Who is in the photo at right?
The human’s name is Peter Zheutlin. He’s a writer and his new book is Rescue Road: One Man, Thirty Thousand Dogs and a Million Miles on the Last Hope Highway. The dog is Albie, a yellow lab mix who was found wandering alone on a road in rural Louisiana in early 2012. He managed to survive for several months in a high-kill shelter before he was rescued by a local humane organization and adopted by Peter and his family in Massachusetts. The vet thinks he is about 5 or 6 years old now but no one knows for sure.
What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?
No special occasion. We just love each other’s company and go as many places together as we can.
I’m a Starbucks regular unless I can find a funky, independent coffee house around. For me it’s always a decaf mocha latte wherever I am. Albie doesn’t drink coffee but he can have a spoonful of the whipped cream.
Any treats for you or Albie on this occasion?
Well, today Albie got a special treat because he was especially good while I was being interviewed about the book. He just lay at my feet quietly the whole time amidst the lights and cameras. So he got his own cup of vanilla frozen yogurt today.
How were you and Albie united?
Long story, but the short version is that we found Albie online through a terrific organization called Labs4rescue based in Connecticut. They work with rescue organizations, primarily in the southern states where the dog overpopulation problem is huge, to save these sweet souls. Once we formally adopted Albie he rode north with a man named Greg Mahle who runs Rescue Road Trips. He’s the main figure in the book, a big hearted, devoted man who has driven over a million miles bringing “rescue” dogs to their forever homes in the northeast. It takes a village to save a dog and Greg was just one of many people who extended their hands and hearts to help Albie make the journey to safety and give him a second chance at life.
How did your dog get his name? Any aliases?
While researching the book I met the woman in Louisiana who actually saved Albie’s life. She went to the shelter where he was a couple of times a week to walk him and feed him and hug him while she and another woman looked for a home for Albie. She gave him the name and we kept it. I asked her how she came up with name. I thought there would be some deep meaning behind it. But she said it was the name of one of the people on the TV show Real Housewives of New Jersey. My wife and I both grew up in New Jersey so I guess it was meant to be.
Does Albie do more to help or hinder your writing?
Oh, not even close: he inspired the whole book! And before that he inspired a whole series of columns I wrote for The Christian Science Monitor. I wish he could type!
Please tell us about your new book.
The book was my attempt to understand how and why Albie, and many thousands like him, come north every year from the deep south. I wanted to learn why there’s such an enormous dog overpopulation problem down south, and who works to save these dogs and get them safely north. It can be heartbreaking work because for every dog like Albie that finds a loving home, countless others find nothing but heartache and death. The book is both the saddest of stories and the happiest of stories; the joy at the end of each of Greg Mahle’s rescue road trips, when dogs and their new forever families are united, is something to behold. I cry every time I see it. It’s a book about the deeply compassionate people who sacrifice so much to get these dogs to safety.
Do you have any favorites among the many dogs you met while working on Rescue Road?
Yes, but if I tell you I will spoil the ending. There were so many wonderful, sweet, vulnerable dogs that I met along the way. Not all of their stories ended happily.
Cat, postman, squirrel...?
If you work for the Postal Service, UPS or FedEx, best to just leave the package on the doorstep and get back in the truck quickly. Albie never used to bark at anyone, but for some reason that changed. He seems to have it in for people in uniforms. And what Lab isn’t obsessed with rabbits and squirrels?
Ball, squeaky-toy, stick...?
All of the above, but no squeaky toy that resembles a critter lasts more than three minutes before its insides are out.
Who is Albie's best pet-pal?
Me, of course. Oh, you said “pet-pal.” Again, I’d spoil the ending of the book if I said.
What is Albie's best quality?
He is incredibly earnest.
If Albie could change one thing about Massachusettsans, what would it be?
He’d clarify whether they should be called Massachusettsans or Massachusettsites.
If Albie could answer only one question in English, what would you ask him?
I would ask him to tell me everything about his life before he came to us, whether he lived with people and, if so, how they treated him, how he came to be wandering alone and frightened on a road in rural Louisiana and how he survived. His previous life is a mystery.
If Hollywood made a movie about your life in which Albie could speak, who should voice him?
I am tempted to say Seth MacFarlane who voiced Brian, the dog in Family Guy. But Albie isn’t quite as world-wise as Brian; Albie is an innocent. So maybe Mark Ruffalo. Actually, if I were casting the movie of my book (wouldn’t that be nice?) I’d cast Mark Ruffalo as Greg Mahle, the central figure in the book. He’d be perfect.
What advice would Albie give if asked?
Eat all your vegetables and be kind to all living things (except delivery men in uniforms).
Visit Peter Zheutlin's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.