Two dogs are walking more than 2,000 miles from Austin, Texas, to Boston to raise awareness, and maybe some money, for canine cancer research.
Murphy, 8, and Hudson, 2, are expected to arrive in Downtown Pittsburgh June 30. They hope to make a grand entrance by walking across the West End Bridge to PNC Park, where they will attend a Pirates game. It's one of those really cool "Pup-Night" events in which dogs get to go to a baseball game with their people.
It would be hard to miss these two, for they are very large, very white Great Pyrenees.
Murphy and Hudson are traveling with their owner, Luke Robinson, 38. He conceived the Texas-to-Massachusettes trek after the death of a beloved dog "changed my life," he says.
"Luke and the boys," as their fans and followers call them, have been on the road for about 1,000 miles and 12 months. People follow their progress at www.2dogs2000miles.org and on Twitter. Mr. Robinson carries their sleeping tent and other supplies in a giant backpack. The dogs wear much smaller packs.
They walk 8-10 miles a day, when they're moving. The trio makes frequent rest stops, such as in Pittsburgh, where they plan to stay for two weeks. They've done volunteer work at animal shelters along the way, met with veterinary cancer specialists, and lined up "meet and greet" events to raise awareness about cancer research.
Their Pittsburgh schedule includes a meet and greet in Market Square 11:30 a.m. July 1 and an appearance with the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society 5-9 p.m. July 2 at center court in the Mall at Robinson.
Mr. Robinson (no relation to the west suburban mall) also plans to walk homeless dogs housed at the North Side shelter, as if he hasn't done enough walking in the past year.
Malcolm, his first Great Pyrenees, was a healthy, active 6-year-old when he was diagnosed in 2004 with osteosarcoma. Mr. Robinson was devastated. He was also angry and puzzled because "no one could tell me why."
"Why are so many dogs dying from cancer? Why are so many dogs dying at younger ages? What are we doing wrong?" he asked in a cell phone interview from the road. "Is it diet? The environment? Pesticides?"
Osteosarcoma is bone cancer, and some of the large breeds of dogs seem to be particularly susceptible. Malcolm's cancer was in a leg bone. Amputation and chemotherapy prolonged his life for two years, but the cancer ultimately spread to his lungs, and he died in 2006.
"I sold my truck and put my stuff in storage and got in shape for this trip," Mr. Robinson said.
Born in Galveston, Texas, Mr. Robinson grew up in Austin. He operated a consulting practice for biotech companies first in San Antonio and then in Boston, where he moved in 2003. He put the business and the rest of his life on hold to walk with Murphy and Hudson.
"I'm just an average guy" not an athlete, he noted. "I had to get in shape for this trip. I'm 6-foot 2 and I was up to 250 pounds. When we started the trip, I was 195 pounds. I consume about 4,000 to 6,000 calories a day, and my weight has fluctuated between 184 and 215 pounds on this trip."
On the trio's Web site, visitors can follow their progress on a map, their blog or on Twitter, where "we have 1,800 followers," Mr. Robinson said. The Web site also includes a shop where you can buy a variety of merchandise, including canine cancer survivor T-shirts.
"This is not so much about raising money as it is about raising awareness," Mr. Robinson said. "We do accept donations to help defray the cost of travel," but he indicates they don't need much.
"When we get back to Boston, we will concentrate more on fundraising."
Kind-hearted strangers put Luke and the boys up in their homes. Other times they sleep in a tent. "I'd say it's about 50-50, sleeping in the tent vs. staying in homes."
The boys are having a great time.
"I think this may be the ideal life for dogs," Mr. Robinson said with a chuckle. "The biggest challenge so far has been ticks in Ohio. I counted 120 ticks that I picked off the boys. An upcoming challenge will be crossing the Appalachian Mountains."
High up on Mr. Robinson's wish list would be the chance to meet someone from the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"I have a great deal of respect for your quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger. I took a day off to watch the Super Bowl, and I thought, 'Wow! What a team!' I'd love to give the Steelers some of our 'Puppy Up' bracelets" for cancer awareness.
Pup-Night?with Luke, 'the boys'
Tickets are $20 for you and your dog to attend Pirates Pup-Night. Part of the ticket price will benefit local shelters. The June 30 and Aug. 25 Pup Night games benefit Animal Friends in Ohio Township. The July 21 and Sept. 22 games benefit the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society. You must present proof that your dog is up to date on inoculations. To order tickets, call Kevin Roach at the Pirates, 412-325-4797.
To assist Luke and the boys during their Pittsburgh stay, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. That's Ginger Morgan of Memphis, Tenn., a friend of Mr. Robinson's who helps with their schedule and logistics. Watch the Post-Gazette for updates on their itinerary.
Pet Tales appears weekly in the Saturday Home & Garden section. Linda Wilson Fuoco can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-3064.