“When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” This was the famous quote by Joseph P. Kennedy, father of President John F. Kennedy, on the wall of my Texas high school football dressing room. I thought about this quote for the first time in decades as I read this inspiring book about love between a dog and her family, a love that was too great to remain in the confines of a normal household. If you love animals and like inspiring stories that teach us lessons in life, you have to read this book.
Our world is full of stories about political and economic turmoil, war, hate, evil, suffering, and death. It’s refreshing to read a story about a little dog’s triumph over insurmountable obstacles to overcome and succeed, and become the “most famous dog in the world”. Faith Walks, by Jude Stringfellow, will make even the most hardened soul laugh, and hold back tears at the same time. It’s a true story of life, and as much a story of a family that learned to “walk on their own” (my quotes) as that of a little doggie who defied natural selection and survival of the fittest to become the first biped dog.
It all began when author Jude Stringfellow’s son Reuben (Reu) brought a little helpless bundle home in a blanket one cold day in Oklahoma in 2003. Against the advice of Jude, who had already taken risks by allowing foster dogs and a cat in rent houses where they lived, Reu and his two younger sisters convinced their mom to accept the tiny helpless dog. They would keep the little deformed creature and see if in the next days the little “Yellow Dog” would be able to make it.
With the help of a good vet, a lifelong friend of Jude, endless training and infinite patience, and a sincere faith in God, the impossible became possible.
This book is much more than a story of how against all odds a little two-legged dog learned to walk and inspire hundreds of thousands of people, if not millions, in doing so; it’s the story of a family in the throes of surviving—in every way—in difficult times, and how a little animal forged a bond among four ordinary-extraordinary people. Both the two young daughters Caity and Laura, and Rue, the man of the house, together with their mom Jude, contributed in their own ways to the “miracle” of Faith Walks.
It seems impossible that a two-legged dog, who after working with a dedicated family, and learning to walk and stealing the show at thousands of public appearances, would spend “about 14-16 hours a day under the bed, and about 6 hours at night on top of it”, waiting for Jude to shout “Let’s go dog”, the signal that they were heading out for another appearance. Faith loves to travel and meet people, and her ‘dogality’ is outgoing and friendly with everyone she meets.
You may have seen Faith “in person” at one of her many events—she’s made appearances in most states of the US at schools, hospitals, and conferences; has flown more than 200 times and met more than 600,000 people. In addition, she has been the “top dog” (my quotes) in numerous TV news stories, on shows such as ET, Montiel Williams, Inside Edition and Oprah (Faith was her favorite guest, of course!), Faith even has her own Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Faith-the-Dog/), and she can be found on YouTube (one of my favorites is http://www.oprah.com/oprahshow/Faith-the-Walking-Dog-Video); and this famous doggie is in numerous news, video and publication archives in North and South America, Europe, Australia, to name a few. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faith_(dog)
Faith’s accolades include that of the honorary title of US Army Sergeant (E5), awarded to her for her many visits to wounded vets and others in military hospitals. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1303762/Meet-Faith-legged-dog-inspiring-injured-troops.html
When Faith and family visited the wounded veterans at Walter Reed Army Hospital, it was almost more than Jude could take because when she came “face to face with brave soldiers” who reminded her of Reu, who was then in the Army, Jude says, “To say that it was a life changing event would be to give less credence to the statement. I could not believe the carnage I was seeing but I also could not comprehend the power or courage I saw in each of these soldiers; men who although they were terribly injured and disfigured for life.” Faith reminded many of these injured and maimed soldiers or of their dogs at home, and of the unconditional love of a dog for her human partner.
The following account of one of these hospital visits will give you an idea of the power this little doggie has over everyone who comes in contact with her. Jude writes about a soldier,
“Before his 19th birthday he was in country, in Iraq, and just a few short weeks later he was being returned to his homeland to rehabilitate after having both of his legs taken by one of the IEDs near his Forward Operating Base. Still heavily sedated from the most recent surgery earlier in the day, Frankie was being wheeled from the recovery room to his bed at Walter Reed when Faith found him. Almost as if she had been with him from the beginning of his journey she began whining when she saw him, a sound she usually reserves for men or women she hasn’t seen in a while, but not this time. This time it was to say “Stop what you’re doing Mom, I have to see this soldier. Don’t let him pass without holding me.” It could have been the smell of antiseptic medicine or the sight of his freshly bandaged lower limbs, but Faith had made up her mind that with or without legs to hold her weight this man was going to have her in his lap. A split second before knocking him over in his own wheelchair I managed to grasp her by her collar. Frankie’s face can only truly be described as contorted the second he realized he was being accosted by an all too friendly therapy dog. “C’mere dog!” I heard him mumble through the anesthesia. “Get up here right now!” he continued to say to her. I wasn’t actually sure if he meant it or if he thought himself to be dreaming. Acting upon his command however, Faith decided to climb up the side of the wheelchair and onto his bandaged legs. Both of Frankie’s legs had been removed above the knee, there wasn’t much space left for her to climb into, but she did manage to propel herself with a little help from me and Frankie’s older sister, to cuddle and curl right up against one of the world’s younger heroes. Frankie told Faith how much he loved her…she licked his face without ceasing and never actually stopped whining the entire time they were together.” (Chapter 6)
Faith has been saluted by Generals, and given several awards and medallions. Now, one company even produces a coin to honor Faith’s work. Jude says,
“I’m reminded every time we visit a hospital or see a wounded warrior why it is that they always relate to Faith upon greeting her. I don’t believe it is just because they have been unfortunate enough to have been in an accident where they have lost a limb or worse; it feels more like they see in her the spirit that lies inside of their own souls, waiting again to be reunited with their units, their families, their loved ones where they can begin the real process of getting on with their lives. Nothing seems to stop this little yellow dog from taking on what the world has dished out to her. They see this, and they embrace it. They want to be like Faith, and they’re very proud she is one of them too.” (Chapter 6)
In summary, as Jude says, “Faith is good for the soul”. This book is an honest look at life and the best that can be found in living it to the fullest with the resources you have been given. There are moments that are humorous too, such as the time when Faith and her family were asked to leave a White House tour because she started chasing a squirrel; Faith’s dive into the Reflecting Pool which lies between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C.; as well as the time when Faith took the cooked Thanksgiving turkey off of the table and devoured it with the other dogs in her family—under the bed, of course.
Faith will turn 10 this year (2012), and will retire from her public appearances, with a ceremony planned at Fort Lewis – McCord Joint AFB, on December 22, her birthday.
Faith Walks is a quick easy read, written in a style as though the author, a sought-after motivational speaker, is having a conversation with the reader in her living room. The book is a real page-turner for animal lovers and anyone who wants to read a success story inspired by the best qualities in humans and animals, as well as a lot of Faith.
As I mentioned, when I think of the story of Faith and her family, I recall the words on my high school locker room wall; but after reading Faith Walks, I think that the quote would be better changed to, “When the going gets tough, pull together and have some ‘dogged determination’ and a lot of Faith!” “Faith wouldn’t know how to be judgmental; she knows nothing of one’s color, creed, religion, background or future. So pure is her living in the moment that it comes through clearly in the lives and hearts of those she visits. It may only last a very little while—but it is real, it did happen. There is always HOPE with Faith.” (Jude Stringfellow, Chapter 8) In the end, Jude says, “I would like to think of her as being simply the dog God made to make someone smile who really needed to smile.”