As a kid, Craig Grossi wanted a dog, but his dad would always say no.
His father’s go-to argument was, “If you get a dog, I’ll end up taking care of it,” Grossi said.
He bought a leash with his own money and began walking dogs in the neighborhood to show his dad he could handle the responsibility.
It backfired. One night he overheard his dad tell his mom, “He’s walking the neighbors’ dogs. I don’t think we need to get him one.”
But years later and thousands of miles from home, Grossi finally got his dog, and much more.
Grossi, an author, U.S. Marine veteran and dog owner, spoke to a packed room at the Campbell County Public Library on Thursday night in an event put on by the Friends of the Library.
Grossi acknowledged the fact that many of the people in the crowd were there to see his dog, Fred.
“If Fred could talk, I’d be out of a job,” he said.
It didn’t take long for the crowd to fall in love with Fred. They disapproved when Grossi tried to take Fred’s squeaky toy away from him because he was making too much noise.
On more than one occasion, Fred tried to leave the room as people clapped.
“When he hears applause, he thinks it’s time to go,” Grossi said.
Fred is the spokesdog for stubborn positivity, Grossi said.
“If we take all that energy we apply to being stubborn and apply that to being positive, digging deep, finding something to be grateful for every day, Fred is the example of how far you can go,” he said.
Grossi was doing intelligence work for Marine reconnaissance in Sangin, Afghanistan. He and dozens of other soldiers were sent there to take pressure off a company that was trying to keep control of the district center from the Taliban. They were taking seven to 10 casualties per week. It had gotten so bad that before soldiers went out on patrol, they would put tourniquets on their legs.
Grossi and his group were set up in a house, taking fire from 150 to 200 Taliban fighters. The way the building was structured, only eight Marines could shoot back at any one time.
“We were really scared,” Grossi said.
But every day, he would see this little dog running around, “dodging grenades,” and it always made him smile.
One day, Grossi was typing up a report on his laptop when he saw a tail peek above his screen. It was a little dog.
“That kid in me who’d always wanted a dog took over the controls,” he said.
Grossi walked up to the dog, a piece of beef jerky in his hand, but then he turned around thinking the dog wouldn’t want anything to do with him.
He was wrong. He heard the dog wagging its tail, and it took the jerky gently from Grossi’s hand, chewing it “very politely. If he’d had a napkin, he would’ve wiped his mouth.”
From there, the dog followed Grossi around everywhere, even on night patrol, when he wouldn’t make a sound.
After about a month in Sangin, it was time to go back to camp. The Taliban had weapons pointed at the compound, so Grossi and the other Marines moved about 6 miles into the desert to get picked up by helicopter.
Grossi called his commanding officer and told him he might have a dog with him when he returned to camp. His officer told him that if he got caught, he would be on his own, “which is as good as a yes in my book.”
Grossi’s fellow soldiers asked what he was going to do with Fred. He didn’t have a plan, and he didn’t want to force Fred to go with him. He wanted the dog to make his own choice.
If Fred followed them to the desert, then Grossi would know that it was meant to be.
“We moved out that night and I didn’t see him. When the sun came up, I still didn’t see him,” Grossi said.
Then, in the distance, he saw a dust ball in the desert.
The dog had one more hoop to jump through. Fred, who had never even ridden in a car, had to get into a helicopter. Grossi said the dog’s ears were pinned against his head and he could barely open his eyes because of the dust and wind.
“He looked terrified, but he was ready to go,” he said.
After that, there was no doubt in Grossi’s mind that Fred and he were meant to be together. He went back to Sangin after two weeks at camp. A crew of DHL workers shared their dinner with Fred and hid him in plain sight while Grossi was away.
When Grossi returned, he expected to hear a story about how Fred had run away or had been discovered. Instead, he saw the workers in a big circle, playing keep away with Fred.
Fred got to the states a few months before Grossi did, flying from Afghanistan to Pakistan to Bahrain to Germany to New York. It was Grossi’s dad who picked Fred up at the airport and took care of his son’s dog until Grossi came back to the states.
“Dads are always right,” Grossi said.
Every time Grossi looks at Fred, he’s still amazed and he can’t believe the dog chose to follow him.
“I think about where it all started,” he said, “how if he hadn’t wagged his tail for me, my life would be a lot less exciting.”