A man and his dog are walking across Canada so that homeless people will have a better chance of finding shelter with their pets.
James Joseph Caughill and his husky-malamute companion, Muck, are passing through the Elk Valley as they make their way to Vancouver on a march from St. Catharines, Ontario which began in 2016.
He has since published four of six volumes of a book called ‘Walking to the Rockies with Muckwah’, and plans to put 90 per cent of the royalties into a trust fund to construct three pet-friendly homeless shelters in Toronto, Winnipeg and Victoria.
Caughill’s cross-country journey began when a welfare worker told him he had to get rid of his malamute, the late Muckwah, to stay in a shelter.
A set of circumstances involving sick family combined with an apartment rental scam left him broke and on the street. He was told that if he wanted to keep his welfare benefits, he would have to go to a homeless shelter, which would not allow dogs.
Caughill said he wouldn’t give up his family, Muckwah.
“That was my baby girl, there’s no way,” he said.
“I gave up my welfare benefits and I chose to live on the streets so I could keep my dog.”
For the last five and a half years, he’s been walking across the country in the spring, summer and fall months, doing interviews with media, cultivating a social media page, and publishing volumes of his novel on an annual basis.
He hopes to arrive in Vancouver by late September.
“As long as we make it before the snow flies,” he said.
When The Free Press caught up with Caughill, he had his tent pitched in a backyard in Sparwood, and was with his dog, Muck, who he called ‘Muckwah the Second’ in honour of the first.
The original Muckwah, and the reason for his journey, passed away in 2019 due to cancer.
The day after her death, by a chance happening, he found Muck at a nearby animal shelter, and got a second wolf-like companion to keep him marching on his quest to the west. He still travels with Muckwah’s ashes in his cart.
He said he considered relapsing on drugs following Muckwah’s death, and that finding Muck was divine intervention.
So, Caughill kept on the road, and aside from a year off due to the pandemic, has made his way to British Columbia.
On top of the three planned homeless shelters, which he’d like to call ‘The Muckwah Memorial Shelter for the Homeless and their Pets,’ he has already had some impact for his cause, inspiring others to fundraise to cover pet liability in homeless shelters.
“I’ve got 35 across Canada, from Montreal to Vancouver, that are now taking pets that weren’t taking pets before,” Caughill said.
He said he also inspired a news station owner in Ontario to re-purpose an old school and turn it into a homeless hostel in Muckwah’s name. He said he broke down in tears when he got the news, and saw a picture of the building with the silhouette of a husky over it.
Caughill said he is funding a Muckwah foundation with his novel earnings, with plans to petition professional sports teams to donate proceeds from one game a year to the cause.
His final goal, he says, is to get a Muckwah shelter in every major city in Canada.
“If I can accomplish that, I can die happy.”