The big, manly dog’s knack for finding himself in compromising situations didn’t end with the Halloween horror bowl. The day before Thanksgiving Day, Luke and Cindy, decided to visit relatives. Already late, they packed up the car, threw the luggage in the back of the SUV, called Malcolm and Murphy to jump in, and sped off. Pedal tromped, Luke sped down the country road when, suddenly, a road crewman waving an orange flag appeared before them.
“STOP!” Cindy shrieked.
Luke slammed on the brakes, and the SUV lurched to a grinding halt. The stop wasn’t bad enough to set off any airbags, but the jolt did displace the contents of the SUV, including the people, dogs, and luggage. Everyone, including the dogs, flew forward. One bag in the wayback whipped over the last row of seats, flew past the dogs, who had sunk their nails into the leather upholstery, and hit the back of the front seats, spilling its guts around the dogs’ feet.
Luke pulled over to the side of the road to see how the boys were when he started to howl with laughter. Cindy turned around, and she, too, began to laugh.
Pink and blue Velcro hair curlers hung haphazardly all over Malcolm’s fur. In the near car-wreck, Cindy’s cosmetics case had flown to the front and blown apart, curlers sailing everywhere. One was clinging to Malcolm’s left ear, and others hung twisted in his hair--on his shoulders, legs, and sides. During the cyclonic disaster inside the SUV, at least twenty spoolies and other curlers had found refuge in Malcolm’s long white fur.
The look on Malcolm’s face was pure surprise mixed with a tad of indignity. The thick hair on his head was standing straight up, and when he bit at a velco curler clinging to his front leg, he winced as it pulled his fur. He bit more at the curler, his ears cocked in disbelief, his forehead wrinkled, but it refused to budge. He looked flabbergasted.
Murphy’s expression was equally disarming, but he wouldn’t dare laugh at Malcolm. After Luke had freed all Malcolm’s curlers, he started back on the road, Malcolm unusually quiet the whole way.
In May of 2004, Malcolm was diagnosed with bone cancer. Luke was devastated to immobility, but Malcolm’s struggle and bravery in his fight against the disease brought Luke to a new understanding of life, a kind of spirituality he would have never predicted for himself.
Luke followed the recommendations of Malcolm’s veterinary oncologist. Shortly after receiving the horrible news, Malcolm had his right front leg amputated and finished a series of chemotherapy treatments. Malcolm responded well to both the surgery and the chemotherapy. In exactly two weeks Malcolm healed from the surgery and adapted well to his disability, which he didn’t regard as a disability at all. And life on the ranchito continued as usual.
One morning when Luke was on the front porch reading the Wall Street Journal, he noticed movement out of the corner of his eye. It was Malcolm running across the street after a squirrel. To this day the image of the giant dog standing on his back legs with his one leg on the tree is burned into Luke’s memory. Malcolm, as always, proved Luke’s initial devastation and depression finally gave way to action. Luke decided to put his hi-tech and bio-tech consulting business on hold in order to spend time with Malcolm. What was important, however, was the spirit of the moment with his dog—enjoying the rest of Malcolm’s time. Life itself, beating and throbbing inside his dog and inside himself, mattered most.
Luke spent the next six months hiking and camping with Malcolm and Murphy, but he also spent time researching cancer, its causes, and its characteristics. Having been a pre-med student back in college, he had the smarts and the background to find information that might save his beloved dog. He devoted himself to researching cancer.
Luke changed in other ways, too. He admits he became more dog-like. He observed his best friend fighting the cancer with bravery only animals seem to have mastered. Perhaps, knowing they are dying, they have instincts telling them death as just another stage of life. Because Malcolm still cherished his simple needs like digging holes, and treeing squirrels, Luke came to value more simple pleasures as well. Being with his dog family and allowing Malcolm his pure pleasures was all that mattered to Luke.
Recognizing the courage with which Malcolm faced his disease made Luke embrace Malcolm’s spirit in all aspects. He called it “puppying up”—facing a challenge head-on. To “puppy up” meant to be unafraid in adversity and, regardless of what other people think, never let anything slow you down. Embrace life with fearlessness, embrace that which is truly important, simple, and pure. In meeting the challenge of Malcolm’s impending death, Luke knew he could be as stoic as his ailing dog. He and his dog would live Malcolm’s final months as all animals always live--in the purity of the moment.
“I’m going to be brave through all this,” Luke promised Malcolm one evening before bedtime. He drew the edge of the blanket around the dog beside his sofa. “Whatever time we have left, we’re going to spend together, and we’re going to play, and hike, and live each day at a time.” And Malcolm turned toward him and smiled his grand smile.
And for the next year and a half they did just that—playing, wrestling, sleeping, giving each the other’s presence and comfort.
In Malcolm’s final month when the cancer had spread to his lungs and his death was imminent, Luke made his dog-son a promise: “I’m going to live the rest of my life for you, Baby. I’m going to live it as you have: with courage and happy simplicity. And, no matter what happens, I’m making another promise to you. I’m going to tackle this cancer bastard head on.” His voice shook. “I’ll fight this thing inside you, Malcolm. I’m not going to let it beat us. I don’t know what it is I’ll do yet, but, when the time comes I’ll know. I won’t let you down, My Man.”
Malcolm died January 11, 2006.
Luke has carried on Malcolm’s tradition of “puppying up” against one of the world’s worst enemies: cancer.
On March 16, 2008, Luke, wearing a few of Malcolm’s ashes in a necklace around his neck, began the fight against canine cancer by walking, with six year old Murphy and one and a half-year-old Hudson, his two Great Pyrenees, on a 2,400 mile journey from Austin, Texas to Boston, Massachusetts. The funds raised from sponsors and businesses as well as individual donations supported the Animal Cancer Foundation, an organization researching the causes of cancer in dogs and other companion animals. An off-shoot of the study will be research comparing canine cancer to people cancer.
Luke’s journey began amid a throng of volunteers, supporters, well-wishers, and TV and radio coverage. Wishing the boys and Luke good luck, animal lovers lined the Austin streets, their dogs by their sides. Those along the street of embarkation celebrated with music, carnival food, and the free-spiritedness such a challenge births. The crowd knew in their collective heart that what was about to happen was one of the most worthy, unselfish, bravest gestures of all time: a man and his two dogs were heading into the wilderness to fight the devil.
Loaded with 25 pounds of gear and water, Murphy waited as Luke hoisted his own pack onto his back. Other necessary gear had been sent ahead along his walking route by his brothers, friends and volunteers to insure the dogs’ safety as well as Luke’s. Their equipment included a tent, packs for dogs and man, sleeping bag, hiking clothes and rain gear, dog booties, reflectors and collar lights for the dogs and much more.
Though the Big Dog, as Luke refers to himself, and his dogs carried their own energy food; health and nutritional support was driven ahead daily to stopping points along their walking route. Dropped off at predetermined sites, these necessaries included a camp stove with fuel, cooking utensils, water filters and purification tablets, plastic bags, matches, and more. The “boys” kitchen items contained collapsible bowls, dehydrated dog food, and treats. Items such as a flashlight, light sticks, sunglasses, and duct tape were only a few of the other general items they had taken along with personal and dog hygiene products: toilet paper, toothbrush, grooming kit, basic medicines, and foot powder. Finally, for emergencies, Luke had packed first aid kits for the dogs and himself: pepper spray, animal deterrent, and contact information. Among some of the most important items, however, were the GPS, computer, weather radio, and solar battery recharger.
Luke anticipated meeting some hazards like feral dog packs and crossing bridges without a walking ledge, but those dangers didn’t detract from his determination to walk the entire route. Neither did a few brushes with violent weather, including a tornado. The road from Cameron, TX to Tyler was paved with difficulties: no cell phone coverage and few towns or houses from which he could re-supply his water bottles.
At night, when they were too tired to take another step, they either camped in a grassy patch along the road or accepted offers to sleep at supporters’ homes. At times they were walking in solitude, with only an occasional blackbird cawing from a telephone pole; at other times through the towns, they had children, anxious to pet the grand Great Pyrenees, following them.
Luke’s and Murphy’s and Hudson’s journey from Austin to Boston ended June 19, 2010 amid a throng of well-wishers and supporters. This author, along with over a hundred friends who had followed Luke’s journey through his website, www.2dogs2000miles.org, helped Luke complete the last two-mile-walk into Boston. What Luke found inspiring was that, during the trip, complete strangers walked for miles alongside him, thanking him for his efforts on behalf of their pet dog or cat who had died of cancer or of a family member whose life it claimed. Veterinarians, as well as veterinary specialists and researchers in the field of animal oncology met Luke along the way, shared their research and insights, and vowed to support efforts to help eradicate cancer in pets. And wherever Luke was able, he spoke about canine cancer so that people became, not only more aware of it, but more ignited against the disease.
Many people and organizations have made donations to Luke’s fight, to his journey where each day, when he wasn’t accompanied by other people, he was speaking, in his heart, to Malcolm. No matter the time of day or night, Malcolm’s spirit was present with the threesome, walking right alongside them, urging them to “puppy up.” He kept reminding them that they weren’t alone, that millions of animals who have died from cancer were walking right behind them, in front of them, and to the side of them.
Not for a moment did they walk alone.
Readers may contribute to pet cancer research by donating through Luke’s website, www.2dogs2000miles.org.