John Grogan - The Longest Trip Home


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The Beauty of a Rescued Dog

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

My book is filled with mostly funny stories about Marley's over-the-top, wildly energetic antics. But behind every funny story is a sad reality: There are many, many Marleys out there -- and many of them end up in shelters and rescues, abandoned by owners who have given up on them. Many of these dogs are purebreds that the owners, just months earlier, spent hundreds of dollars for. And now the animals are in cages, free to whoever has the fortitude to bring them home and try to overcome whatever "issues" led to the animals' abandonment in the first place.

The silver lining to this sad phenomenon, of course, are the saints who rescue these abandoned dogs. I hear the success stories every day. Just yesterday I opened a letter from a woman named Pearl in Arizona, who rescued a yellow Lab with many of Marley's qualities from a neglectful environment and gave her the secure, loving home every pet deserves. Now the two of them have happily grown old together.

Writes Pearl: "She is my yelow Lab and she knows exactly what I want her to do by looking in my eyes. She is my love. I am 82 years old and Molly turned ten in June. My prayer is that she passes away on a Saturday -- and I pass away on Sunday." I thought that was very sweet.

Not long after reading Pearl's letter, I opened this email from Chuck T. in Atlanta, who found love at an animal shelter. I think his letter speaks volumes about the special joy in giving a rescue dog a second shot at a good life. Here's what Chuck wrote:

Dear Mr. Grogan,

My heart was broken at having to put our 11-year old golden retriever,Bonnie, to sleep because of a rectal tumor which literally made itself apparent in a couple of days. Surgery would have been tortuous, and her complete recovery was tenuous at best. We literally had hours to say our goodbyes.

So, we were "dogless." After years of adopting abandoned or otherwise homeless retrievers through a retriever rescue association here in Georgia, falling hopelessly in love with these beasts, and having to nurse them through the last days of their lives, we just didn't have the hearts to go through all of it again.

Several months after losing Bonnie, I happened to go to our county-operated animal control kennel to adopt a cat as a surprise gift for my daughter, Angela. The section of the kennel devoted to cats and kittens was jammed with visitors, so I decided to just walk through the stray dog section. After a few minutes of walking down the row of cages and having to listen to all the interminable barking and yelping, I came up on a cage containing the most quiet, handsome Yellow Labrador I'd ever seen. He was huge. But he sat on his haunches looking me straight in the eye. He wasn't barking or acting at all nutty.

I inquired at the front desk about "the lab in cage number 58." The kennel employee said, he was picked up as a stray and had been there for 4 weeks. He was scheduled to be euthanized that weekend. I went back to cage number 58, and he was still sitting on his haunches and continued to stare me down. I put my hand inside the cage and his tail started flopping.

I got on the phone and called my wife of 28 years, Jeani, and said, "I'm out here at Gwinnett County Animal Shelter and you need to know I've fallen in love...with a male." I told her that I couldn't leave here knowing they'd euthanize him in a matter of a day or two, that he was a handsome devil and seemed gentle and calm.

So, I executed the appropriate paper work; paid the fee for his having been "de-nutted," and went out to my car to retrieve Bonnie's choke chain and leash which I had placed in the trunk of my car after leaving the vets office where she had been put to sleep months before.

I walked out with this yet-to-be-named large, lean, yellow lab, and drove home. Well, Jeani and Angela fell in love with him, too, within minutes of meeting him.

Fast forward two days: After a short period of getting to know the lay of the land, "Carter" soon revealed his true nature. He's a big, rambunctious, gooney bird, who's as affectionate as he is crazy...whose flapping tail could practically be classified a lethal weapon and which has jettisoned more coffee cups, coke cans, and vases off of table tops than I can count. I'm six feet tall. So, when I lift Carter up by his front paws, he can literally stand nose-to-nose with me. Kitchen counters with plates of grilled chicken breasts are no problem for him to access. He loves children and hates cats. He'll bark ferociously when the front door bell is rung and he'll run like banshee from hell across the foyer floor, sliding to a loud crash against the front door. He has chewed up patio chair cushions, the handles on two guitar cases, brand new pairs of tennis shoes, leather dress shoes, and Angela's prized volley ball. He's chewed the heads off of her favorite stuffed animals. We actually caught him just in the nick of time removing the cushions from our family room couch and spreading them out on the floor in what we suspect would have been a major chewing frenzy.

Carter is a total nut case, but we love him just the same. He follows Jeani around the house like her shadow. He'll lie on the family room floor next to me and toss one of his huge paws across my face or chest, his tail pounding like a large club. When I rub him above his ears, he emits a low groan of happiness, and will strike me with his paw when I stop. When I come home from work, he's at the door greeting me with whimpers, quiet, little yelps, and that ever-flapping tail. We are not his owners: he owns us.

When I read what you went through in putting Marley down, I knew precisely where you were. One never thinks of becoming that attached to a creature that is totally nuts. But we do, don't we? They steal our hearts and never give them back. And we experience the same pain when they leave us we do when we lose a human friend or relative.

Because Carter was a stray -- we suspect his first owner dumped him, collar-less because of his nuttiness -- the kennel employees and our vet estimated his age at about 3 (people)years. We've had him now almost 2 years, so he's approaching 5 years of age. We hope we'll have many years of him in our lives.

Thanks so much for putting down in words what those of us who have nutty, yet loving dogs experience but can't quite express. I received my copy of Marley and Me from relatives who own a golden retriever in the final years of her life. They told me,"This story will mean a lot to you."

It did.

Chuck T.
Atlanta, Georgia

posted by John Grogan at 4:17 PM

7 Comments:

Blogger Mariojuliao said...

Hello J. Grogan, i hope that you read this message.
I really liked your story...
Honestly, i think that you wanted people to reflect about some aspects of life, like good values which, sometimes, we do not remember. And with me, you made it!
i am from Brazil and here your book seems to be very readed.
Thanks for the book.

6:56 PM  
Blogger Larissa Cardone said...

wow, john, i am surprised you have not had any comments posted in response to this blog entry on rescued dogs! i read it within a day or two of your posting it, and came back to your blog page today, as i do almost weekly, and thought i would see what some of your readers had to say on the subject.

i am however really glad you shared that story. i have a soft spot for rescued dogs myself, with 3 already, and counting?? most of them really are worthy of a second chance and it's just great to see you point it out.

thank you!

8:26 PM  
Blogger Coach said...

Hello John!

First of all, I normally address people I have not met more formally, but after reading your book, I feel like I know you and your family very well! I absolutely LOVED your book - it captured the essence of a dog's special place in a family.

My husband and I have adopted two rescued Golden Retrievers over the past 16 years, and they quickly became the center of our universe! We do not have children, which is probably a good thing, seeing how obsessed we are with our 4-legged daughters!

Your book brought back so many memories of Babe, our first Golden, right down to the day we had to have her put down. The cancer in her leg made her almost unable to walk, so we literally carried her out to the back yard to go to the bathroom. And, Marley's fear of thunderstorms also reminded us of Babe. My father used several quarts of stain and varnish over the years to refinish the interior doors of the house, where Babe had clawed right down to the wood! And, we learned to live without the remote control to our VCR, since she chewed that down to a nub! Ink pens, plastic bottles, Easter egg basket goodies (that was an expensive snack!) - she tried it all. And, we would not trade those memories for anything.

We now have Molly, a Golden we adopted while she was still a puppy. She is afraid of vacuum cleaners, garbage cans, and any other inanimate objects that are big, dark, or loud. If we are walking, and she sees some kids, she will literally stop in her tracks and sit, watching them until they come over to pet her, or they move out of sight. I have to walk her at the right time of the morning, so that she will see her gang of kids riding their bikes to school - they never fail to stop and pet her for a few minutes! It's the highlight of her day.

Anyway, thanks for capturing the joy of knowing a retriever. They are the greatest dogs in the world!!

7:29 AM  
Blogger esconopeles said...

Both of our boys are rescues with very different histories. Gunnar is a huge chocolate lab whose original owner went off to college and gave up the dog for adoption. Gunnar is a crazy as the day is long. All lab all the time. The huge waving tail, the immense distaste for cats, the groans and talking during belly and ear rubs. He has a plethora of toys that he parades whenever he wants attention. This most commonly occurs when the other dog is getting attention, He would eat averything is sight and weigh 200 pounds if we let him. As it is he is a svelte 120. I weigh close to 290 myself, and on walks, if we chance upon a cat, Gunnar can easily accelerate to the end of a six foot leash with enough momentum to pull me off the path and into a ditch. He is at his best running free on the beaches of the Pacific. With the setting sun behind him, his reddish brown coat literally glows. He is a piece of work.

Newton is part lab, part something, and came to us after two and a half years in a no-kill shelter. He had been picked up by a reserve police officer who claimed he was the scariest dog he had ever nabbed. The men at the shelter refused to walk Newton because he had a mind of his own. He is standing in front of me as I type. He wants to get up on the couch and play his favorite role as "velcrodog". He is generally quiet, calm, totally uninterested in toys, indifferent to cats. He is about as different from Gunnar as a dog can be . . . with one exception. At 4:45 PM he begins to wiggle, and lick, and whine, and prance lest we forget that 5 PM is feeding time. He has yet to miss a square meal and he wants to keep it that way. What a dog!

We went back to the shelter last week to take in some needed supplies. When the word went out that Bubba Frank (their name for Newton) was back for a visit people dropped what they were doing and came out to collect hugs and kisses. There were no men in the group, and I think they found it amazing that Newton had velcro-ed himself to a male. It's a wonderment.

Here's to shelter critters. If anyone is even thinking about getting a loving and appreciative pet, this is where the search should begin and end.

10:09 AM  
Blogger Amitel's Dog House said...

Dear Mr. Grogan,

Not all rescue dogs come from shelters, some even come from other family members. Take Amy, a maltesse / toy poddle mix all of 7 lbs. She, like so many others, is afraid of thunder and the vacuum. She does her absolute best to hide under someone at these times, whether it is me or her adopted siblings. Her special choice if I am not around is Max, a 110 lb Golden Doddle (Golden Retreiver & standard Poddle mix). She is all white and he is solid black, to see her standing between his front paws (one of which is as big as she is) and to see him "protecting" her and allowing her to be the boss, the 2nd Alpha female in the house, it is funny. She knows how to love with all of herself and does so every chance she gets. Her early life was not the easiest, and she was poorly feed. But today, 14 years later, she is healthy and happy and I dread the day I know is coming, yet I will hold her as I held her older sister last year for that final visit with their vet.

Thank you for expressing what we could not.

Amitiel

1:07 PM  
Blogger Kyle Padgett said...

Hi John,
Like others I normally would not just say "hi, first name" to someone I've never met. However, I tend to believe, there is a certain kinship between us animal lovers, especially after reading Marley & Me. So, it just didn't feel right to greet you in other way.
I certainly want to say what a wonderful time it has been getting to know Marley as well as you and your lovely family.
Marley's picture on the cover sold the book and reading the book made me thankful for my impulse buying habit (my husband's description of my buying habits, not mine.) Of course my husband has been just as thankful for "our" purchase of this wonderful story with the little darling on the cover.
Little darling is a common term I use for dogs as well as other animals. Size, behavior, breed or lack of breed, etc... has no bearing, they are all darlings to me.
Your book is wonderful on so many levels and the fact that you encourage rescuing the homeless and discarded darlings, doing our part to not add to the homeless population, and most importanly so openly and lovingly (especially coming from a man; a man with children and a wife at that) declaring in no uncetain terms that pets are our family just puts you over the top.
I have many times been told that I just didn't understand because I didn't have children and that my considering pets my family was just a women thing by people (even family members actually) I couldn't convince to keep their pets because they became a inconvenience to them.
I have recommended your book to them as well as dog/animal lovers.
Well, actually, I guess I've recommonded Marley & Me to just about everyone I know and lots of folks I don't know.
As a matter of fact, I was reading Marley & Me while I was at my hair salon and although I thought I was containing my emotion pretty well (mostly laughing-ya'll had just moved to "Pencil"vania) several people made comments like "that must be a really good book".
Eventually, I just kinda made an announcement to everyone in the place that they needed to read this book, I told them it didn't matter if they were dog lovers or not.
As you may have figured out at this point, I am a southern women
(Alabama) and I went on to say to everyone there, that this was the first book I'd ever read that ranked up there with the best: The Bible and Gone with the Wind. Of course the Bible stands on its own at #1, but for the first time in my life (I'm 44) I believe I have a new second.
Again, thank you and I look forward to buying the children's versions for my step son and neices as well as a copy for our office.
Oh and I also wanted you to know that reading Marley & Me brought up so many memories for me and my husband of our beloved "Kiss". She died at 13 in 2005. She, like Marley cost us a bundle but she was absolutely priceless and worth every cent. Obviously no one, even a setinmental southern women, would name a lab "Kiss." I just thought you might get a chukle out the fact that "Kiss" was a 8 lb chocolate puddle. Not at all a "Boca" puddle. She was so like Marley in every way just on a smaller scale. Not at all what we invinsioned a sweet little darling puddle would be when we brought her home, not big as a minute, at 2 lbs. Just like Marely she took over our home and hearts and we will always be eternally grateful she allowed us the priveledge of living with her and loving her.
Your probably now wondering if I will go on forever. Well, yes I could. Remember I told you I am a Southern women. But you'll be releived to know I will stop now with one last thank you.
I hope your book sells millions upon millions!

Kyle Padgett

11:01 PM  
Blogger PotterMarley said...

WOW!! You just pretty much told the story of my Golden Retriver, Charlie Brown! Charlie came to us one night and sat on our front porch as if we already owned him. A week after we broght him to the local no-kill shelter, he came home to us and has been there ever since. That was back in 1996-98 and he was about 1 or 2 years old. He is now about 70 (In dog years)and loves life!

1:47 PM  

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