Is Dog Gone Based on a True Story? Real-life Events Behind Netflix’s Movie Explained

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Dog Gone is a new Netflix Original movie that premiered on January 13, 2023. It’s a highly emotional family drama following the Marshall family. They struggle to find their lost pup, Gonker, who ran off somewhere along the Appalachian Trail. With the story having such an impact on many, fans started to wonder, is Dog Gone based on a true story?

Dog Gone is based on a true story that happened in 1998 and was described in a book named Dog Gone: A Lost Pet’s Extraordinary Journey and the Family Who Brought Him Home by Pauls Toutonghi. Most of the film follows the events that happened closely, with slight variations.

It’s important to note that Toutonghi’s book wasn’t autobiographical but rather based on the story told to him by his wife Peyton, the sister of Fielding Marshall – the main character of the film. With that being said, let’s explore the movie and the real-life events behind it that were the base of the story for Dog Gone.

Dog Gone: A brief synopsis

Dog Gone is a movie that premiered on January 13 on Netflix. It was directed by Stephen Herek and written by Nick Santora, based on a book by Pauls Toutonghi called Dog Gone: A Lost Pet’s Extraordinary Journey and the Family Who Brought Him Home. The cast features Rob Lowe, Johnny Berchtold, Kimberly Williams-Paisley, and others.

The story follows the Marshall family, namely the father, John, and his son, Fielding, who embark on a forced hike across the Appalachian Trail to find their lost family dog, Gonker.

Gonker is a yellow labrador who ran off somewhere along the Appalachian Trail and was Fielding Marshall’s best friend and emotional companion. The family was already fractured due to big problems and tragedies in the past, which is essentially why Fielding was so adamant about finding Gonker.

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Fielding’s relationship with his father, John, was quite bad, but the two were forced to find a common tongue, and eventually, their hike for Gonker gets them to confront their demons in a highly emotional rollercoaster of a movie. 

To make matters even worse, they only had two weeks to find Gonker to give him a life-saving medication, as he suffered from a disease that required monthly injections to keep the pup healthy and safe.

There’s a lot more going on here, but it seems that the movie didn’t quite hit the mark Netflix was hoping for, as the early IMDb ratings gave it just a 5.8/10. I’ve seen the movie and actually thought it was a lot better, but I’ll let you watch it and decide for yourself.

Is Dog Gone based on a true story?

The synopsis for the film already suggests that it was based on a true story. The thing is, Dog Gone was actually based on a biographical book of a similar name, but the book itself was based on a true story that happened in 1998.

The book’s author, Pauls Toutonghi, wasn’t a part of the Marshall family when the events of the book transpired, though. He is the husband of Peyton Marshall, Fielding Marshall’s sister (the fellow who was the closest to Gonker and who brought the dog into the family. 

Toutonghi decided to write the book after his wife told him the story, as he shared for Lewis & Clark:

“This was the Marshalls’ famous family story. When they told it to me, I was really captivated. Ginny is a great storyteller in person, and so is John, actually. The two of them together are just kind of a force of nature.”

As for how the book became a Netflix movie, Pauls said:

“I’m not sure how it came about, but Rob Lowe also really loved the material and was excited to do it. I was shocked. Lowe played Sam Seaborn on The West Wing, one of my favorite shows ever, so that was just surreal.”

That being said, there are some glaring differences between the movie and the real-life story you can pick up on from the start. For instance, the real-life Gonker was a golden retriever mix, whereas Gonker in the movie was a yellow labrador.

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Also, the movie suggests they had only two weeks to find Gonker and give him his medication, but it was actually a bit more than three weeks, as Gonker needed the injection only once a month. Another difference you might pick up on is that Fielding Marshall is a bit younger in the film than he was in real life when the events transpired.

Clearly, there’s a lot to unpack here, so sit tight. Here’s the entire real-life story behind Dog Gone, explained in detail.

Real-life events behind Dog Gone explained

dog gone gonker fielding

The Marshall family consisted of four members: John – the father, Ginny, the mother, Peyton – the daughter, and Fielding – the son. The family went through a lot before getting Gonker, and Fielding – the one who brought Gonker home – was probably the one who had the worst hand dealt.

Fielding got Gonker to help him deal with overwhelming grief after he and his wife lost their baby girl in 1991 during a heart surgery. To make matters even more painful for Fielding, his wife left him shortly after, leaving without a trace, almost without saying goodbye. 

Fielding’s mother, Ginny, also had a profound bond with the family dog, as he reminded her of her old pup Oji, who served as a comfort to her during a painful childhood where Ginny suffered parental abuse. The two of them were the most adamant about finding Gonker when he got lost in 1998.

Much like in the movie, Gonker ran away without a trace somewhere along the Appalachian Trail. Not only did the family set out to find their beloved pet, but they tried getting all the help they could, including locals, newspapers, dog shelters, etc. 

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John and Fielding went on the hike to find Gonker while Ginny stayed home to track them on a map and see if she could get any new information on the dog. And, just like in the movie, Gonker suffered from a severe canine illness known as Addison’s disease that required monthly medicine injections for the dog to survive.

The heartwarming story caught steam with the local news back then, luckily, and many people knew about Gonker’s disappearance, so they were ready to search for him. The family managed to beat the clock, as Gonker disappeared on October 10 and was found fifteen days later, on October 25, 1998.

He was seen by locals eating from a dumpster behind a ski resort on the trail. The good Samaritan recognized the pup from the news and called the police, who contacted the Marshalls to let them know Gonker was alive and safe. 

Despite being out and about for fifteen days while hiking over 100 miles, the dog was in a pretty good, healthy state, barring a few scratches on his paws. The quest to find Gonker brought the family closer together than they ever were, and Gonker went on to live five more years after his wild adventures.

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The Marshalls remained in their family home, and Fielding emotionally recovered completely. He moved to Chile, and he lives there to this day, having a new pup, a new wife, and two beautiful children.

Had it not been for the collective family effort of the Marshalls – not just Fielding and John, who were on foot trying to find Gonker, but also Ginny, who contacted news, police, shelters, and everyone else she could – Gonker would probably perish in the wild, either from his disease, or from the hard conditions that living in the wild provide for a domesticated dog.

It also leaves to question how Fielding would deal with losing Gonker as well – his best friend and his only string of comfort during the most challenging times of his life.

Now that you know the real story behind Dog Gone, you know that you can expect an all-out emotional wild ride. When Rob Lowe says he’s “super proud of the film” and that it’s “just a total emotional journey that will definitely give you all the feels,” you know you’re up for a treat.

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