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March 29, 2008

You gotta have Faith — World's only walking 2-legged dog

The back story, by Michael Laris in today's Washington Post, follows.

    In Faith's Pawprints, an Abiding Hope

    A Walking 2-Legged Dog Inspires Awe on Va. Visit

    Faith was curled up on the carpet beside her agent, Mike Maguire, who kept reaching down to hand her pieces of his chicken sandwich, when their waitress gave him an easy one.

    "What kind of dog is that?" asked Alicia Weedon, 16.

    With a flair honed in scores of such encounters, Maguire, a sports agent from Fairfax County, said simply, "A two-legged dog."

    The chow mix jumped up, her haunches tight and six-pack abs working, and began to walk.

    She's been on Oprah and Montel. She's been on Japanese and Korean TV and is scheduled to fly to Istanbul next month. She was supposed to appear at this weekend's Super Pet Expo in Chantilly, but her shows were canceled in a dispute over insurance and a missed promotional gig.

    At the Bob Evans in Manassas this week, after an early morning flight from Oklahoma City, the Faith phenomenon played out in a more intimate arena.

    "Oh my God!" said Weedon, wide-eyed and momentarily terrified, her attention finally off the blueberry pancake special. "That is so awesome!" added Marika Robinson, another teenage server.

    Then, amid the gasps, Robinson said: "My mom died last year. That would have put a smile on her face. She loved animals. She loved animals...." Rushing away, she tried to hide behind a counter and began to cry.

    Faith has that kind of effect on people.

    The 5-year-old was born with a shriveled left leg that flopped behind her and had to be removed and a legless, partial right paw with two nails she still hates getting clipped. There is an industry of rolling aids for disabled pets. But peanut butter on the end of spoon and tossed gummy bears got Faith up off her chest.

    Faith's owner, Jude Stringfellow, 46, said she gave up her job as a teacher in Oklahoma to take Faith on the road. Her son found Faith as a puppy, and the dog has grown into a calling and a job, Stringfellow said.

    She's considered starting a charity, but the idea has stalled, she said. Stringfellow's Web site has for years requested donations, and the description of where they go has changed regularly. She said that she does not keep records but that the money has been minimal and that she has passed it on to other charities. Her focus, she said, is spreading Faith's message.

    "I want people to understand that you can be imperfect physically and still be perfect through your soul, through your spirit," she said.

    While here, Faith visited shopping centers in Manassas and Fairfax, the Washington Monument, the Jefferson Memorial and the Ellipse.

    Seeing a wiry dog with a furiously wagging tail and a nose-height of 40 inches confidently strolling through a mall or bouncing through a parking lot can generate some unexpectedly personal and jarring encounters for those new to the Faith scene.

    Milling past the socks in a Kids Foot Locker store, she could have been a short shopper. She leans far forward, like the curling lip of a wave, but manages to stay poised, her snout poking around curiously.

    Even without her handlers' positioning of Faith as essentially a 27-pound self-help book — "If a dog can do it, so can a person," Maguire says — the experience offers a rare license to gawk, touch and find inspiration in a soft take on missing limbs and human hardships.

    Plus, a dog that gets around like a human is totally cool. "I had to look two times," said Kim Debellaistre, a mother of two sitting outside a Roman Delight food-court pizza shop. "That dog is walking."

    Behind an office park in Reston, Kristine Rzewnicki looked on as Faith hunted for squirrels during some down time.

    "My dad has an artificial leg. I have a special place in my heart for her message," said Rzewnicki, who works for an education group. The family had felt lucky that her father, a longtime Fairfax County police officer, was never hurt on the job, she said. Then the tractor accident. Faith pays visits to hospitals along with the pet shows, including one to Walter Reed Army Medical Center. "Her notoriety and the timing just couldn't be better to make people feel whole," Rzewnicki said.

    Many were unflinching in the parallels they saw.

    "What happened to her?" asked Larry Nixon, a homeless electrician at the Manassas shelter Serve Inc.

    Faith walked beside Nixon's son Larry Jr., 11, who is deciding between being a veterinarian and a video game tester, and nosed the food-bank cat Moochie, whose central skill is catching mice.

    They ended up at the shelter about a month ago after the owner of the farm in The Plains where they were living died and the property was sold, "which left us kind of flummoxed," Nixon said. The building industry could rebound some this spring, he hopes.

    "That dog went through some pretty adverse situations," Nixon said. "We can do the same thing."

    All the walking, and excitement, gets tiring. Faith often folds herself down for quick breaks, and Maguire and Stringfellow alternate carrying her around their necks some of the way between appearances. After a full day out, Faith moves more gingerly on her back paws.

    Gregory S. Hammer, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, said dogs generally carry about 60 percent of their weight on their front legs. Any extra load can increase the wear and tear on hip or knee joints, he said.

    "But I'm sure this dog has compensated very, very well," Hammer said. "The dog doesn't know that it only has two legs.... To this dog, it's normal behavior."

    Obesity is a bigger health concern, he said.

    Some of Faith's new fans, such as Yuliya Aranovska, 18, manager of a teen clothing shop, still wonder about this adventure.

    "If it's for encouragement purposes, that's fine. If it's more about entertainment, I don't agree with it," Aranovska said. "You start thinking, What does the dog think about it? I'm not sure. But I know that he's happy to be alive."


Faith's website is faiththedog.net.

March 29, 2008 at 04:01 PM | Permalink


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Thanks Joe!
We had a blast in DC. We have to give a shout out to the men and women at Walter Reed Army Medical Center! Those guys are rock stars! We loved the memorials, the monuments, the White House, restaurants and other places we went. We visited a homeless shelter, Rocky Run Middle School, an animal shelter, pet stores, kennels, and even a few squirrels in the park as Faith chased them around the National Association for Secondary School Principals. It was a great time! Thanks for sharing her story.

Posted by: Jude Stringfellow | Mar 31, 2008 12:52:01 PM

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