Author chronicles cross-country RV 'dogtrip' with 25 rescue pooches

Image: David Rosenfelt with a bunch of dogs               St. Martin's Press
Author David Rosenfelt says he was busy telling the dogs not to shed in the RVs when this photo was captured.

In the children’s classic “Go, Dog. Go!”, the canines were able to drive their own little cars to the dog party.

Oh, how David Rosenfelt and Debbie Myers wished their 25 dogs could do the same. But alas, they needed rides when the couple moved all the way across the United States from California to Maine.

A move like that takes planning. Lots of planning. So much so that “it made the D-day invasion look like a spur-of-the-moment decision,” Rosenfelt writes in “Dogtripping,” his new book about the epic cross-country trek with 11 volunteers and 25 rescue dogs in three RVs.

“If you ask any of the other 10 people who were on the trip, they would literally tell you it was the greatest adventure of their lives. They were having SO much fun — but I just hated it,” a curmudgeonly Rosenfelt told TODAY.com in a phone interview. “I hated it because everything we did was so complicated. You can’t just stop and walk the dogs on the highway; we had to bring 200 feet of plastic fencing and set up a dog park everywhere we went. Everything was a hassle.”

Image: Dogs in RV St. Martin's Press
Rescue dogs Noel and Jack get comfortable in one of the three RVs used for the cross-country trek.

As curmudgeons go, Rosenfelt is of the crème brûlée variety — crusty on the outside, but sweet and mushy on the inside. Over the past 18 years, he and his wife have helped find homes for more than 4,000 dogs that had been on death row at crowded animal shelters. Whenever rescued dogs were too old or too sick to get adopted by anybody, they’d end up going home with Rosenfelt and Myers.

'No pet should die alone': Photographer promotes senior pet adoption

And so it came to pass that the couple had 25 mostly geriatric — and mostly large — dogs living with them in Orange County when the time came for them to move to the spot in Maine where they had long planned to retire. (The highest number of dogs they housed at any one time was 42.)

“When you have two dogs, getting a third is a big deal,” said Rosenfelt, 64. “But when you have 26 and you get a call saying that a golden (retriever) is going to be put down at 3 o’clock, you take a 27th.”

Image: Feeding time for dogs on the road trip. St. Martin's Press
David Rosenfelt's caption for this photo of the dogs' feeding time: "Grassy area for two? Right this way, please."

Rosenfelt, a mystery writer with a loyal fan base, and Myers, a former media executive for the Taco Bell corporation, established the Tara Foundation dog rescue organization in the mid-‘90s. They named it after their first golden retriever, Tara, whom they’ve officially dubbed “The Greatest Dog in the History of the World.”

About two-thirds of the thousands of dogs they removed from shelters were golden retrievers. The rest were a motley mix of mutts, and most were large, because bigger dogs are harder to place in homes.

Rosenfelt and Myers have always taken pains to make sure their furry family members are comfortable, clean and happy. When they still lived in Southern California, they had a housekeeper come in three times a week to deal with dog fur. And their urgent, daily rituals for cleaning up dog poop are hilariously documented in “Dogtripping.”

The couple routinely spend nearly $1,000 a month on dog food and $30,000 a year on vet bills, and it doesn’t faze them to administer about 60 pills a day to dogs with arthritis, epilepsy and other ailments.

Dog pictured floating to sleep in owner's arms has died

“It takes really special people to adopt elderly dogs, and it takes really, really special people to adopt elderly big dogs,” said Cindy Spodek Dickey, one of the volunteers who helped on the five-day trip from California to Maine in September 2011.

Image: Three RVs used on journey St. Martin's Press
The three RVs, all loaded up with dogs, humans, food and fuel and ready to leave California.

The Seattle-area resident described the “Woofabago 2011” journey as a “peak life experience” that was made all the more special by the presence of so many happy dogs.

“I mean, if you have any qualms with dog farts, pee, poop, drool and other bodily fluids, then this was not the trip for you,” said Spodek Dickey, president of a marketing and advertising agency in Seattle.

“But those dogs! They’d have these huge smiles on their faces. You rarely get to experience love and joy like that. ... Every living thing deserves a wonderful life. The world’s a better place because of people like David and Debbie.”

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Image: Cyndi Flores and Terri Nigro preparing food for the dogs. St. Martin's Press
Volunteers Cyndi Flores and Terri Nigro prepare bowl after bowl of dog food on the road.

Today, Myers and Rosenfelt live with 21 pooches in Maine in a home modified with ramps for senior dogs.

“We have 11 acres on a lake,” Rosenfelt said. “It’s like waking up in a Folgers commercial every morning — it’s just beautiful. The dogs can be in the house all day, and they can go out through a doggie door that’s the size of the Lincoln Tunnel because we have a mastiff.”

Rosenfelt and Myers remain astonished that so many volunteers took vacation time and put their lives on hold to help drive dog-filled RVs over thousands of miles of terrain.

What’s even more astonishing to them is that the majority of the volunteers were relative strangers to them before the trip. Spodek Dickey and Myers had been friends for many years, but most of the human participants in Woofabago 2011 were readers from Virginia, Atlanta and other far-flung places who love Rosenfelt’s mystery novels and also love dogs. 

“These were readers that I didn’t know or that I had met once,” Rosenfelt said. “They all flew into California to do this. These people were amazing. This was not an easy trip.”

Good buddies: Truckers transport rescued animals to safety

The self-proclaimed “merry band of lunatics” who went on the trip still stay in touch, and they’re abuzz with excitement over Rosenfelt’s book.

“Oh, I hope they make a movie out of this! Disney should!” Spodek Dickey said. “The joke is, of course, who should play David? And the answer is: Brad Pitt, of course! (Or actually, I think Tim Allen would be great.)”

Need a Coffey break? Connect with TODAY.com writer Laura T. Coffey on Facebook, follow her on Twitter or read more of her stories at LauraTCoffey.com.

  • Slideshow Photos

    Image: Stella the dog

    There’s life (and love) in these old dogs yet

    A Los Angeles animal photographer is on a mission: To change people's perceptions of older dogs and help more gray-muzzled pooches find loving homes. See images from her "My Old Dog" project here.

  • There’s life (and love) in these old dogs yet

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    Fiona -

    Los Angeles animal photographer Lori Fusaro is on a mission: To change people's perceptions of older dogs and help more gray-muzzled pooches find loving homes. Alarmed by how many senior dogs languish in shelters because no one wants them, Fusaro launched a photography project to show how much older dogs have to offer. Here are photos from the project, which led to a book called "My Old Dog: Rescued Pets with Remarkable Second Acts":

    “Fiona was a 15-year-old stray at the West Valley Animal Shelter (in Los Angeles),” Fusaro said. “She couldn't walk and she had to be carted around in a red wagon." A volunteer with a local animal rescue group took her home thinking she would not last long, but the dog blossomed. Fiona went on to "dance around the house for treats" and enjoy scratches behind the ears, Fusaro said.
    Copyright 2013, Fusaro Photography
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    Flopsy and Sebastian -

    These closely bonded dogs lived in a backyard with no attention until they were rescued in the summer of 2012. "They have arthritis, but they are not old dogs who like to sleep all day," Fusaro said. "They play, chase cats and squirrels as best as they can, and love their walks and park time.”
    Copyright 2013, Fusaro Photography
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    Healey -

    “Healey was adopted as a senior,” Fusaro said. “He had the odds stacked against him: He was old, a pit bull and blind. His mama couldn't bear the thought of him dying in the shelter and so she adopted him. He loves to go on walks and sniffs every inch of grass. He loves his doggy brothers and sisters and especially his human daddy. They are inseparable.”
    Copyright 2013, Fusaro Photography
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    Lady -

    “Lady was found at the shelter as a senior,” Fusaro said. “She was sweet as pie and her foster mama decided on the spot to bring her home. She loves her human friends and dog friends too. Her favorite pastime is rolling in the grass and belly rubs.”
    Copyright 2013, Fusaro Photography
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    Rosie -

    “Rosie is an 11-year-old English bulldog,” Fusaro said. “Tennis balls are her favorite toy to play with and tease you with. She will dare you to take it from her. She also likes to take the pillows off the bed or clothes that are at her reach until you give her a goldfish cracker. Her hips are wobbly, but she will still run and play.”
    Copyright 2013, Fusaro Photography
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    Sparky -

    “Sparky has lived with her family her whole life,” Fusaro said. “She is the neighborhood dog welcoming committee. All the new dogs become her very best friend. She loves to go on long hikes with her human family.”
    Copyright 2013, Fusaro Photography
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    Stella -

    “Stella was adopted from the Charlottesville Albemarle SPCA in Virginia,” Fusaro said. “She was abandoned right before the Thanksgiving holiday in 2010, when her owner moved and decided to leave her behind. Her new daddy saw her picture on a website and decided he needed to meet her. It was love at first sight.”
    Lori Fusaro / Copyright 2013, Fusaro Photography
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    Sunny -

    Sunny is the senior dog who started it all for Lori Fusaro. Sunny was left at a Los Angeles shelter at age 16 with cancer and infected eyes. When Fusaro saw Sunny’s face in June 2012, she decided she couldn’t let the dog die alone, so she adopted her and cared for her. Sunny thrived for two and a half years in Fusaro's care. “She inspired me to use photography to show how many senior animals need homes,” Fusaro said.
    Copyright 2013, Fusaro Photography
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    Gabby and Sunny -

    Fusaro’s two dogs are pictured here: Sunny in front, and Gabby, who also is a senior dog. Fusaro rescued Gabby when she was 2 years old. Gabby "loves playing with her doggy friends and has a kitty boyfriend named Enzo,” Fusaro said. “Enzo grooms her every morning and sleeps with her at night.”
    Copyright 2013, Fusaro Photography
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    Blossom -

    “Blossom was adopted as an older dog,” Fusaro said. “For some reason, no one wanted her. She is such a character! She has such great expressions, she dances for you as she awaits a treat, and she is loving and affectionate. She gives good doggie hugs.”

    To see more of Fusaro's photos and read more stories about happy senior dogs, check out the book "My Old Dog: Rescued Pets with Remarkable Second Acts," written by TODAY.com writer and editor Laura T. Coffey.
    Copyright 2013, Fusaro Photography
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