There are few things more heart-stopping than losing your pup.
This is exactly what happened to Fielding Marshall while hiking on the Appalachian Trail. Gonker, the Golden Retriever mix who’d been Marshall’s closest companion, vanished into the woods. Not only that, but Gonker had Addison’s disease, which meant Marshall had to find him in exactly 23 days — his next date to receive vital medicine — or he would almost certainly die.
The frantic search for Gonker represented a lot more for Marshall and his parents than any of them initially expected.
For one, Fielding Marshall had lost an infant daughter in the years prior, and Gonker’s companionship helped fill the void that his daughter left.
What’s more, Ginny Marshall, Fielding’s mother, lost her beloved dog as a child due to her parents’ carelessness, and even neglect — and had trouble reckoning with the loss ever since.
Losing Gonker became, in a way, a reenactment of that loss for her, and a chance to redeem her own history through helping her son find his beloved pup.
Gonker’s loss, and the story of the incredible 111 miles he traveled before being reunited with his family, is told in a new book called Dog Gone: A Lost Pet’s Extraordinary Journey and the Family Who Brought Him Home.
PupJournal interviewed author Pauls Toutonghi — who is also Marshall’s brother-in-law — to find out more about Gonker’s journey.
PupJournal: Losing Gonker seemed to point to a deeper story of loss for the Marshalls, and a significant loss like that is something that strikes a chord for many of us.
Can you tell us a bit about what it was like to write about such a painful loss, including the pain of simply not knowing what would happen to Gonker?
Pauls Toutonghi: I love the way you put this.
It’s true, dogs often will reveal to us the fault lines of the world we live in. I think this is because of the unconditional love that they give us. The decency. Loss of someone who is kind and loving to you is always difficult. Those relationships are so few. Dogs stand together with two or three people in our lives, each of us, who treat us the way they do.
For Ginny, never having had a mother’s unconditional love, this was particularly difficult. She bonded even more with all the animals in her life, because she been missing this other thing. And of course all the family loved her, and wanted the best for her, and so they felt her loss, and Fielding’s loss, acutely.
With Fielding’s loss of the ability to be a custodian for the baby girl, as well, that was difficult.
Dog Gone seems to be a story about the ways that we build connections with each other when we experience a crisis. What do you think it was about Gonker that brought the Marshalls together?
His thievery of food. (Just kidding.)
Gonker was a vehicle for Ginny and Fielding to communicate. With parents and children, it is often very difficult to ignore the small grievances. We often get lost in the closeness of that relationship. This was a way for the family to work together towards a common goal. They became a family. They all cared about the same thing. That’s what brought them closer together, that caring.
Fundamentally, this is what separates your family from everyone else: in a crisis, you go to them. Conversely, if you don’t have that relationship, that closeness, with your family, you feel it acutely in times of crisis.
What was it like to interview your own in-laws and work with them to get the story right?
No, no. Just kidding, again! Fortunately, I was blessed in that Ginny is a savvy reader, and deeply supportive of the endeavor to tell Gonker’s story.
Initially, I think she was taken aback by the necessity of telling some of the more difficult childhood stories. But they’re true. She lived through them. And her hope, actually, is that maybe reading her story will help someone who is going through similar circumstances. Or, has gone through them in the past. Help them heal. So she is willing to share these stories, with that goal in mind.
Dogs sometimes stand in for the “perfect” friend or family members that we wish we had. As a reader, it felt like part of the search for Gonker was also a search for the family member that made everything “right” for the Marshalls. Did you have the sense that Gonker played that role?
That is totally true! I hadn’t thought of that. Yes, not only that, but in helping — spearheading — the search, Ginny was showing Fielding the love that she never had as a child, from her mother. It’s quite remarkable, really.
Check out all the details of Gonker’s incredible story by picking up a copy of Dog Gone (we read it cover to cover in less than a day!)
Header image via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)