Guideposts Editor-in-Chief Edward Grinnan's talks to Larissa Wohl and the Hallmark Channel's Home and Family crew about his love of dogs and his memoir, Always by My Side: Life Lessons from Millie and All the Dogs I've Loved.
Mark Steines: Look, we all need a little nudge in life to overcome some of the obstacles that we face. But sometimes, it comes from a faithful friend. And sometimes, it comes from an unexpected, four legged fur ball. Here with a story that celebrates the powerful impact those fur balls have on our lives is our pet rescue expert, Larissa.
Larissa Wohl: I mean, I'm just the vehicle that brought this wonderful man here, Edward. Now, Edward is the editor in chief of "Guideposts Magazine," which is a lot of inspirational, amazing stories. So he knows how to tell a story. That's for sure.
And he also wrote a book called Always By My Side about his dog and many dogs in his life. And you know, I really connected with you. We were talking earlier, because, you know, when you go into certain therapies or you go into different groups and group therapy, you know, they talk about finding your higher power.
And I never understood it. What does that mean? And somebody once said to me in a meeting—they said your dog is your higher power, because I brought my dogs in, Muppet and Maple. And it suddenly clicked. And when I was reading your book, that is what came to my mind. Your dogs are your higher power. And I have to read one quote that's in the book and then I'll turn it over to you. This just, to me, was everything this book was about. Edward said, "I'm convinced it is only by the grace of God that I found my way to where I am today—a God that sent dogs to guide my way from the darkness that once threatened to swallow me."
Mark: Edward, welcome to the show.
Edward Grinnan: Thank you. It's a pleasure to be here. It really is.
Mark: You know, you talk about—in your book, you talk about it. Thank you Larissa, for bringing this to light, because you talk about these dogs that have come into your life. And early on, you went through a lot of hardships, when you were younger. And it was Pete. Let's start there.
Edward: OK. We'll start with Pete. I was very young at the time. And I lost an older brother who had Down syndrome under pretty tragic and traumatic circumstances. And it really, as you know or you can imagine, that really traumatizes a family.
And I was never that close with my father. I mean, we just—he was a lot older. But he took me out to a farm one night, and there's all these poodles in this pen, these baby poodles, jumping up and down, jumping up and down. And he said , “You can have any one you want.” So I picked the one who jumped the highest.
It was after that that I developed a really severe case of asthma. It's actually been—it followed me all through my childhood. And the nights became very frightening. And I would wake up wheezing at 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning and realize that I wasn't going to get back to sleep. And I, you know, could—in the darkness even, I can still see my fingers turning blue.
And I would sit on the edge of that bed and wheeze. And I didn't want to wake anybody up. I didn't want to wake my mom up. I didn't want to. But Pete always slept right outside my room. And when he heard me sit up in bed, wheezing, he would come in. He'd get up on the bed. And he'd lean up against me. He'd see me through the night.
Debbie Matenopoulos: Aw, he knew.
Edward: He knew. He knew. He stayed—but that poor dog was so sleep deprived.
Mark: Then you were, too.
Edward: Yes. Yes.
Debbie: The hardships that you endured in your childhood, unfortunately, led you to turn to alcohol from the age of 13.
Edward: Well, yeah. I don't want to make any excuses for that. And I don't think there's any particular reason, other than the fact that I am an alcoholic. But it's true. And it took me through some really, really dark times.
Debbie: Until you were about 20, and until you met somebody named Rudy.
Edward: I was closer to 30, I have to admit.
Larissa: It took you some time. It's OK.
Debbie: Well, it was a decade. It was a decade.
Edward: It took a while. It took a while.
Debbie: Well, you're only 35 now. How could that be possible?
Edward: That's right. I know.
Debbie: So you met Rudy. Tell us about Rudy.
Edward: Well, Rudy—this was an amazing thing that happened to me. And I had actually gotten sober in one of those programs that you alluded to. And I had a slip. I'd been sober for a few years. I had a slip. I really—you know, I was back where I started, right at the bottom. And I was walking across West 72nd Street.
Debbie: In New York City.
Edward: In New York City, where I live. Like, right near Central Park, I saw this woman coming down the street. And she was—I mean, she was really flashy. Her hair was all blonde. And she had these skyscraper heels on. She was really a sight. But what was more of a sight was this corpulent Cocker Spaniel that was, you know, on a leash and practically, you know, pulling her off her skyscraper heels.
And I just said—and it's probably because I was just newly sober again—I said, "That's the fattest Cocker Spaniel I've ever seen. That is the Marlon Brando of Cocker Spaniels."
Which is no way to start a conversation with a dog owner in New York.
Mark: No, not if you want to have one—a long term one.
Edward: And so she looked at me with considerable disdain. But Rudy—that was his name—decided to barge over in the midst of all this traffic and pedestrians and everything. And he practically pulled Julee off her heels. And he came over, and I scratched him.
And you know, he seemed to really take to me. And she wanted to move on. And I started a conversation. And we—you know, I managed to kind of stalk her around the block a little bit and talk. And we talked a bit more. And finally, I walked her to back to her apartment. And she was still pretty cool, you know, and I could barely get her phone number out of her and a promise that maybe we'd meet for Chinese food sometime in the distant future, from the way she was looking at me. Unbeknownst to me, she went upstairs to her apartment, called her mother back in Iowa and said, "Mom, Rudy just introduced me to the man I'm going to marry."
Larissa: Oh, my goodness.
Mark: What? Wow!
Edward: Isn't it amazing?
Debbie: So had he not been overweight, this would've never happened!
Edward: Right. One of the funny things that happened with Rudy, not long after that, was I took care of him one night when Julee was going to be out of town. And on my way back to the apartment, we stopped in the corner deli. And Hassan, the owner of the deli, gave Rudy a little piece of bologna. And I was nervous about keeping Rudy. I mean, I was responsible for him. And this was early in the relationship.
And so that night, about 3:30, 4:00 o'clock in the morning, I hear Rudy whining and kind of doing this in the bed. And I said, "Oh, my gosh. He has to go out. It's an emergency." And I threw my clothes on. I'm pulling my pants on. And I practically went out with one shoe on.
We got down to the street, and Rudy just pulled me all the way around the corner to Hassan's deli. He just wanted another slice of bologna.
Mark: He wanted more bologna.
Debbie: He was whining, because he—he wanted the bologna.
Mark: Plus, he knew he had you right there [points to palm of right hand].
Debbie: Well, Rudy was just the beginning. There was so many more. Tell us about Millie.
Edward: I don't know. Millie was like a ray of sunlight into our lives at a time when we were both really kind of struggling with—with a lot of different life changes. She was a—she was a country girl. She was a tiny little fluff ball from rural Florida. When she was exposed to the cacophony, the chaos of the New York City streets—
Mark: Oh, my God. Yes.
Edward: She would not—she wouldn't walk. She'd go out in front of the building. She was a happy dog. But there was like there was a force field at each end of the apartment house, and she wouldn't go past it. And I began to get really frustrated. And you can't live in New York with a dog that won't go for a walk.
Mark: Sure. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Edsward: She won't go out for me. And I tried everything—every award and every praise I could give her. And finally, in desperation, I called a friend, Amy Wong, who had a dog named Winky. And Winky was like a real street dog. Winky was a rescue that grew up in the Bronx. So Winky didn't have any problems. Winky from the Bronx, Winky from the Bronx.
So I said, "Can you bring Winky over and help me?" So Winky comes over. And Millie is like just in love with Winky. You know, with the first dog she's ever met, and so we go outside. Winky starts down the block with Amy. And then Millie stops at that force field, and she won't go on. She won't go on. And so Winky turns around.
About 20, 30 feet down the block, Winky just turns around and looks at Millie. And their eyes locked for like 40, 50 seconds of just staring at each other. This communication is going on. And Millie looked up to me and said, "OK. I'll try."
Edward: And she zipped down the street and caught up with Winky. And from that moment on, Millie was not afraid to go for a walk.
Well, the lesson I took from that was the one about courage and bravery and what it takes to sort of run through those force fields in life—those fear force-fields that prevent us from moving forward. It was really—it was one of the great lessons she ever taught me.
Larissa: Well, I was just going to say a comment—something else that I've heard you talk about, which means a lot to me—is that, you know, a lot of people who rescue dogs and then they pass later on and say, "Oh, I could never rescue another. I could never do that again." But so many dogs out there still need us.
And you're not replacing them, but bring another one into your life. And move forward and teach them that love. And thank you for that.
Debbie: Thank you, Edward. Thank you so much.
Edward: And it all started with Pete.
Mark: For more incredible stories, be sure to grab a copy of Edward's fabulous new book, Always By My Side.
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