By Sarah Pridgeon
Like many dog owners, Harry Palmquist can’t imagine being separated from his best friend. When he fell upon hard times and reached out for the help available to veterans of this nation, he was faced with a choice he couldn’t make: if he wanted shelter, he was going to need to say goodbye to Daisy.
Palmquist arrived in Sundance on Monday, all smiles as he pedaled his bicycle, pulling a trailer topped by a crate lined with comfortable blankets. From her lofty perch, Daisy sniffed and stared, barking at bystanders by way of introduction and twitching her ears as she enjoyed the ever-changing scenery.
The pair have been cycling for about a year, raising money for a charity that understands their situation. Veterans and Their Pets works to ensure that vets can access veterinary care, temporary housing and food for their animals.
“There are veterans in this country that do not get the help they need because of their pets, and me and Daisy are one such item. In my case, it was homelessness,” he says.
The duo’s story began when Palmquist contacted a homeless shelter for assistance in Phoenix, Arizona, but was told he would not be able to bring his dog.
“My kids are grown and gone, so I said, that’s fine, I’ll hit the streets. There’s not enough beds for humans at the homeless shelter,” he says.
The shelter suggested he call a crisis hotline, which in turn pointed him to Vets and Their Pets.
“They fostered my dog for me, gave her a homeless shelter while I was in mine. I was only there for a week, went and got my dog,” he smiles. “I got my bicycle, dog crate and this duffel bag and I hitchhiked to Los Angeles. I was with my dad for three months, I was holding his hand when he passed away.”
What should he do now, he wondered at that moment. Should he go back to Phoenix, take up another bed, be another burden? Or could he do something else instead?
Palmquist had always had a dream to run across America and was at that moment a stone’s throw from the Pacific Ocean. He made a choice: he called the charity and pledged to raise them some money.
“That was my first tour. I went from Los Angeles to St. Simons Isle in Georgia, where I started this tour,” he grins.
He did make an attempt to get back on his feet after the first tour, he says. A person he met along the way invited him to stay, but things didn’t pan out the way he expected. And so, after accepting the first job that came along and making enough to live through winter, he was still as homeless as ever.
“I figured, Daisy’s still alive and I’m still good to go, we’ll do another tour,” he says.
“I’m blessed to be doing this. Here I am at the bottom of my life – I’m homeless. I’m not worried about it, as soon as I get to the Pacific Ocean I’ll pick up a job, but I made a commitment to go across the country and that’s what I’m going to do.”
The biggest hitch along the way took place in January in Georgia, when an SUV hit Palmquist’s bicycle from behind at 65 mph. It flattened everything, he says, but he’s grateful that he and Daisy walked away from it and were able to rest up for three months before getting back on the road.
“We’re thankful to be alive,” he smiles.
The adventure continued as Palmquist stopped for some noodles, bought himself a gallon of milk and prepared for the next leg of his tour – a two-day ride along I-90 to Gillette. While the future can never be foretold, the one thing he’s sure of is that he’ll stick with the pup who wandered into the classroom where he was teaching English as a second language, 11 years ago.
“I asked everyone whose dog is that. They said, we don’t know, and I said, that’s my dog. I’ve had her ever since and I’m not going to part with her,” he says. “If it comes down to it, I’m just going to keep riding my bike and raising some money – we have a story to share.”
Find out more about Palmquist’s journey at facebook.com/groups/TourDePACLANTIC or make a donation at fundrazr.com/veteransandtheirpets. The charity’s website is veteransandtheirpets.org.