BROKEN BOW — Rob Kugler lives the words he writes.
He missed an appointment for an interview — only by a few minutes — because he wanted to stop and take a few pictures of the Colorado mountains in the late spring snowfall.
“I’m at Empire, Colo.,” Kugler said. “I just visited a buddy in Grandby Ranch, just outside of Grandby. Do you know where that is? He has an amazing trail dog that is a mix of border collie, husky, shepherd and a little bit of wolf in there. He’s a Marine buddy of mine I met while on the trip with Bella.”
Kugler, a former U.S. Marine who was deployed in Iraq, returned to civilian life with his own personal demons. He lost a brother to the fighting.
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To cope, Kugler adopted a Chocolate Lab, named her Bella and started to piece his life back together. He details his experiences and his life in a memoir, “A Dog Named Beautiful: A Marine, a Dog and a Long Trip Home” published this month by Flatiron Books.
Kugler, a former resident of Broken Bow, will return to his hometown for a reading and book signing at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Broken Bow Public Library. Admission to the event is free.
“This book is more than a dog book and more than a bucket list trip,” he said. “The driving force of the book is the final adventure with my Labrador, Bella. Through that I’m able to go back and tell stories of the ‘why’ behind the trip and the things that have changed my perspective. I wanted to change how I look at life — and try to live a life that’s different than what I thought I would do when I was growing up.”
Kugler thinks that readers will connect with the ideas and experiences in his book on life, love and loss.
The author made a strong connection with his dog, Bella. After learning that Bella had cancer, he packed up his bags, chose a route and hit the road with his best friend.
“Creatively, I was trying to look for my outlet,” Kugler said. “Basically I was living in L.A. and chasing an acting dream. When I decided that wasn’t what I wanted to do, I started reflecting on what I did want to do with my life.”
He started sharing his writing online.
“I started having a lot of friends, family, coworkers and veterans tell me that what I was writing was helping them put their feelings into words,” Kugler said. “People encouraged me to continue writing. As I took the trip, I decided to just start writing any chance I could. People really started to resonate with that.”
Kugler now describes himself as a storyteller, photographer and writer. He calls the Pacific Northwest home but uses it more as a home base during his travels.
Getting out and experiencing life — the way he writes in “A Dog Named Beautiful” — inspires Kugler. He plans to bring his kayak to Kearney after visiting Broken Bow to float down the Kearney Canal.
“I’m trying to meet up with people and do some outdoor active stuff as well as book readings,” the writer said. “It’s important to me to spend time with people. That’s what I’m about. I can’t just drive by my friends and say, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t have the time.’ That’s one of the things I talked about in the book, having time for each other and how we need more of that.”
Living the words on the page really effects his life now.
“One-hundred percent,” he said. “I seriously want to get a bumper sticker and a T-shirt that says, ‘Live the story,’” Kugler said. “I don’t want to just write things like a dreamscape and then live a rush, hustled life. I want to have a balance of meeting with people, time alone with my dogs, time alone with just myself and all the things I’ve learned that I need.”
In “A Dog Named Beautiful,” Kugler writes that he felt that he was looking for one specific thing.
“I realized that I needed a balance of it all,” he said.
After the interview, Kugler called back to emphasize an important detail for him: The support from the network of veterans, the support from people along the way and members of the dog community.
“They were paramount in my ability to make this happen,” he said.
In the book, Kugler writes: “The sky is blue, the road is sure, and I remind myself that Bella and I are on a quest. Our journey is far from complete, and we need to keep going. I love this dog so much and want to take her on one last adventure so I can give her everything I possibly can in life. Yet I realize Bella is helping me, too. She’s helping me find something I so desperately need: The road home.”