By SUE MANNING, Associated Press
LOS ANGELES - For several years, Jude Stringfellow and her Lab-chow mix have toured the country with a simple message: Faith walks.
Born without front legs to a junkyard dog around Christmas 2002, Faith the puppy was rejected and abused by her mother. She was rescued by Reuben Stringfellow, now an Army E-4 specialist, who had been asked to bury other puppies in the litter.
"Can we fix her? Stringfellow, then 17, asked his mom. "No, but maybe we can help her," she said.
So Reuben turned Faith over to his mother, English professor Jude Stringfellow. At first the family had to carry Faith to keep her off her chest and chin. But with peanut butter and practice, Faith learned to walk on her two hind legs.
Today Faith is a brisk, upright walker. When she runs, every so often she adds a hop or skip to her step, but she stumbles less often than most humans. She takes vitamins and joint supplements, and vets have declared her very healthy, Stringfellow said.
Since her first step on March 22, 2003, Faith has done the talk show circuit, gone on tour with Ozzy Osbourne and been named an honorary Army sergeant. Jude Stringfellow has become a motivational speaker and written two books. Next year, the two are moving from Ardmore, Okla., to Chicago where they plan to write a third called "Faith Walks."
They get more than 200 letters and e-mails a day, run a Web site and make dozens of appearances every year, including stops at veterans' hospitals across the country to cheer injured soldiers.
That mission is special for Stringfellow, whose son left Iraq in September and is stationed at Fort Wainwright in Alaska. He is scheduled to get out of the Army and head home on Jan. 1.
For many, Faith brings a powerful message about overcoming adversity. "Faith has shown me that different is beautiful, that it is not the body you are in but the soul that you have," Jill Salomon of Montreal, Canada, wrote on Faith's Web site.
Stringfellow will never forget a woman from New York who happened to see Faith on a street corner. She was depressed and had lost both legs to diabetes.
"She was in her wheelchair and saw us. She was crying. She had seen Faith on television. She just held her and said she wished she had that kind of courage." Stringfellow said. "She told us: 'I was on my way to pick up the gun.' She handed the pawn ticket to a police officer and said she didn't need it anymore."
That sense of hope is especially important for Faith's visits to Army bases. Last weekend she headed to Washington state, where she met with as many as 5,000 soldiers at McChord Air Force Base and Fort Lewis. Some of the soldiers were headed to war, some were coming back.
"She just walks around barking and laughing and excited to see them all," Jude Stringfellow said. "There is a lot of crying, pointing and surprise. From those who have lost friends or limbs, there can be silence. Some will shake my hand and thank me, some will pat her on the head. There is a lot of quiet, heartfelt, really deep emotion."
Faith never fails to bring a smile to a soldier's face, said Patrick Mcghee, general manager at Fort Lewis.
"To see the children interact with Faith is simply priceless," he said.
But Faith's most emotional reunion -- with Reuben Stringfellow, who rescued her 7 years ago this Christmas -- will have to wait for January. He's already gotten Faith a birthday present: a peanut butter cookie with her name on it.