion,” Rickert said. “It basically helped me get through anything rough that teenagers would go through.”

Rickert followed her own dreams by earning two college degrees and starting the book publishing company, BioEco Kids Publishing, LLC.

After working in various positions in the medical field and raising two children with her husband, Craig, Rickert enrolled in college at age 38 and earned her bachelor’s degree in biology at age 42. In 2014, she earned a master’s degree in environmental science from MSU.

She was one of the first three students to graduate from the university’s online graduate program in Land Resources and Environmental Sciences. Along the way, Rickert conducted fieldwork and outreach programs in southwest Florida where she realized that she loved sharing science with children. The discovery led to her dream of writing a book series.

“I never saw myself as a teacher,” Rickert said. “I never saw myself writing a book. But sometimes doors just open.”

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