Freddie’s Rollercoaster Journey: Puppy Mill to Loving Home

6 min read

When I first learned of biographer Grant Hayter-Menzies’ latest book, Freddie: The Rescue Dog Who Rescued Me, I couldn’t wait to get my hands and eyes on it. Based on reviews and numerous accolades, I knew I would be deeply moved, but I never expected to take it out of the mailer, sit on my couch, and sit there for a few hours as I devoured every page.

But that’s exactly what I did, and not only did my hands and eyes get a good deal of exercise, but so did my heart.

I was moved all over the place, and I still wanted to know more. Hence, I’m thrilled Hayter-Menzies agreed to answer some questions about his deeply personal, beautifully written memoir about Freddie, whose safe and trusting life with Hayter-Menzies also helped to rescue a deeply traumatized human.

Marc Bekoff: Why did you write Freddie?

Grant Hayter-Menzies: Shortly after Freddie’s cancer diagnosis in July 2020 of hemangiosarcoma, one of the most aggressive canine cancers, I began keeping a separate journal from that I’d kept for many years. Experts told us Freddie might have only a few months, even with surgery. At 13, with a heart murmur, he was not a good candidate.

But he survived surgery and then aced three months of chemotherapy, astonishing his oncologist. It was more vital than ever to record this miracle, and his continued upward climb to health. Then came a diagnosis of lymphoma a year later. He was doing well under chemo, but his heart couldn’t fight anymore.

After some months of grieving so dark I can barely remember what I did or where I was, I began reading the journal as part of the grieving process and realized it could make a book that might help other people pull themselves out of the despair I was in. That’s how it began, a memoir written by a biographer uncomfortable writing about himself, but one I had to write because it was for him and for others like me.

Source: Heritage House Publishing Company Inc./with permission.

Source: Heritage House Publishing Company Inc./with permission.

MB: How does your latest book relate to your background and general areas of interest?

H-M: It was Freddie, a terrified rescue from a puppy mill my partner and I adopted in 2010, whose courageous recovery from the trauma he’d come from, who inspired me to switch from writing biographies of human lives to those of extraordinary historic animals, many of them conscripted to human wars no animal ever caused.

Ironically, in Freddie’s last year, I was to see that the bravest dog I’d ever known was beside me the whole time.

MB: Who do you hope to reach in your interesting and important book?

H-M: I wrote the book against my grain. As mentioned. I have studied many memoirs in researching my biographical subjects but never thought I’d write one about myself. I felt I’d been thrust onto a stage, a technician who made the show run but avoided the spotlight at all costs.

But it had to be written to do a couple of things. First, I saw, over the course of Freddie’s medical treatments in 2020-2021, many suffering people whose companion animals were ill. And I remember once, years ago, waiting with Freddie at his vet’s for some routine procedure. A door opened, and out came an elderly couple. I stood to give them space, Freddie in my arms.

Her face was wet with tears as if she’d had water splashed on her. She looked back at the closed door, and there was her husband, trying heroically not to cry, holding a tattered but loved pink blanket in his arms. The lady looked at me, then Freddie smiled at seeing him and then sobbed. Her husband helped her out the door, where they stood on the sidewalk as if in a world they had never known before.

I remember I held Freddie close and thought that nobody in that condition should be released back to the world so soon. There should be a quiet room with a candle someone trained in grief to help them. That’s partly why I wrote Freddie, to help others who had made that terrible walk away from the sleeping body to the outside world, where that body would never be again.

I hope I, in some part, succeeded. The second reason? Just to share Freddie, as I shared with him in life. And to give him some measure of immortality, because as we who have loved an animal know, they never really leave us.

MB: What are some of the major topics you consider?

H-M: The book deals with the challenges of socializing a traumatized mill dog, helping the dog become everything he can be, and living without fear. It’s about what I learned about myself as a writer and how I grew as one because of Freddie, and about myself, too, when challenges faced me, sudden divorce, breakup up of what we’d promised would be Freddie’s forever home and ours, mental breakdown, restoration of hope and faith and love in another partner, for Freddie and for me, and a happiness we guaranteed Freddie till his final moments in our arms on 25 October 2021.

MB: How does your book differ from others that are concerned with some of the same general topics?

H-M: Freddie owes a great deal to memoirs I read to help me cope with his loss, but ultimately, it is about how deeply animals have been loved by my family, as far back as my elders’ memories could stretch, prompted my insistent childhood questions. It is about that tradition of love given and received, of taking animals seriously, of learning from them the unreachable but aspirational gift possessed by them alone (poets know this also), of living not in the past or the future but in the pure and wonderful now. It’s about all the animals around us every day, wild and domesticated, many of whom we barely notice but who enrich our lives, asking very little in return.

MB: Are you hopeful that as people learn more about Freddie and your relationship, they will be more open to such a journey that was good for you and your dog?

H-M: I hope it will move anyone who may be looking for a dog or cat or any animal to adopt to please consider the quiet one who sits frightened in the corner, who needs to be healed with love. Freddie was such a dog, and he changed my life. Give them a chance, and they will change yours.

Note: Tomorrow is the anniversary of Freddie’s passing.

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