Anyone who has ever loved — and lost — a companion animal will be very touched by this tale of loss and redemption. In “Dog Gone: A Lost Pet’s Extraordinary Journey and the Family Who Brought Him Home,” author Pauls Toutonghi details the struggle of a family, before the days of the internet, to find their lost dog from hundreds of miles away.
But to describe this book as a story about a lost dog and how he was found does not do the book justice. Toutonghi begins the story with the family matriarch, Virginia Newman Corbert, when she is a seven-year-old child. “She is in Japan with her parents, and living like a storybook princess.” Her father was stationed in Japan and held an important post with the military, so they were treated like royalty. In their household were three full-time, live-in maids, a butler, a cook, and a governess. Virginia’s mother was an alcoholic, and when they moved back to the States, she was unable to care for young Virginia.
Virginia was ignored by her parents, neglected and abused. Her only consolation was a parting gift from their Japanese friends, an Akita named Oji. Virginia loved that dog with all the pent-up love she couldn’t lavish on her parents or siblings. And the dog, of course, returned that love tenfold. But her story is heartbreaking to read. The cruelty and indifference from her parents and Oji’s ultimate fate are terrible.
Virginia grew up, married and became Virginia Marshall, and had two children, Peyton and Fielding. Gonker, Fielding’s dog, is ultimately the subject of the story. But what makes this story stand out from other dog stories is that the author includes fascinating information that sets each piece of the story in its historical place.
When Fielding adopts a lab mix, his parents fall in love with the dog, too. Virginia realizes that Gonker is her son’s Oji. Gonker comforts her son when tragedy strikes; Gonker is his constant companion. While hiking on the Appalachian Trail, Gonker disappears. He runs off to chase something, which is not unusual. But what is unusual is that he does not return.
Gonker had been diagnosed with Addison’s disease. He needed monthly shots to stay alive. In addition to worrying about Gonker starving to death, being shot by a hunter, or killed by a bear, the family worried that if he was not found in time, he would die from the disease.
The author writes, “When a dog depends on you, you depend on it — the exchange is never one-sided. There is something fundamental about caring for an animal; it opens you to stewardship, to quietude, to grace. It is a long slow relationship, built on a thousand daily actions…”
So the story is about the Marshall family, their bonds, their relationships, and their love of dogs. When Gonker disappears, the family closes ranks. Virginia works tirelessly to network, send out notices about the missing dog, and get as much publicity as she can to spread the word about Gonker.
Read the book to find out what happens and how Gonker is saved. But along the way, while reading about Gonker, you will be introduced to author and dog expert Alexandra Horowitz, who wrote “Inside of a Dog,” and whom Toutonghi quotes. It’s a remarkable book about a remarkable family and their remarkable response to a situation.
Published by Alfred A. Knopf (2016)