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Running to the rescue: A dog helped a man change his life, and become a marathoner

  • Author: Doyle Woody
  • Updated: December 2, 2017
  • Published August 19, 2016

Eric O’Grey weighed 330 pounds at age 51. Then Peety, a 7-year-old dog, came into O’Grey’s life and they started a new life together. Now O’Grey is 57 and running an extensive schedule of races, including Sunday’s RunFest marathon in Anchorage. (ericandpeety.com)

He was middle-aged, a sedentary king of the couch, prone to the "window diet'' — meals grabbed at the drive-thru window — his weight and medication costs rising, his health and self-esteem sinking.

At that rate, Eric O'Grey recalls a doctor advising him, best he get his affairs in order. Odds were he wasn't long for this world.

He had arrived at the crossroads.

"It became a life-or-death situation,'' O'Grey said. "Did I want to live or did I want to die?''

This was six years ago, and the either-or was not hyperbole. O'Grey carried 330 pounds on his 5-foot-10 frame, myriad diets had failed him, he suffered Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, and he spent so much on medication — more than a grand a month — that he annually met his employer's medical deductible by February.

These days, O'Grey, 57, weighs 180, no longer requires all those meds and is a runner — the Washington man will race Sunday's Moose's Tooth Marathon at the Anchorage RunFest (anchoragerunfest.org).

The turnaround was triggered, O'Grey said, by counsel from a naturopathic doctor in California, who sold him on the virtues of a plant-based diet and told him to get a dog and start walking with it daily.

Enter a rescue dog named Peety, in what became a mutual rescue.

O'Grey adopted Peety, a 7-year-old, border collie-Australian shepherd mix who was heavy. They shed weight together, walking twice a day for 30 minutes. Combining exercise with a healthier diet, O'Grey began losing as much as five pounds a week.

"It was like nothing I'd ever seen, like a miracle,'' he said.

And the relationship between man and dog went beyond physical benefits. Peety furnished O'Grey a reason to get out the door for those walks, helped pull him out of reclusiveness, loved him unconditionally. He made O'Grey happy.

"He and I bonded so strongly — the dog caused me to want to get better,'' O'Grey recalled. "He looked at me like I was the greatest person on earth. I decided then to become the person he thought I was.''

Inside of a year, O'Grey lost roughly 150 pounds. He came to savor his plant-based diet — the greasy food he once coveted no longer pleased his palate. He went from a size 52 waist to size 33. And Peety lost 25 pounds.

O'Grey moved from walking to running, visiting a local track, running a couple miles initially, and slowly increasing mileage. Peety, getting older, watched from the car. O'Grey, who said he became more outgoing after adopting Peety, joined a running group. He found folks who were healthy, positive and goal-oriented.

Peety died of cancer in 2015. About five months later, still pained by the loss of the rescue dog who rescued him, O'Grey was living in Seattle. After a race, a spontaneous thought hit him — he wanted another dog, and one he could run with. So he immediately went to Seattle Humane and rescued Jake, a 4-year-old Labrador and Rhodesian mix, who has continued Peety's legacy — Jake is O'Grey's companion, running partner, inspiration and director of accountability.

"If I don't run him every day, he sits in front of me and barks,'' O'Grey said with a laugh.

O'Grey has run with Jake in half-marathons, when race directors permit. Like Peety, Jake buoys O'Grey, who now lives in Spokane, Washington, and is a market manager for Whirlpool Corporation. He also is an inspiration speaker and spokesman for Mutual Rescue, an organization that promotes the benefits of human-animal relationships. And he is a certified running coach.

Mostly, O'Grey said, he aims to help others, to pay it forward.

"Just because of the joy you get from it,'' he said. "Now, I look at people as, 'How can I help them?' and it ends up helping me.''

So does Jake.

"He'll just gallop along, no problem,'' O'Grey said. "Running with a dog is an amazing, zen-like experience, like watching a fireplace.''

And that's worth living for.

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