WSU coach's family shares love with 22-year-old beagle

It was in South Carolina during the 1989-90 basketball season — Gregg Marshall recalls time in terms of sports seasons, "not by regular human years," says his wife, Lynn — when the Marshalls first met Penny.

Gregg was working as an assistant coach at the College of Charleston when his wife wanted him to go look at a dog she'd seen advertised in the paper.

The dog was a sickly-looking beagle with no hair on her ears, and although she was covered up to her chest in brick-red mud, "you could see all of her ribs," Lynn said.

What's the story on this dog? they asked a man who was trying to find homes for the beagle and another dog.

He said a hunter he knew wanted to get rid of them.

"What do you mean 'get rid' of them?" Gregg asked. "What's going to happen if they don't get adopted?"

"He's going to shoot them in the head," Lynn and Gregg remember the man saying.

At the time, Lynn said, Gregg was making about $17,000 a year, and she was in graduate school, studying for her MBA.

They had another dog at home, and "pets are expensive," Lynn said.

Gregg looked at Lynn and asked, "This is the dog you want?"

"Yeah," said Lynn, tears in her eyes.

"OK, we'll take her," Gregg said, then asked, "What's her name?"

"I just call it Skinny," the man said.

Driving home with their new dog, Lynn and Gregg tried to think of a better name.

"We are not calling her Skinny," Lynn remembers saying. "How mean."

They tried to think of a name that rhymed with Skinny. They settled on Penny.

Penny, who was a full-grown adult when the Marshalls adopted her in that 1989-90 season, shares their home today in Wichita, where Gregg is in his fourth year as men's basketball coach at Wichita State University.

That would make Penny almost 22 years old.

A shared passion

The Marshalls, who got married in 1994, share a passion for animals and for, oh yes, one other thing — basketball.

They met at a tournament in Kansas City, Mo., in 1989, when Gregg was a first-year assistant coach for Charleston and Lynn was a player on the Western Washington University women's team.

"We literally ran into each other on a bus," she said.

Over the years their family has grown to include son Kellen, 14, and daughter Maggie, 11, both animal lovers.

They also have added three other dogs — Jack Russell terriers, two of them rescues — and two cats.

Gregg found Zoie, the oldest terrier, eight years ago along the side of the road in a foot of snow.

"He stopped his car and she jumped into his arms," Lynn said.

They tried to find the dog's owner, but after about a month, with then 6-year-old Kellen asking, "Please, can we keep her?" they decided Zoie was there to stay.

They later adopted Patches, a puppy, and then Hurley, an abused terrier that Lynn found on the Internet and drove to Missouri to rescue.

"I was looking around for another dog — which is insane," she said.

The three energetic Jack Russells "are quite a trio, good grief," Lynn said.

"Poor Gregg. He has this 'tranquil area' where he comes home to."

But "we care very much about our dogs," Lynn said. "We treat them like they're friends, a good friend."

'Crazy about dogs'

Lynn grew up on a farm in Bellingham, Wash., and has always loved animals.

"Since I was 7 I had my own horse," she said.

Although Gregg is attached to their pets, he's "not as crazy about dogs as I am," Lynn said. "Thank goodness, or we'd probably have 12 or 13."

Since they moved to Wichita in 2007, Lynn and Gregg have supported local animal welfare organizations.

One of their favorites is Spay-Neuter Kansas, a group that fights pet overpopulation by providing low-cost spay and neuter surgeries for pets whose owners cannot afford them.

The Marshalls have donated money, items and services for fundraising auctions such as basketballs signed by players and dinner with the coach.

Seeing photos of homeless dogs is "heart-wrenching," Lynn said. "They're such pretty little dogs, and the shelters and rescues are full.

"That's why Gregg and I are involved with Spay-Neuter Kansas. Because it's a great organization."

A well-fed Penny

When the Marshalls first brought Penny home, it was clear the dog had been mistreated, Lynn said.

"She always thought you were going to hit her," Lynn said, "and I didn't think her hair would ever grow back.

"But after about six months, she looked like a million dollars."

One of Lynn's first memories of Penny was when the beagle stole a big peanut butter and jelly sandwich she had just made for herself.

"I went to get something and looked back, and she had eaten the entire sandwich.

"That's my first memory of her, just being so hungry."

Lynn tries to make sure that Penny never goes hungry now, even if that means making home-cooked dog meals, a talent she learned from her mom.

Penny can be picky at times but loves to stand by Lynn in the kitchen while she cooks bacon or "beef cube steaks — I know she likes that."

Gregg came home one night and started to make a plate of some turkey and rice that Lynn was cooking when she had to tell him it was for the dog.

"I will not let this dog die because she's not being fed, not because of nutrition," Lynn said.

She's also generous with Penny's favorite treats: Chips Ahoy and Double Stuf Oreo cookies.

'Good genes'?

When the Marshalls tell people they have a 22-year-old dog, they're often asked if that's a record.

After the death of Chanel, a 21-year-old dachshund, in 2009, the Guinness Book of World Records now lists Piccolo, a mixed breed born in 1987 in Italy, as the oldest living dog at age 23.

The Marshalls don't have any proof of how old Penny is — no papers that state the year she was born — but they know her advanced age is unusual for a beagle, whose average life expectancy is 12 to 15 years.

Knowing that, and looking at Penny's white face, cloudy eyes and unsteady gait, Lynn worries that the dog's last breath could come at any time.

Penny often sleeps next to the fireplace, and Lynn says she will look at her and think, "Is she still breathing?"

"Most of the time she's snoring, so we know."

She'll say to her daughter, Maggie, "I think Penny's died," and Maggie will say, "No, Mom, her stomach's moving."

"I always tell the vet I pray she will die in her sleep and we don't have to put her to sleep," Lynn said. But "all vets will tell you the more you hope for that, the less chance of it."

Why has Penny lived so long?

"I don't know," Lynn said. "I think that she's just got good genes."

She's had some trouble with her balance, and her veterinarian recently did some blood work but found no significant problems, Lynn said.

Besides having "a wonderful spirit and will to live and enjoy her life," Penny is "just one of those animals that has made it," Lynn said. "Luck of the draw."

Luck. And a lot of love.

Eleven-year-old Maggie has her own opinion on why Penny has lived to the dog-years equivalent of 150.

"Because she's in a very good family," Maggie said.

Reach Diane McCartney at 316-268-6593 or