It affects me the same way every time I think of Luke, Hudson and Murphy. As many of you know, I had the honor of photographing this amazing man and his two dogs as they walked their final mile into Boston; a humbling experience that was not only inspirational but also bittersweet as I lost a feline friend to cancer two and a half years ago.
Luke lost his best friend Malcolm to metastatic bone cancer in 2006 and it was that experience that brought him, on foot, from Austin, TX to Boston, MA in order to raise awareness of canine cancer with the hope that more research will be done to find a cure and end the suffering. In 2008, Luke sold his truck, put his belongings in storage and set out on a journey that would take him two years to complete. Every step of every mile was on foot with his big, burly Pyrenees friends Hudson and Murphy. Most nights were spent hunkered down in a tent. Soon, word spread about this “lunatic” on a mission and a funny thing happened. People began to unite. Imagine that? Some offered food, others offered a place to stay. And while Luke accepted a ride to a warm bed for him and his friends, he insisted on being returned to the exact spot of his last step on foot. So yes people, 2,000 miles, on foot.
The festival on Saturday morning began with a memorial service at the Kelleher Rose Garden, Back Bay Fens for those we’ve lost and those that continue to fight the battle.
Approximately 150 people and their dogs gathered before the services to register for walking the last mile with Luke, Hudson and Murphy. I was in heaven. Surrounded by so many dogs I heard a lot of stories and most of the pictures you’ll see here, were taken while blinking away a tear or two. There is no other love like the love shared by a dog and their human and most of the dogs you’ll see among these photographs have, in one way or another, been affected by cancer. Their struggles are real but silent and do not deter them from living life as if nothing is happening. They have their good days and their bad days and even on their bad days, a tail is wagged and a hand is always offered a gentle lick. The spirit of a dog is something everyone should be lucky enough to experience.
Giant sized dogs, little tiny dogs and every other size in between. I was amazed not only by the turn out but by the fact that there weren’t many scuffles between the dogs. Everyone was on their best behavior and there was a lot of nose touching, bum sniffing, rolling in the cool green grass and even some doggie huggin’ going on.
It wasn’t long before I began to hear the whispers…. “Oh, there he is” and gasp “Here he comes” and the cheering and clapping began as the trio made their way towards the crowd.
Now, I don’t know a lot about Luke as a person aside from what I’ve read about him and learned through the stories told that day by the people who have met him along the way. But, I have a great respect for his journey and what I’ve learned thus far and when I saw his arrival, that respect quadrupled. “Walk quietly and carry a big stick” seems to exemplify exactly who he is as a man. No fanfare, no pretension, no overt gestures at grabbing attention…..just a man with a pack on his back and his dogs by his side.
A lot of people made their way to him and they were met with hugs.
Animal Planet filmed much of the day and Luke gave a few interviews as well. The memorial service was performed amongst roses in full bloom by Reverend Pattie Handloss.
After the service, Luke and his brothers Hudson and Murphy (also known as the Fuzzy Butts), set off on the last leg of their long journey and were surrounded by people who not only admire him, but have come to love him. Strangers united by a common cause became instant friends that day.
A lot of things became very clear to me along the way.
Luke is a man who children look up to.
A man, who when he speaks…..
A man that can stop traffic on Massachusetts Avenue in Boston…..
A man who people from all around the country came to follow, support, join efforts with and in the process, lent a helping hand to anyone in the group who needed it……
Those who couldn’t join Luke, Hudson and Murphy for the entire walk (it was actually more than a mile), waited nearer to the end with tears in their eyes as the trio approached; gratitude and admiration beaming from their faces. No words spoken. There was no need. The atmosphere was electric with emotion.
Then onward to the final destination. Boston Common. Home…..
Where the first thing Luke did was take off his heavy knapsack, get down to his knees and wrap his arms around the friends that walked every single step by his side and quietly exclaim “we did it boys, we made it”. There wasn’t a dry eye on the Common.
It was only when Luke stood to face the crowd that the people shouted and cheered in a congratulatory fashion and the celebration officially began.
Vendors and sponsors came out in full force. I felt like a little fish in a gigantic pond amongst the likes of the Honest Kitchen, who fed the boys along the way, Vectra who helped rid them of nasty ticks and the plethora of other businesses and rescue groups that had booths set up. But I think my booth looked pretty good for my very first event and I can’t thank Jeanie and Liz enough for helping me man it. I couldn’t have done it without you ladies.
There were demonstrations by Top Hat and Tails Canine Freestyle Group…
The Boston Police Canine Unit came out and discussed search and rescue and canine patrol units…
And then of course, dogs, dogs and more dogs. Loved shooting this event!!!
Being on the road for two years takes a toll on appearances and while I’m 100% sure that I wasn’t the only one who thought Luke looked fantastic in scruff, he felt the need to clean up a bit before the evening gala at the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel. He went from long to short in a mater of snip, snip, snip.
And if you haven’t already become completely smitten with Luke and the boys yet, this will clinch the deal. He donated that 12″ braid to Locks of Love and off he went to get ready for the gala, which by the way, was just as much fun as the festival.
Katie Copley attended. She’s the adorable Black Lab who lives at the Copley, sleeps on a giant bed in the lobby and greets guests as they check in. She even has had a few stories written about her. There were lots of auction items from gift baskets to photo shoots (bet you can’t guess who donated the photo shoot) and the appetizers were as yummy as dinner.
And, um, for the record, you sure do clean up well Luke. Indeed!
And if you’re reading Luke, I wanted to say a little something specifically to you and the boys. You humbly told us at the gala that you are not a hero and for me and many others, that only makes you more endearing. But I beg to differ. What is a hero? Webster’s definition includes “a man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities.” I’d say that what you’ve done so far along your journey perfectly fits that description. Yet I know that what you are going to do in the future for canine cancer will more than exceed a simple definition.
In a world where there is so much negativity, crime, apathy and selfishness, you are a source of inspiration, a man that makes this world a far better place. Someone we all can look up to. Someone whose dedication and commitment teaches us that all it takes to cause the smallest ripple in a giant ocean is the tiniest of pebbles. The journey that you, Hudson, Murphy and Malcolm (God rest his soul) set out on two years ago has not only changed the world by making people more aware, it has brought people together turning strangers into friends and that is an amazing feat. It shows how strong of a bond we have with our animals and they with us. Do not ever second guess what you are doing and never, ever feel like what you have done and what you are going to do will not make a difference. I’m very much looking forward to the next stage and will be following 2 Dogs 2 Million Miles all the way. You’ve touched my heart and the heart of many. Continue to Puppy Up!
To Sheila, Marei and Ginger, I can’t thank you enough for the opportunity and for looking out for me while I was there making sure I had everything I needed (not to mention the dinner laughs). A DVD of all the images is on the way.
And for those of you thirsty for more photographs from the event, there are a gigantic number of images you can view here:
Puppy Up Festival and Gala