Many times, the role that pets play in the core of a family is essential. This is evident in “Perro Perdido,” the new Netflix film that, just weeks after its release on January 13th, stands out as one of the most successful contents on the platform in Latin America.
With a heartwarming family narrative (starring Rob Lowe, John Berchtold, and Kimberly Williams-Paisley), the film tells the story of the Marshall family and their search for Gonker, one of their son’s dogs, who gets lost during a hike on the Appalachian Trail in the United States. However, there is a detail that makes finding the dog a matter of utmost urgency: Gonker has been suffering from Addison’s disease, a adrenal insufficiency, since birth, making his life dependent on a monthly injection.
In addition to the lack of food and the dangers of the forest, there is the urgency for the dog to appear before his next medication is due. The love for their pet mobilizes all family members in a search that gradually involves a large part of the community, including the local press.
This story seems tailor-made for the big screen. However, much of what is shown throughout the film is based on a true case that moved hundreds of people and has a particular connection with Chile.
Perro perdido (Netflix)
In the movie, young Fielding decides to adopt a pet during his last college period. His ex-partner was in a new relationship, and having a dog seemed like a reliable company. But the real beginning of the relationship between Gonker and his real owner is different.
By 1991, the real Fielding Marshall was going through a rough time. His young daughter died in the operating room during a heart surgery, and soon after, his wife, overwhelmed by grief, decided to pack her things and leave their shared home.
Things couldn’t get any worse. In the midst of a whirlwind of sadness, Marshall decided to get a furry companion for company. That’s how he ended up adopting Gonker, a mix of golden retriever who became more than just a pet, but his best friend.
This was reported by the New York Post in an article that tells their story, stating that the presence of the dog was crucial for Marshall to overcome his sorrows and “fill the void of everything he had lost.”
As seen in the film, Gonker was a playful dog who enjoyed human company, was active, and loved fetching sticks. The same article mentions an anecdote that reveals the dog’s exceptional nature. On one occasion, Gonker saved a life. After a party, Gonker alerted Fielding with his barking that something was wrong in the house. Fielding discovered that one of his friends had fainted in the bathroom, with a venomous snake moving nearby.
Unfortunately, Gonker’s health was not entirely well. Since birth, he had been suffering from Addison’s disease, an adrenal insufficiency that affects both animals and humans and can cause a coma when not properly treated. The dog had to be injected with synthetic hormones regularly to stay alive.
On October 10, 1998, just a few days after receiving his monthly dose, Gonker escaped during a walk with his owner on the Appalachian Trail. Hours passed, and there was no trace of the dog. With time running out, Fielding and his parents began to devise a plan to find him before the day of his next medication.
The family moved heaven and earth during the search. As the hours went by, the impact of Gonker’s case escalated to unexpected levels. So much so that Fielding’s mother set up a real operation center to spread and receive updates on the case.
Many people called to advise the family on techniques to expedite their reunion. Even local news outlets got involved, using their pages to recount the story of the dog and his owner, keeping readers alert.
After several days and a whole rainy night spent shouting the dog’s name on the trail, Fielding was about to give up. Until, on October 25th, at 2 o’clock in the morning, his mother received a call from a police officer who claimed to have seen their pet eating from trash cans, a staggering 178 kilometers from where he disappeared.
In total, the dog walked for 15 days, trying to find his family. After the reunion, Gonker lived five more years with his owner. He passed away in 2003, at the age of 11.
The entire process was captured in the novel “Perro Perdido: El Viaje Extraordinario de Una Mascota Perdida y La Familia que lo Trajo a Casa,” published in 2016 by Pauls Toutonghi, Fielding’s brother-in-law, who immortalized the story now portrayed by Netflix.
After Gonker’s death, Marshall left the United States and settled in Chile, where he arrived as a tourist to explore the rivers and the nature that surrounds our country. During that trip, he met a Chilean woman whom he fell deeply in love with. Eventually, they got married and had two children, both born in Concepción.
In total, Marshall lived in the south for 15 years. However, according to Biobío Chile, some time ago they returned to Oregon, United States, where they currently reside.
Through his Instagram account, the American has shared several unseen photographs of him with Gonker. Additionally, he has interacted and received love from the movie’s viewers, who thank him for sharing his story with the world.
In a video posted on January 16th, and in very fluent Spanish, Marshall thanked all the greetings, especially those from Chileans who watched the film. “I am fortunate to have a beautiful Chilean wife and two Chilean children. And I am also Chilean. I have my passport,” he says in the video, taking the opportunity to show his document to the camera.
“Here I am with my little cat… I haven’t had another dog after Gonker. He was very special to me. I am an animal lover, and I understand… All of you have written to me about your love for animals. I suffer with you when you lose your dog,” he adds in the video, which ends with an enthusiastic “¡viva Chile!” It is worth noting that during his stay in our country, Fielding dedicated himself to giving kayaking tours.