The Saga of the Marathon Mutt

November 28th 2019

A few years ago, my parents adopted a dog. This came as a bit of a surprise to me as I had never heard them express even vague interest in owning a dog. But, for most of my childhood there was a dog in our house, so it wasn't the most bizarre thing they could have done. Little did any of us know how bizarre things would get once Sherman entered our lives.

Sherman is a schnauzer/terrier mix and bears some resemblance to Max, a miniature schnauzer I raised when I was a teenager. Unlike Max, Sherman had been traumatized. He kept his distance from me when I first met him. I didn't personalize this as it appeared he was standoffish towards men in general.

Not long after my parents adopted Sherman, he was thrust into my life via an odd set of circumstances. My parents were traveling abroad and my sister who had agreed to care for Sherman while my parents were away was unable to do so.

For the first 12 hours Sherman was in our home, he stared at me warily from the corner of the living room with his eyes as wide as plates. He was terrified. Barely a year old, it was evident Sherman had been through a lot.

After sharing the bed with me during his first night, Sherman was seemingly a new dog the next morning. Friendly and warm, he sought constant physical contact with me after keeping his distance the previous day. Sherman was warming to me and I was becoming quite fond of him.

Borne of necessity, Sherman pretty much followed me everywhere. He joined me and my Run Club on numerous occasions. He even attended one of our team bar nights. He became the 'Marathon Mutt', the official mascot (or spirit animal) of Run Club.

Sherman would end up spending nearly a month with me. During his stint with me, I saw him evolve from a scared, anxious, reticent mutt to a much more friendly, open, and loving dog. Sherman was becoming the dog he was perhaps meant to be before all of the trauma he had endured.

It was with no shortage of sadness that I handed Sherman back over to my parents when they returned. In a short period of time, Sherman had become a big part of my life. It was tough to say goodbye to him.

A few weeks later, I received a disturbing call from my mother. En route to Santa Fe, New Mexico my parents were in a car accident in the Mojave Desert. Their car rolled several times resulting in the car being totaled. Fortunately, my parents were fine.

But, Sherman had been in the back seat of the car during the accident along with a number of items my parents were transporting to New Mexico. After the car stopped rolling, my parents looked in the backseat to find that Sherman was gone.

They immediately started digging through the various items in the backseat assuming that Sheman had been buried underneath them. After several minutes of digging, they still couldn't find him.

The windshield and several windows had been broken during the accident. Given that Sherman was not in the car, one could only assume he had somehow jumped out of one of the windows while the car was rolling and ran away.

My parents spent over an hour looking for Sherman in the Mojave Desert near the site of the accident. There was no sign of him. My parents had no choice but to leave without Sherman. While I was relieved my parents were ok, I was despondent that Sherman was gone.

I'm an eternal optimist, but I simply couldn't see any reasonable scenario in which Sherman could survive. He was lost in the Mojave Desert. A typical day in July yields temperatures well over 100 degrees.

Sherman was not well suited to these kinds of conditions. If he didn't succumb to heat exhaustion or dehydration, there were coyotes and other predators that he surely would not be able to circumnavigate. I was despondent.

This dog that had endured so much in his short life would die alone somewhere in the Mojave Desert in a markedly unpleasant way. I felt nauseous when I thought about what might happen to Sherman.

Two days later, I was still feeling upset about Sherman's fate as I looked out the window of the Larkspur Ferry heading into San Francisco. Things had just started to look up for Sherman and fate deals him a hand like this?

My cell phone vibrated as the ferry arrived in San Francisco. A voicemail indicator popped up on my display. I quickly dialed in. My mom had left a voicemail for me. Sherman was alive! While I generally consider myself an agnostic, Sherman's survival was unquestionably a sign of divine intervention.

His survival (seemingly unscathed) defied any conventional wisdom. He was found roughly 50 miles from the site of the accident in Palm Desert. Sherman casually walked up to a truck and crawled underneath it to get a break from the heat. The owner of the truck found him, gave him some water, some beef jerky, and called my parents.

Sherman was exhausted and pretty ragged looking according to his rescuer, but he had survived an incredible journey through the Mojave Desert. My parents promptly turned the car around and headed to Palm Desert to pick him up.

I waited anxiously to hear back from my mom about Sherman's condition. Consistent with what Sherman's rescuer had indicated to my mom, Sherman was fine. He was thirsty, dirty, matted, and completely exhausted, but alive and uninjured. The kind man who rescued Sherman refused my parent's $100 reward indicating that Sherman had 'found him'.

I was dumbfounded. It didn't seem possible for Sherman to be alive and well. I asked my parents to send me some pictures of him. I needed proof. Even upon seeing the pictures, I still couldn't believe it was really him.

How did Sherman pull this off? What kind of dog was he? Did his difficult early life enable him to somehow survive 50+ miles in the Mojave Desert? Did he know where he was going? What kept him going?

Maybe Sherman was born to do this. Maybe his hard knock early life enabled him to survive the impossible. Maybe the knowledge that his new found family desperately wanted him back kept him going despite the relentless heat of the Mojave desert. Maybe there were larger forces at work.

None of us will ever know exactly what happened to Sherman in the desert or what kept him going, but I suspect it was all of the aforementioned.

I often point to Sir Ernest Shackleton (leader of the first expedition to attempt a land crossing of the Antarctic content) as one of my heroes for overcoming impossible odds. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I'd find myself looking up to a dog the way I do Ernest Shackleton. But, inspiration comes in all shapes, sizes, and breeds.

The next time you find yourself tired, fatigued, and about to throw in the towel, ask yourself, 'What would the Marathon Mutt do?'