Jason Gross of Amherst ran across the United States seven years ago to raise funds for diabetes research.
His cause received more than $37,000, and he found a best friend.
On Nov. 11, 2004, Gross was running in a desolate area of the Navajo Reservation in Arizona, between Kayenta and Tonalalea. He recalls exactly what happened: "I went to pick up my sunglasses that had fallen off my head, and as I put them back I noticed a dog coming toward me," he says. "As I started trotting, he started keeping pace with me."
On that part of the run, Gross was accompanied by Dave Boatman, who drove the RV that shadowed Gross and in which they slept every night. When Boatman drove up to tell Gross he had about five more miles to run before they stopped for the night, "I pointed out that a dog had started following me and he just shook his head and drove on to our spot," says Gross. The dog continued running with Gross.
When they stopped for the night, Gross got his first chance to really examine the dog, a medium-sized, short-haired mixed-breed with golden fur and white on his chest, belly, legs, paws and tail tip. "It was apparent the dog was very hungry and malnourished," he says. "Of course, we didn't have any dog food on hand, but we cooked up some hamburger and fed him assorted crackers, and he just devoured it."
After wolfing down the food, the dog trotted away. Gross thought they had seen the last of the dog, but, he says, "Dave said, 'Nah, I think you'll see him again.' Sure enough the next morning as I was leaving the RV to start my daily mileage at the crack of dawn the dog came running after me from a distance. I couldn't believe it!"
Gross went back to the RV, got some more food for the dog and they ran together again. "I thought, 'This is pretty cool.' The dog stayed with me all morning!" he says. By the end of the day, the dog had a name -- Boss, a nod to Gross' favorite musician, Bruce Springsteen, and his song, "Born to Run."
Later that day, Gross' route led him right past a veterinary clinic and he stopped in to get Boss checked out and immunized. "It seemed like it was meant to be," says Gross. "I ran right into the clinic with the dog and told the vet our story. The veterinarian seemed kind of shocked that I was going to keep the dog, but he gave him his shots and we were good to go."
"After we fed him that first time, I guess it was pretty clear that he'd be mine for a long time," says Gross. Although he says "it's hard to tell for sure," Gross is pretty sure that Boss was never owned by anyone in the first year or so of his life, before he ran out of the desert.
For the rest of the run, Boss ran next to Gross for part of the day, and spent part of the day riding in luxury in the RV.
Boss was by his side when Gross finished the run in Santa Monica on Dec. 11, 2004, and together they rode back east. Their route again took them through Arizona, and Gross noticed several dead dogs by the side of the road on the reservation. At a reservation gas station where he stopped, several homeless dogs approached him, begging for food. "Boss was jealous," Gross said.
Because Boss' siblings and possibly even offspring could still be living on the reservation, Gross has kept in touch with Blackhat Humane Society, a volunteer group that helps abandoned, injured, starving and sickly animals on the Navajo Reservation.
"They have a huge problem with stray dogs out there; they are not spayed or neutered," says Gross.
Blackhat produces an annual calendar as a fundraiser and Boss is the featured dog for January. To order a calendar, send a $15 check, made out to Blackhat Humane Society, to Dogs of the Navajo, P.O. Box 3843, Chinle, Ariz., 86503.
Gross lived for two years in Washington, D.C., before moving back to Buffalo in 2007, with Boss by his side. "From the RV to the car coming back across the country, to Washington and now Buffalo, he's adapted to his surroundings really well," says Gross.
Gross last had a dog as a child, and says, "I never expected anything like this. My parents get along really well with Boss. He has a really good nature, especially considering what he went through in his first year or so, and is an amazing dog."
Gross still marvels at his accidental encounter with the sweet dog who would add so much to his life. "It was such an amazing experience, how we found each other," he says, "and I really can't imagine my life without him."
The Oct. 11 report about Rio, the puppy born in Afghanistan and adopted by Staff Sgt. Bob Cook of Cheektowaga, prompted an immediate outpouring of donations from Pet Tales readers to Nowzad, the British charity caring for Rio. Donations have reached $4,070, or 101 percent of the amount needed.
In an email, Cook, who will be deployed in Afghanistan until the spring, said he is grateful for the community response. "I will talk to the Nowzad shelter to find out what the next step is," he said. "I am guessing that Rio will be home safe with my wife no later than Christmas."