When you see Faith for the first time, you’re sure to do a double take. Born without front limbs, this amazing five-year-old canine has actually learned to walk and run on her hind legs, inspiring millions around the world with her courage and determination.
Faith’s story began just before Christmas of 2002, when she and her siblings were born in a flea market yard in Oklahoma City. Some of the pups died, and when Jude Stringfellow’s son Reuben and his best friend jumped the fence to rescue those that remained, they found Faith’s mother lying on top of the malformed pup in an attempt to suffocate her. “It was natural thing for her to do under the circumstances, but this little dog made it through the first couple of weeks so obviously she was strong enough to survive, at least for awhile,” says Jude.
Reuben took the puppy home and the family set to work to give their new charge a fighting chance at life. “She was very sickly,” says Jude. “We tried to feed her but she wasn’t suckling
correctly, which is probably why her mother was trying to put her down.” Jude took the pup to the vet, and was told that although the prognosis wasn’t good, she could survive with a lot of
effort and round-the-clock care.
Jude ended up quitting her job in order to stay home and care for the puppy. “It sounds stupid from a financial point of view, but at the time, it seemed that this dog was what our family needed to bring us together. I felt that if I let her die, then I was essentially saying to the kids that we’re dying too.”
The following months were challenging, but Jude and her children rose to the occasion, taking turns throughout the day and night to watch the puppy, feed her, take her outside, and teach her to sit and walk upright. “The vet said we had to get her up off her chest, so we would sit in a circle and set her up over and over again, and clap and go ‘yay!’ when she made it.”
At the time, the family didn’t have a name for her because they weren’t sure if she’d survive. As she persevered and got stronger, however, they began to toss around some ideas. “My daughter Laura said that if she walks by faith, we should call her Faith.” It seemed an
appropriate name in more ways than one. “Faith was the link that brought us together,” says Jude. “She helped us grow together as we helped her.”
It wasn’t long before Faith’s story began to get around. It started with a phone call to the local news station. “We have a lot of military people in and around our area, and they were being sent to Iraq,” explains Jude. “I wanted to give the media a feel-good story instead of all this war. They sent a guy over to do the filming, they ran the story, and the anchor didn’t go home that night because they were getting calls from all over the world.”
The next day, Jude started getting calls herself, some from as far away as Germany, England and Switzerland, inviting her and Faith to appear on their shows. Faith’s story has since been covered on TV stations around the world, and she has also appeared on NOVA and Oprah. “It just snowballed,” Jude says. “We decided to keep the military link, both because my son is in the army and because I have a heart for those who will go when called up no matter what. Faith has even been made an honorary commissioned sergeant out of Fort Lewis; they had a big ceremony for her and 4,000 people attended.” Jude takes her canine companion to airports, USOs and other places where injured and returning soldiers will be, so they can see Sergeant Faith and have their photos taken with her. “They tell me what an inspiration she’s been to them.”
It isn’t only military personnel who have been touched and heartened by Faith. “Oprah claimed on TV that after 21 years of interviewing people, she can say that one of her favorite guests was
a dog,” says Jude. “She thought that Faith’s story transcends all religions, ages and capacities. She’s brought an awareness to a lot of people, including Oprah, of what it means to be complete, without being 100% complete.”
Then there’s the summer Faith traveled with Ozzy Osbourne. “If you know anything about hard rock music, those people don’t necessarily get along with military people – it’s the order versus disorder thing, their different lifestyles and so on,” says Jude. “When Faith went with them, though, it was a whole new genre. I got to see military personnel in Seattle, Sacramento, Dallas and Chicago shaking hands with the Goth people and the Goth people giving them gifts and saying thank you. To me, that was really unifying.” Jude also recalls a special moment when Faith crawled into Ozzy’s lap and he looked over at Sharon and said, “I must be good, the
dog likes me.”
Not surprisingly, Faith has her own website (www.faiththedog.net) where fans can keep up with her news. She also endorses products, such as Dublin Dog Collars and Tags and Invisible Health’s Perfect Pet Blanket. Jude has even used her skills as an English professor to write two books about her: With a Little Faith (Second Edition), and Faith Alone: Stories of an Amazing Dog, both available through Amazon. “I’d also like to get her in movies and commercials so that people can say, ‘I saw her, and she was really courageous.’”
Faith doesn’t realize she’s a celebrity, but she is very aware of the attention she gets everywhere she goes. “When she sees bright lights or crowds she automatically assumes she’s supposed to be a part of it,” Jude laughs. “She runs over as if to say ‘hi, here I am!’ She’s actually interrupted weddings that way.”
Wherever she goes, Faith brings delight and encouragement to everyone she meets. As Jude says, “She walks not only by faith, but also by joy.”