|Bookend Dogs: Violet and Gracie|
Rescue Road: One Man, Thirty Thousand Dogs and a Million Miles on the Last Hope Highway,
by Peter Zheutlin
As the proud owner (pack leader?) of two black Lab mixes, I was intrigued by this book's title. Rescue Road: One Man, Thirty Thousand Dogs and a Million Miles on the Last Hope Highway. Thirty thousand dogs? Really? What possessed Peter Zheutlin, a freelance journalist and author, to write a book with this title? I often wondered how dogs ended up in shelters and how far they'd traveled to get there. The only dogs anyone in my family has ever had have been rescue/shelter dogs. I read the book hoping to find out answers to those general questions as well as the one I had about the title.
Zheutlin, the author, had caved in to his family's requests for a dog and found one online – a rescue - to adopt. He and his family found Albie through an Internet search (the way my husband and I found our girls). Albie was in a shelter in Louisiana, and Zheutlin and his family were in Massachusetts, so Albie would come north with Greg Mahle via Greg's Facebook page, "Rescue Road Trips," riding along with many other dogs awaiting better homes in northern states. Peter and his wife followed Albie's progress north on Facebook, seeing photos from stops along the way and reading updates as the trip progressed.
As Albie settled in with his new family, Peter Zheutlin continued to follow "Rescue Road Trips" on Facebook. He wanted to meet Greg Mahle in person to find out more about his service to rescue dogs and reasons for doing this work.
Eventually, over a year's time, he rode with Mahle on three rescue trips, meeting people along the way who support rescue efforts in many ways: picking up dogs from shelters, fostering dogs, meeting the road trip truck to walk dogs, and cleaning kennels on the necessary stops along the way. There are also the veterinarians who donate time and talent to bringing injured and sick dogs back to health so they can be adopted. Zheutlin learned how, for Mahle, having a dog as a young boy changed his life and inspired him to save other dogs.
The book was sometimes heartwarming and at other times heartbreaking. I cried tears of joy and tears of sadness throughout. People who care for the dogs on the road to their new homes are saving the dogs' lives, giving their time freely and going out of their way to help dogs find “forever” homes. Greg himself has often been on the verge of having to stop his efforts due to money difficulties resulting from truck repairs and fuel expenses. His wife makes sandwiches for his trips so that more money is available for the dogs. Contrast this concern with the author’s report of cultural attitudes in the South: In most of the South, dogs are considered property and live outdoors. If they are injured or can't hunt/guard the property, etc., they are abandoned and left to fend for themselves in the wild. Conditions in many shelters in the South are abysmal. They are poorly funded and have a high rate of euthanization. This is the reason so many dogs travel from the South to the North: they will have a much better chance at a good life in the North.
People helping the dogs get from shelters to new homes say theirs is a work of love. As Zheutlin writes of one rescuer's work: "Move this dog here today even if she doesn't know where he'll go tomorrow. If she needed to have a complete plan from the outset she might never save a dog. It's not about logic; it's about love."
All along, I knew there would be the point at which Zheutlin writes about what the rescuers call "Gotcha Day." And I knew I would cry tears of joy as dogs finally became part of waiting families. People waiting for their dogs bring welcome signs and greet the truck excitedly. Dogs are brought out one at a time by Mahle, who gives papers to the new owners and says, "Thank you. Thank you for saving a life."
I hope anyone considering getting a dog or anyone who has a dog or once had a dog will read this book and get caught up in the lives of Mahle and the rest of the helpers on his road trips and follow them on Facebook, as I now do. I hope that anyone who is thinking about getting a dog will realize how much all shelter dogs, like the dogs Greg Mahle transports, need loving homes. And I hope they adopt a rescue dog.
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Today's guest reviewer is Bettie Komar of Joliet, Illinois. Bettie is a retired public school teacher who worked as a reading specialist in both middle school and lower elementary grades. She currently teaches as an adjunct instructor in the College of Education at Lewis University in Romeoville, Illinois -- and she is one of my two sisters!