Rescue Road: One Man, Thirty Thousand Dogs, and a Million Miles on the Last Hope Highway

Rescue Road: One Man, Thirty Thousand Dogs, and a Million Miles on the Last Hope Highway

by Peter Zheutlin

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"Peter Zheutlin has written a lovely, moving, important book about a subject that is both heartbreaking and joyful." - Dean Koontz

How far would you go to save a life? This is the extraordinary story of one man who has driven more than 1 million miles to rescue thousands of dogs from hunger, abuse and neglect and give them a second chance at life and love.

For years, Greg Mahle struggled to keep the last of his family-run restaurants afloat in Ohio. When it finally closed, he was broke and unsure what to do next. Then a stranded van-load of puppies changed his life forever.

Join journalist Peter Zheutlin as he travels with Greg from Ohio to the Gulf Coast on his Rescue Road Trips to bring hard-luck dogs from the deep South to loving "forever families" up north looking to adopt a pet, with the help of many selfless volunteers along the way. From Houston's impoverished Fifth Ward--where thousands of strays roam the streets--and high-kill animal shelters in Louisiana, to joyous scenes of adopters embracing their new pups in the Northeast, Rescue Road is full of heart: an inspiring story about the unique bond between dogs and humans, and how going the extra mile can make a life-changing difference for these loyal canines-and for us all.

A heartwarming, awe-inspiring story of how one man can impact so many lives, human and puppy alike. Fans of Marley and Me, Oogy: The Dog Only A Family Could Love, and You Had Me At Woof will be inspired and touched by this story.

What readers are saying about Rescue Road:

"I stand in awe of those who can do this kind of rescue work, for their persistence, compassion and willingness to get dirty in the service of animals."

"a heartwarming & eye opening journey into the world of dog rescue."

"I highly recommend this book if you are looking to restore your faith in humanity."

"a heart-warming story that reaffirms there are many compassionate people who work tirelessly to save dogs."

What reviewers are saying about Rescue Road:

"An unabashedly sentimental and affecting portrait of a modern-day animal-loving hero." - Kirkus

"a canine caravan with heart and soul..." - Teresa Rhyne, author of the #1 NYT bestseller The Dog Lived (And So Will I)

"Heartwarming doesn't suffice to describe it... restores faith in humanity." - Alexandra Horowitz, author of Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know

"A tender, inspiring homage..." - Matthew Gilbert, author of Off the Leash: A Year at the Dog Park

"Inspiring and riveting new book...a must-read..." - The Bark

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781410485427
Publisher: Gale Group
Publication date: 01/27/2016
Edition description: Large Print
Pages: 344
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 8.60(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Barrett Whitener has won half a dozen coveted AudioFile Earphones Awards for his audiobook narration.

Read an Excerpt

Rescue Road

One Man, Thirty Thousand Dogs, and a Milion Miles on the Last Hope Highway

By Peter Zheutlin

Sourcebooks, Inc.

Copyright © 2015 Peter Zheutlin
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4926-1408-1



ONE WINTER NIGHT IN 2005, AFTER THE last of five family restaurants he ran had closed and he was back in Mount Perry, Ohio, living with his mother, Greg Mahle received a call from his sister Cathy, the founder of Labs4rescue.

A paid driver was transporting a handful of dogs from the South in a van and was nearing exhaustion. She was on the interstate nearby. Cathy was desperate and asked if Greg could help rescue the rescuer and her dogs. A dog lover since he was a kid, he readily agreed and ended up driving all of them to Connecticut that night and into the following morning.

"It was awful," Greg tells me when I come to visit him in Zanesville, Ohio, where he and his wife Adella now live, to join him on one of his road trips. "There was just one woman with a bunch of dogs in this minivan and it smelled terrible." The trend of transporting southern rescue dogs up north on a large scale was just beginning, a phenomenon that would accelerate as the Internet expanded Americans' understanding of the canine overpopulation problem in the South and facilitated match-making between dogs and families. "People were just winging it back then," he adds. "They were transporting dogs in open horse trailers, in overcrowded cars, you name it."

Greg had two revelations on that trip. First, the need for rescue dog transport was far greater than the supply, and second, he could professionalize and systematize what was largely an ad hoc, hit-or-miss system for moving dogs north. He started making occasional rescue trips with a van to help his sister and a few dogs, and he quickly became hooked. Soon, he was hiring drivers and running vans, a box truck, and a small truck with a trailer. He was on the road three weeks a month, but he soon tired of managing drivers and realized he wasn't comfortable leaving dogs in the care of others; he wanted to be hands-on and improve the conditions under which the dogs were moved.

"When I started, I was just a guy with a van giving dogs a ride," he says. "Transport has become much more professionalized since then."

But it also gave him an unexpected opportunity. "Before Adella and I became a couple, I was just going to live with my mother and cut hay," Greg recalls. "But now that we were together, I needed something to do and I knew I'd rather be a greeter at Walmart than go back in the restaurant business."

"The first couple of years, there were weeks he would borrow money for gas from me," says Adella. "It was okay with me because it wasn't much and I knew it made him happy. As time progressed and he was carrying more dogs, he eventually got to the point when he was able to pay for gas on his own. He always slept in the vehicle because there wasn't enough money to spend on a hotel room on the road. Back in the days when he had the vans, I felt sorry for him. Now that he has a trailer with a bunk, I don't feel nearly as bad. But he still complains sometimes about how cold it is on nights when he doesn't have dogs in the trailer because he won't run the heater, to save money.

"We still get by on a shoestring budget, a prayer, and a little help from God," she adds. Until 2014, Adella worked at the local Head Start agency, which helped with the household bills, but she left to pursue her master's degree in early education. "I still take odd jobs, teach a dance class, and do a little consulting with Head Start, and that's been enough to get us by. But every month, I say a prayer that we will be able to make it to the next month."

* * *

I first met Greg in September of 2013, about eight months before my visit to Zanesville, when I was covering Greg and his work for Parade magazine. I knew I wanted to share his story and hopefully encourage others to "think rescue" if they were looking for a dog. When Parade gave me the assignment, I traveled to Allentown, Pennsylvania, where I had arranged to meet with Greg and drive with him the next day to Putnam, Connecticut, the last stop of every Gotcha Day.

A genial man named Keith Remaly met me at the Comfort Inn just outside Allentown. Keith organizes the Allentown Angels, one of three groups of resolute volunteers who meet Greg and the dogs along the route every other week, without fail, to give each dog a long walk, food, water, and a whole lot of love. They help clean the trailer and the kennels and bolster the spirits of a road-weary Greg and his backup driver, Tommy, an imposing man at six foot five with a four-hundred-pounds-plus physique.

Greg and Tommy, an air force veteran who always refers to Greg as either "Sir" or "Boss," drive through the night on Thursdays, into Friday, stopping occasionally to check on the dogs, walk them, give them water and snacks, and clean the kennels. On other nights, when they do stop for the night, Greg sleeps in a tiny loft, on an old mattress in the trailer; Tommy, on a bunk in the cab.

Greg and I had been corresponding for weeks by email to arrange my trip, so I was a bit surprised when, meeting for the first time, he gave me a quick handshake and immediately handed me a black Lab puppy named Genesis and a leash. "Take her for a walk on the grass over there," he said, pointing to a field nearby. It wasn't a request; it was an order.

As I would soon discover though, Greg isn't gruff or unfriendly — quite the contrary. But the first thing you learn about Greg is: the dogs always come first. Always. Plus, there'd be plenty of time to get acquainted later. After all, we'd be riding almost three hundred miles together the next day.

That night, after the Angels had left and the dogs were all back in their kennels in the trailer, I approached a little back Lab puppy named Audi. I had chosen to follow Audi's journey for my Parade story because her short life was something of a miracle. She was one of eleven puppies (including Genesis) that were delivered to Blakely, who was found very pregnant and living by a Dumpster in New Iberia, Louisiana, and taken to a high-kill shelter. Like Albie, Blakely's first stroke of luck was being a stray, not a dog surrendered by its owner. Many owner surrenders, even if they are healthy, are euthanized at overcrowded shelters almost immediately because shelter personnel know no one is going to come looking for them. Strays can buy a few days on the assumption that if they are lost, someone is searching for them.

How any particular lost or abandoned dog defies the odds to ultimately find a forever home truly is a story of luck at every turn. On the surface, it seems simple: person finds dog, dog gets on truck, dog gets off truck into the arms of new family. But the story is always far more complicated. Very few people, even those with rescue dogs, know, or can even imagine, what it takes to do this work and the effort expended by countless people to get their dog to them safe and sound.

In Blakely's case, a Labs4rescue volunteer in Connecticut saw a cross-posted message online about a pregnant Lab in the shelter in New Iberia. She phoned two local volunteers who picked Blakely up from the shelter in their Ford Explorer. En route to the vet's office, she started delivering her puppies. Because they were born in a car, Labs4rescue volunteers named each puppy after a car model: there was Chevy, Genesis, and nine more, including Audi, whose forever family, the Dooleys of Hamden, Connecticut, has since renamed her Brooke.

Audi and three of her siblings were along for this particular ride; Greg would later bring Blakely and the rest of the pups to their forever homes too. Since Audi and the Dooleys were the focus of my Parade story, I wanted to get to know her a bit, and I had promised the Dooleys I'd watch out for her and give her some extra attention, which she craved. When I put my finger through her kennel door, she couldn't stop licking and chewing it excitedly. I removed her from the kennel and she was a bundle of energy, squirming in my arms, licking my face, and nibbling on my ears. She didn't want to be let go so, with Greg's permission, I decided to let her sleep with me in the truck.

On the phone a week before I joined Greg in Allentown, I had offered to stay in the motel. I was trying to respect his privacy (I knew he slept in the trailer), but Greg was having none of it. I would sleep in the trailer. When it was time for us all to go to bed, Greg gave me his tiny loft, the part of trailer that hangs over the back of the tractor. It's about seven feet long, a few feet wide, and all of about three feet high. I took Audi and her kennel up there, played with her a bit, and put her in the kennel for the night, keeping her right next to my head. Greg was already asleep on the trailer floor — he goes out like a light — a worn blanket wrapped around his husky frame.

It was surprisingly quiet in the trailer. It took the dogs twenty minutes or so to settle in for the night, but once they did, it remained quiet, except for the hum of the air-conditioning and the occasional dreamer chasing a squirrel in his sleep. The lights remain on through the night. Audi, however, wanted so badly to be out of her kennel; she whimpered and whined for a good hour before we both drifted off for a very short night's rest.

Greg was up before first light to get ready for the big day ahead. I, on the other hand, stumbled out groggily and walked into the motel whose parking lot Greg uses as though I was a paying guest and washed up in the lobby restroom. There are no amenities on the road when you're traveling with Greg. His focus is solely on getting the dogs to their forever homes as quickly and safely as possible. So if you need to shower daily, this isn't the job for you.

We changed the paper in the kennels, washed off a few poopy dogs, and gave them all water and a small snack. They don't eat a lot on the journey for two reasons. First, they're under some stress and the motion of the truck can make a full dog queasy. Second, whatever they eat comes out the other end, and when you have eighty dogs in a confined space ... Well, you get the idea.

As soon as the sun cracked the horizon, we were ready to hit the road. For dozens of families, this was the day they'd been waiting for: Gotcha Day. And it's the day when a week of drudgery, messy and stressful work, and the monotony of the road pay dividends for Greg in the joyful scenes that unfold at every stop.

* * *

Zanesville has been dying for as long as Greg can remember, ever since his days growing up on the rural outskirts of town. It's a story that has played out in countless towns in the heartland: once- prosperous communities buoyed by manufacturing slowly suffocating under the weight of globalization. Vacant lots, abandoned factories, and boarded-up storefronts now dot Zanesville like some kind of pox. Owens Corning, the fiberglass manufacturer, still has a small plant here, but today, Zanesville, which sits on the banks of the Muskingum River, is more notable for its commercial strip of fast-food restaurants and auto parts stores than its manufacturing base.

Greg and Adella and Adella's twelve-year-old son, Connor, live in a house in a historic section of town. The streets, paved with bricks in 1890s, are lined with stately homes. The Mahles share theirs with four dogs, all rescues: Harry, a golden retriever pulled from the Muskingum County Shelter, and three southern dogs: Murphy, an Irish setter from New Orleans; Treasure, a Carolina dog mix found in Tennessee; and Beans, purportedly a Lab-Rhodesian mix from central Louisiana, though no one knows for sure what's in Beans's DNA. From the exuberance and tenacity with which he relentlessly plays fetch, he could be part Ty Cobb.

The Mahles bought their home four years ago, a large, nineteenth-century Italianate house onto which a Tudor front was grafted more than a century ago. From the backyard — fenced in to keep the dogs from running off — you can see the Muskingum River and downtown Zanesville. Except for a few modern touches, such as a couple of flat screen TVs and an Apple computer on Greg's desk, it's a home evocative of another era: fifteen-foot ceilings, stucco moldings, clawfooted bath tubs, dark woodwork, stained-glass windows, a multi-colored slate roof, cast-iron radiators, tasseled lampshades, and multiple sitting rooms surely called "parlors" a century ago. In this old house, the TVs and computers appear to be flotsam from a still-to-be-imagined future. If this sounds like a grand home for a man scratching out a living transporting rescue dogs, walk down Convers Street and you can find larger homes like this in move-in condition for about $150,000 and some in need of work for under $30,000.

Greg is an inveterate collector of "junk nicely arranged," as he calls it, and he continues to buy out of barns and thrift stores to furnish the house, proud that he can spend a few dollars and some time — when he can grab it — refinishing and have a functional and attractive piece of furniture. He proudly tells me he found the bed and two dressers in the bedroom where I'm staying in an old barn where they were covered in hay. The price? A grand total of ninety dollars.

"I cart home all kinds of junk," Greg says, "but they're treasures to me — like rescue dogs that are trash to some people, but treasures to me. I've always been this way."

When you're driving a truck long distances with eighty dogs, you have to be resourceful, and Greg is resourceful at home too. "I once hauled an old iron bed partly buried in a hog feedlot out with a tractor. I cleaned it up, used it for a while, and then sold it and used the money to buy a brand-new bed," he says, proud of the accomplishment.

There are various works in progress around the house, victims of Greg's life lived half on the road: a downstairs bathroom is far from completion and an ambitious, partly completed backyard patio awaits his attention.

The home, indeed the entire neighborhood, evokes Bedford Falls, George Bailey's hometown in Frank Capra's 1946 film classic It's a Wonderful Life. As I would learn during the course of the more than seven thousand miles we would ride together, "it's a wonderful life" is precisely how Greg feels about his own life, whether it's his two weeks on the road out of every month, or his two weeks at home with Adella, Connor, and the dogs.

* * *

Adella Mahle was only eighteen when she first met Greg some seventeen years ago. She was hired as a waitress at one of the five Brighton Ice Cream restaurants Greg operated with his mother in and around Zanesville. Greg is almost twenty years Adella's senior.

"My Dad owned a bar," Greg tells me as we drive around Zanesville one afternoon, two days before we're scheduled to leave Ohio for the Gulf Coast to pick up dogs. Greg, Adella, and I are in Adella's Subaru because Greg still drives a dilapidated white panel van he used in his early days in rescue dog transport. It has only two seats, a lot of miscellaneous junk rattling around in back, front tires of questionable integrity, a windshield riddled with cracks, a nonfunctioning air conditioner, a broken odometer, useless and tattered windshield wipers, and various holes in the dash where controls of one sort or another used to be. Greg loves this vehicle and sees no reason to replace it.

"Dad sold the bar and bought a building with plans to open a package store," Greg continues. "He didn't realize the building was too close to a nearby school to get a liquor license. The building had been abandoned and wasn't being used as a school, but the school district still owned it and he couldn't get the license."

So Raymond Mahle needed another plan and opened a small ice cream shop with a soda fountain in his would-be liquor store. Greg was in his early teens.

"He started offering a sandwich or two, and then another and another, and the next thing you know, you have a kitchen and you're in the restaurant business," says Greg. The first restaurant was located at the edge of the Brighton historic district in Zanesville on Brighton Boulevard, from which it took its name. The restaurant was a success, a testament to his parents' prodigious work ethic — a work ethic he inherited.

"I remember coming into the restaurant back in the early days," Greg recalls, "and there was my dad in the kitchen, sitting on a bucket, with a potato in one hand and a knife in the other, and he was sound asleep."


Excerpted from Rescue Road by Peter Zheutlin. Copyright © 2015 Peter Zheutlin. Excerpted by permission of Sourcebooks, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Chapter 1: Dog's Best Friend,
Chapter 2: On the Road Again,
Chapter 3: All Aboard,
Chapter 4: Saving Dogs,
Chapter 5: Lone Star State of Mind,
Chapter 6: Houston, You Have a Problem,
Chapter 7: Hard Times,
Chapter 8: Acadiana,
Chapter 9: Long Day's Journey Into Night,
Chapter 10: Gotcha Day,
Author's Note,
You Can Help! Support the Rescue Organizations in This Book,
Photo Credits,
About the Author,

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Rescue Road: One Man, Thirty Thousand Dogs, and a Million Miles on the Last Hope Highway 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Susan-Willard More than 1 year ago
An uplifting read about the world of animal rescue. Peter captured the love and dedication and sheer determination that goes on behind the scene of Greg's transport -- the joy and the sadness. May there come a time when society values the lives of animals and healthy animals no longer have to be euthanized.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Should be required reading for adults and older kids, to illuminate for them the huge problem of dog overpopulation in this country, particularly in the south. If everyone made just one-fiftieth of the effort made by these heroes, the problem could be solved.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The animal population is out of control in the southern states and what it takes to rescue even one dog is an incredible undertaking. This is the story of how some of those dogs beat the odds, found forever homes, and what it takes to get them there. Some animal shelters have a euthanasia rate of 80 to 90%. Whether you rescue or buy, I highly recommend this book for anyone who is a dog owner.
Tangen More than 1 year ago
Peter came into contact with one of the rescue organizatons and then pursued the story of who, how, and why. The what is rescuing endangered dogs from southern states and transporting them to "forever homes" in the northeast after they have been cleared and treated by vets. The whole concept of how dogs are viewed in the south is so foreign to me (I live in a state where animal abuse is a felony). Sure, we have our share of dumbwits who are too lazy to find a cheap spay clinic, and losers who abandon a pet instead of taking it to a proper facility, but we also have scout programs taking kids to shelters to socialize the animals and learn to be responsible to domestic animals. OK, enough rant. Peter does a ride/work along with the transporter and learns more than he ever wanted to know about transporting 80 dogs in a tricked out semi across country every other week, as well as about shelters in the south and the people called to change things and "save lives 4 paws at a time". If you love dogs, this will be an emotional read. Maybe you will even be moved to help in your own way.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book reveals the plight of so many homeless dogs in the deep south. It will carry you on an emotional jorney that is as tragic as it is selfless and moving. Hats off to Greg and what he is doing for thousands of dogs who have no hope. He is an inspiration. It is time for the city of Houston to wake up and make some serious changes. There are no excuses.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago