Thursday, March 5, 2009

Walking With Angels -- Part 1

On their travels, Hudson and Murphy are always meeting interesting dogs and their people. Recently they met Shadow, a German Shepherd journalist, and his Dad, Mike Cooney (also a journalist). Following is Part 1 of Shadow's 2 part interview with Hudson and Murphy.

Hi. Shadow here.

Last night I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Murphy and Hudson, two Great Pyrenees dogs, who along with their people person Luke are “walking with angels” in an effort to increase the awareness that cancer is not just a human disease, but also a canine disease.
Actually, it is not just a walk – it as a journey. A 2000 mile journey.

When I heard this, I couldn’t believe it. I wanted to talk to Murphy and Hudson to find out more. And I did.

Murphy explained the idea of the journey started when his brother and best friend Malcolm, another Great Pyrenees, was diagnosed with bone cancer. Amputations and chemotherapy helped, but not for long. Malcolm died two years after he was first diagnosed.

Murphy told me: “When we lost Malcolm, I didn’t understand. I thought cancer was a people problem. I wanted to do something for Malcolm. I wanted to do something for all the other dogs that have had or will have cancer. But what could I do? I decided I could walk. I knew a short walk around the block wouldn’t get anyone’s attention so I decided on a long walk. When I approached Luke with the idea he thought it was good. In fact he thought 2000 miles sounded about right.”

I asked Hudson what he thought about the idea. Hudson told me: “I thought they were crazy. Here I am a year old and this six year old dog and his people person want to walk 2000 miles. Not me. It was a nice thought, but I hardly knew Malcolm.”

“But then,” Hudson went on, “I started thinking. Maybe I should go along – not for Malcolm but for Luke and Murphy. After all, they had recently rescued me from an Animal Shelter. So, on March 16, 2008 we started our journey from Belton, Texas on our way to Boston, Massachusetts. (Belton is close to Austin. Luke likes to call our journey ‘Austin to Boston.’)

“It didn’t take long for me to second guess my decision to go. I was a puppy. I wanted to play. I didn’t want to be confined with a leash the rest of my life. And surely it would take the rest of my life to walk 2000 miles.

“And then disaster – or at least near disaster – hit. Murphy got sick. Or hurt. We couldn’t tell. Our walk was interrupted for several weeks while Murphy was treated by a Veterinarian. Luke feared Murphy had cancer. The vet thought it was a possibility. He didn’t. What he had was a stress fracture that happened during our journey. Still, it was hard to sleep each night not knowing if I was going to lose Murphy to cancer the same way he lost Malcolm.

“The second greatest day of my life (the greatest day was when Luke and Murphy took me home from the shelter and into their family,) was the day Murphy was declared cancer free. Now I understand the trauma a cancer family goes through each and every day.”

Murphy told me this was "good news and bad news. The good news is that Hudson now understands why Luke and Murphy need to take this journey. The bad news is that Hudson is now the first one up in the morning. The first one ready to resume the walk. And the last one ready to quit. Hudson has a lot of energy. He forgets I am 7 ½ and he is only 2 ½.

Hudson was quick to point out that he understands the age difference. Still, he is proud of their accomplishments so far – they have walked over 1000 miles – and proud of their mission to increase awareness of canine cancer.

And, as Hudson says, he tries to make sure Murphy does not over-do it. As he explained to me, “We start the day checking our backpacks for supplies. We use Luke as our “pack mule.” He has to carry about 100 pounds in his backpack and his hip pack. (He doesn’t like the word ‘fanny pack’ but it is the same thing.)

"Anyway, he carries the heavy stuff like our 7X7 foot tent (I wonder if that makes it a pup tent?), water, a sleeping bag for him, a fleece blanket for Murphy and me, water, clothes, repair kits and spare leashes, food, water, and miscellaneous stuff we might need. Did I tell you he carries water for us?

“He does!

“He carries about three gallons of water.

“But we help. You would expect Murphy and I could carry about 10 pounds of ‘stuff,’ but I carry some of Murphy’s ‘stuff.’ I have to make sure he doesn’t over-do it. Still, he carries our sweaters, some clothes, and our booties. (Don’t laugh – we wear booties for safety reasons.)

“Luke says Murphy carries around 6 pounds of ‘stuff.’ I carry about 12 pounds. I carry our water bowls, treats, waste bags, and more water.”

Hudson looked at Murphy and said, “Even with Murphy carrying the lighter load, I make sure we stop every hour or so to take a 15 minute break. We drink water on one break and get treats on the next. And we lie down and rest.”

Murphy just looked at Hudson, then at me and said: “Hudson, Luke, and I are family. We couldn’t do this without each other. And we couldn’t do it without ‘walking with angels.’ In fact, Luke wears a tee-shirt with the names of dogs that have died of canine cancer. These dogs and all the others who have suffered from canine cancer are the angels we walk with. The angels who make us safe.”

I think Murphy, Hudson, and Luke are angels. There is so much more to tell about their journey. They were in Vevay yesterday, and will be heading to Cincinnati on their way to Boston. I hope to tell you more next week.

Shadow's article comes from Mike's "A Stones Throw" column that he writes for the Switzerland County (Indiana) Newspapers. Mike has been writing a weekly column for the past four years. Shadow adds, "Mike lets me write it for him once or twice every two months or so."

Pictured here are two of Shadow's favorite pastimes --when he isn't filling in for Mike.

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