“Dogtripping,” by David Rosenfelt. St. Martin’s Press. $25.99. (Publication date July 23).
Twenty-five dogs, three RV vehicles and a cross-country move add up to a madcap adventure in this memoir of five days in September 2011.
While the focus of this mix master of laughter, sadness and sentiment is on the move from bustling Southern California to rural Maine, most of the chapters are vignettes of their pack of last-chance, animal-shelter rescues, which lived from several months to many years with them.
The couple never met a shelter dog it didn’t love, and consequently that passion grew into “dog lunacy” with a household population in double digits “that just seemed to happen” over 17 years.
For the author, a former movie-marketing executive, and his wife, Debbie Myers, a retired Taco Bell media exec, it all began with Tara, Myers’ golden retriever, which the author knew for a year before it succumbed to nasal carcinoma.
The grieving aftermath affected both Rosenfelt and Myers a bit differently, and it was several months before Myers, volunteering at a mobile adoption in Century City, took home Charlie, an elderly Australian Shepherd mix, after no one showed an interest in the animal quickly approaching a euthanasia date. The only problem here was that the pair lived in a Santa Monica apartment prohibiting pets.
Myers pled her case to the landlord, who relented. But before long three more shelter dogs joined their household and their lives were quickly being transformed by adoptions and a subculture of dog ownership ranging from idiots to lovers.
“The unhappy flip side is getting to know them (shelter dogs) leads to loving them, which leads to terrible pain if they are subsequently euthanized, as so many are,” writes Rosenfelt.
“It’s as if each dog has a clock attached to it, and the time remaining on that clock inexorably clicks down.”
As they became more deeply involved in animal rescue – while Myers was still working full time – the couple formed the Tara Foundation, dedicated to the rescue of abandoned and homeless dogs, particularly Golden Retrievers. To avoid the lengthy process of securing nonprofit tax status, they became the subsidiary of a larger pet-rescue organization.
With only four part-time volunteers they rescued, advertised and placed countless shelter animals, yet found their resident population growing by leaps and bounds, too, many of where were housed in their vet’s hospital.
Rosenfelt’s rambling collection of acerbic and entertaining profiles of canine castoffs details the throwaway mentality of today’s society. One of those Willie Boy, a 14-year-old Chow mix featured in a Los Angeles Times ad with a header “Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here,” attracted a call from a guy who identified himself as “Chuck Heston.” Yes, that one! Heston adopted Willie Boy, sending a staffer and a check of $2,500. He donated a similar amount to the foundation for three more years.
Through the years, Rosenfelt estimates 300 or so dogs have passed through their house.
“Dogtripping” is obviously focused around the “insane” trip, which had been in the planning stages for years. As the author of 16 previous books and the participant in many book signings and readings nationwide, Rosenfelt has a large following and encourages responses from his readers. From that base and other friendships, he eventually builds an 11-member team, none of whom knew each other previously, for this adventure of a lifetime.
Seasoned heavily with anecdotes, this engaging read is constructed of fragments between the vivid character studies (chapters) and the italicized trip chapters introducing team members, detailing the endless planning and capturing the adventurous spirit and fun approach by the group, except Rosenfelt.
But “Dogtripping” is more than simply a challenging cross-country journey. It is a sober lesson in hope and commitment contrasted with the tough realism and feisty spirit surrounding dog rescue everywhere.