(DOGS/LOST PETS/TOUCHING TALES) Sometimes our beloved four-legged friends appear in our lives when we need them the most. During challenging times, the love from these special souls can turn a person’s life around.
This is what happened to Fielding Marshal until an ordinary hike became his worst nightmare. But Marshal and his beloved pooch Gonker didn’t give up or let hundreds of miles break their everlasting bond.
Read on to learn about Gonker’s amazing journey and what a little love and hope can accomplish. — Global Animal
New York Post, Reed Tucker
Fielding Marshall’s baby daughter died on the operating table in 1991 during a procedure to repair her heart. His girlfriend responded to the tragedy by packing up her possessions and disappearing without a word. Alone and drowning beneath an “oceanic wave of sadness,” Marshall had an idea.
He would get a dog.
Marshall brought home a golden retriever mix from the local SPCA, and the mutt, whom he named Gonker, became his closest companion, helping to fill the void of everything he’d lost.
Gonker was playful. He would fetch sticks for hours. He was also a lifesaver. After a house party, Marshall woke to Gonker’s frantic barking. Marshall explored the house to find a friend, who was passed out in the bathroom with a poisonous snake slithering nearby. Good boy, Gonker.
But the dog had health problems. He was diagnosed with Addison’s disease, an adrenal insufficiency that can cause humans and animals to lapse into a coma if not treated. Gonker required monthly injections of synthetic hormones to stay alive.
Ten days after an injection on Oct. 10, 1998, Gonker bolted while hiking with his master on the Appalachian Trail near the Blue Ridge Parkway, leaving Marshall desperate to find his beloved best friend.
The true story is told in “Dog Gone: A Lost Pet’s Extraordinary Journey and the Family Who Brought Him Home” by Pauls Toutonghi, who is Marshall’s brother-in-law.
“Dogs are almost always decent — unchanging, unaltered, predictable,” Toutonghi writes. “Dogs can make us more human — or more like what we imagine a good human to be.”
It’s yet another worthy entry about that special human-pup bond, which goes back centuries. The Egyptians, Babylonians and Assyrians all immortalized their dogs in carvings.
That relationship has only deepened over time. A 2014 survey discovered that about half of all dog owners share a bed with their pets. Considering that there are an estimated 70 million to 80 million domesticated canines in the country, that’s a lot of cuddle time. Another 2011 survey found that 81 percent of dog owners considered their mutts to be true family members, equal in status to their children. More than half considered themselves pet “parents,” instead of “owners.”
Pet parenting (or ownership) has its benefits. The American Association of Human-Animal Bond Veterinarians describes the link between person and pet as “spiritual,” and a 2008 study determined that dog owners were “happier, less stressed, less lonely and calmer.”
That’s maybe why Marshall’s plight is so harrowing — it’s a dog owner’s worst nightmare come to life.
When Gonker first took off, Marshall searched but found no sign of his beloved pet. He worried about Gonker’s ability to withstand the cold and feared that the mutt might be mistaken for a deer and shot by a hunter. Worst of all, Gonker would soon need a fresh injection, and if he wasn’t found within about two weeks, he’d die.
Marshall’s mother set up a command center in her home. She spread a detailed map across the table and spent the early days desperately calling animal hospitals, police stations and newspapers.
Marshall plastered the neighborhood with fliers and walked the trail with his father, calling the dog’s name. A park ranger advised the owner to stay in the area as much as possible so the dog could key on the scent.
Their plight even hit the local media. “The family is fearful that [Gonker] is hungry, confused and frightened,” an Oct. 15 news story read. The family began getting tips — few of them helpful.
One anonymous man phoned Marshall’s mother to ask if she’d found the dog. “Well, you ain’t going to, neither,” the caller said before hanging up.
As the search dragged on, hope began to fade.
By day 13, nearly every avenue for finding Gonker had been exhausted. Marshall and his father were reduced to desperately shouting the animal’s name into the darkness on a rainy night.
“Gonker!” they bellowed. “Where are you?’ ” Nowhere close by.
On Oct. 25 at 2 a.m., Marshall’s mother received a call from a police officer reporting that Gonker had been spotted eating from trash cans behind a ski resort. The pooch had wandered an incredible 111 miles in 15 days, covering at least seven miles a day, looking for a way home.
Marshall drove to Wintergreen, Va., and was reunited. “Dog and owner collided next to the car . . . and fell to the ground in a heap.”
Gonker was hardly the worse for wear. His paws were cut up from the rough terrain, but he’d actually gained a pound during his journey.
He lived another five years, to the age of 11. The megaphone that the family had used to call for him during the search is still prominently displayed at the Marshall house.
Marshall has since moved to Chile to be closer to “untamed wilderness.” There, he met a Chilean woman, and the couple now has two children, a boy, 8, and girl, 5.
He also has a new dog. Of course.