Director Johnny Wilcox (JW): Tell us more about Rocky the dog. What was he like? Why did you name him Rocky?
AlexFarr (AF): Rocky was my superhero. He was a pit bull mix with a big heart. He had beautiful expressive eyes and a black and white coat. He was probably 4-6 years old when I met him. He had scars on his head, face and back. He had suffered, I could tell. Despite all of this he was kind, brave and loyal. I named him Rocky because my favorite movie was and still is Rocky. Rocky and I both knew what it was like to be abused and abandoned. But Rocky could still love with his whole heart. It was our friendship that turned my life around. Rocky saved me.
JW: How did you end up homeless? What happened to your family?
AF: My family had been through a lot before I started living on the streets as a teenager. Our family went back from Nebraska to the Middle East more than 45 years ago. My father was a doctor and he took the family there to pursue business opportunities.
We were in Tehran during both the 1979 revolution and also their ensuing war with Iraq in 1980. A war that killed millions of people in brutal ways and created a culture of violence. In one instance three young soldiers cornered me walking home and shoved a machine gun in my mouth. I was sure I was going to be executed. As they laughed and carelessly pulled out the gun, the steel sights tore apart the top of my mouth.
Our American School was shuttered and we were forced to attend their schools. I was beaten frequently by the teachers for no reason. They made the other school kids and I hug the bodies of the dead soldiers sent home from the war. They were paraded as 'martyrs and heroes'. Some of these soldiers were our former teachers. No child should ever go through that.
My father's connections helped us escape to Europe in 1984. The escape was gut-wrenching and we could have been killed anytime. But luck was on our side and even though my father left behind all of his money, he managed to get us out. He was never the same afterwards. Ours was a shattered household and I was for the most part on my own.
We moved to California in 1986 where my father started over again. His health declined due to years of stress, drinking and smoking. Our family fell apart when he lost our house some time after my 16th birthday. I moved in with my older sister for a bit to finish high school but by 17 I was homeless. I lived out of my old beat up car. I had saved a few hundred dollars from working since I was 14. I survived by getting food at soup kitchens in a rough area of the city known as 'The Tenderloin'. Violence, mental illness, drug addiction and homelessness were everyday realities.
The first night on those streets was the hardest. I began to lose my soul. I had no more tears to cry. That first night I began to throw out love, faith and hope from my mind. All that remained inside was desperate emptiness, debilitating self-hatred and outward rage. I was homeless and I accepted my circumstance like a terminal diagnosis. I had nothing. I was nothing. And with this belief I closed my eyes on that first night to try to escape my nightmare.
JW: What did you do every day? What lead you to the moment when you were attacked?
AF: The years of neglect, physical abuse and bullying made me a shut down, hard young man. I was big and strong with lots of muscles. This became my defense mechanism. Many people on the streets took notice of this big kid who had moved into their turf. I was recruited by a gang and hung out with them for self-preservation. I hated it and PTSD was eating me alive. I thought being a tough guy was my way out and perhaps the men in that gang could become the family I lacked.
Not even a year before I was a shy kid taking high school classes and trying to figure out my place in life. All of a sudden I was way out of my league. On the streets I literally fought to survive from people who wanted to hurt me. I made enemies when I didn't back down from street conflicts. That's when two guys viciously attacked me as retribution on Jones Street at the corner of Golden Gate. The area of the attack was a gathering place for the neighborhood. Dozens of homeless men were there, some with their dogs. While most dogs had guardians, other dogs wondered aimlessly. I survived because one of these street dogs, whom I named Rocky, broke up the attack. In the noise and confusion my attackers ran off. I remained with this dog who took a chance on a lost young man who had little to offer him. He taught me the power of unconditional love in one instant. He was the shining light in my darkest hour. I owe him everything. I know I can never repay Rocky, but I try every day to help as many homeless animals as I can. So when I see him again in the next life, I hope he'll know maybe I was worth taking a chance on.
JW: After Rocky was gone, how did you get off the streets? Who helped you?
AF: Losing Rocky was the worst thing that's ever happened to me. I almost gave up on myself. But someone, something didn't give up on me. I eventually made my way to Grace Cathedral in San Francisco's Nob Hill. I sat there for a long time, bathing in the light through the stain-glass windows. The feeling was indescribable and I finally knew peace. I promised to turn my life around. I reconnected with my oldest sister and she and her husband took me in. I sought my own place and got a job right away.
I went to Junior College and later transferred to University of California. During the school year I worked 30 hours a week. Summers and holidays I worked 70 hours a week to save money. I suffered and struggled mightily, but I had to endure.
Depression was a constant bully I could not escape. I was gifted a set of self-help tapes by Tony Robbins called 'Personal Power'. It changed my life and turned me onto self-study, meditation, yoga, reading and seeking great teachers. I didn't have anyone in my life so these teachers helped me to build my foundation. I was on my way.
JW: Tell us about the wild ride you took with the Internet companies you worked with?
AF: I was in Silicon Valley during the Internet boom of the 90's. My very first job was for a huge multi-national law firm. I was hired to coordinate legal filings and support the law partners. I learned a lot and wasn't afraid to make friends with the attorneys. My closest friend was one of the firm's top partners. He introduced me to numerous Silicon Valley power brokers, even though I was low on the totem pole. He liked my tenacity and work ethic. He didn't have a son of his own and I was lucky to have him as a mentor. I never called in sick. I needed that job. I needed him as a father figure. My time there deepened my ties to Silicon Valley. I connected with influential venture capitalists, Fortune 500 executives like Andy Grove, CEO of Intel, Bill Campbell, CEO of Intuit and founders of several early Internet companies. I taught myself computer programming at nights. Eventually I started to consult iconic Internet companies. With the support of my old law firm, I started my own development company and invested in prominent start-ups. I was also involved with live music venues as side investments. I was living a fast life, travelling with celebrities and fancy people. I can tell you crazy stories about those days but frankly I was miserable. Looking back on it I was just trying to mask the pain I still felt about Rocky and other unresolved traumas. And most of all I had not forgiven my parents and everyone in my past who had hurt me. Without forgiveness there can never be true healing.
JW: What changed you? What are you doing these days?
AF: Volunteering and fundraising for animal shelters and rescues changed me the most. It was my way of honoring Rocky. I felt like he was rooting me on. I still do. I am happiest taking care of animals. After so many years involved on the sidelines of animal welfare, I had to do more.
My chance came in 2013 when my friend Lance's dog Shellie, whom I adored, was euthanized in a shelter. Lance went out of the house for a bike ride when he was hit by a delivery van. While fighting for his life at the hospital, where he stayed for nearly a month, his neighbors called animal control. Shellie was alone, barking nonstop, out of food and water. She was in bad shape. The people at the shelter could not reach Lance. Like most of us, all Lance had on Shellie's tag and microchip was his own basic contact information. When Lance could not be reached Shellie was defenseless. The law views animals as nothing but property with little to no rights. The shelter did the best they could but ended up having to put Shellie down several days later. Lance survived and we met up. I held his arm, supporting his body as he tried to make basic movements. He looked at me and with hope in his voice he challenged me to ensure what happened to him and Shellie doesn't happen again. "Alex I know how much animals mean to you. I have to learn to walk again. But you, you can make sure Shellie doesn't die for nothing. You can do something about this. The only question is will you?" PetWill was born right then and there as a promise.
I didn't even have a plan for my own animals. What would happen to them if something happened to me? We started PetWill to help save the 500,000 pets that are killed or abandoned every year because they outlived their owners. The youngest pet parent to get a PetWill is 18 and the oldest is 96. It's an honor to get passionate notes from pet lovers who think PetWill should be mandatory at the time of adoption. The love for our animals is the one thing that brings us all together.
Now I have several members of my former team with me. We are launching PetCloudPro; an awesome fundraising and management software. And we are giving it away to shelters and rescue for free. The rest of my life is dedicated to ensuring shelter pets have better lives and the people in the rescue community have more resources to save more animals. I cannot tip toe around the tragedy homeless animals endure anymore. I am diving in the deep end doing everything I can to serve. For every single hard-working, passionate person involved in animal rescue and shelters. For Rocky, Shellie and all animals who deserve love but may not have it today. And for Lance who passed away recently.
JW: Did you ever forgive?
AF: Forgiveness was hard for me and it took a long time. I was a fighter. I was blessed to spend time with Dr. Wayne Dyer for many years. He taught me that no one really wins a fight. And true strength is embodied by the peaceful warrior, not the angry person holding grudges. My middle sister, her husband and I have been taking care of my parents for many years now. This July 4th my parents are walking me down the aisle arm-in-arm. I'm probably going to cry; but they will be tears of joy.
It was a dog who taught me to be human. Rocky unlocked any potential in me. The fact is the man I am today was born in those moments when he saved me. Rocky made me a better man that, slowly, and much too late, I began to be. He was a remarkable angel disguised as a tough street dog who reached me. He replaced hate with love and inspires me every day. He rescued me.
See how PetWill can save your pet's life. MyPetWill.com