While Athens, Ohio may be a bit off the beaten path for those embarking on a cross-country journey, Kait and John Seyal made certain to include their alma mater's hometown as a stop along the way on their coast-to-coast dog walk, traveling through our community earlier this week.
"Every (other stop) was negotiable, except for Athens," said Kait, who graduated from the OU School of Art in 2009.
Kait and her husband John, also an OU School of Art graduate, are nearly two months into their Dog Walk Across America, which they have undertaken with their two therapy-certified rescue dogs, Max and Grace. They're promoting pet therapy and animal rescue across America, and sharing the benefits of Animal Assisted Therapy to Americans in need, according to a press release.
"(The dogs) are the focus of the trip," said Kait. "They're the inspiration for being out here."
John said plans for the trip were first set in motion after the couple housed a young woman making a similar trek on her horse, and were inspired by the journey's message. John said it took nearly a year and a half of planning to map out the couple's route, which they are taking entirely by foot. On March 1, the Seyals set out to roughly trace the American Discovery Trail, leaving Lewes, Del., with nothing but push-carts, backpacks, dog food (of course) and a nine-month stretch ahead to reach their final destination of San Francisco, where the couple has friends from OU, according to Kait.
Apart from Athens, most stops have not been planned, and the couple will be relying on the generosity of people to help them along the way – as the Seyals said the coast-to-coast excursion also represents a quest to restore their faith in humanity.
"We wanted to meet all those good people out there," said John. "We've met them."
He said that the couple either gets in touch with people ahead of time or will find a place to stay by knocking on doors looking for a yard to pitch their tent for the night. He said one of the most memorable interactions thus far has been being welcomed into a stranger's home to celebrate a birthday party among a family.
"What we're doing – helping the rescue dogs, the pilgrimage – it's inspiring to people," said John. "People's generosity is really overwhelming and surprising. I feel our faith in humanity was restored in the first few days."
The Seyals said they have largely been relying on donations to fuel their trip, in addition to their own savings and a few gear sponsors, which have been named on the "Friends and Benefactors" page of their blog.
"We find generosity in some form or another," said John.
In an act that John described as "bartering and trading in inspiration," in exchange for the graciousness of supporters along the way, the couple is paying Animal Assisted therapy visits to hospitals, retirement homes, children's homes and schools with Max and Grace. The dogs are certified and insured through the Kentucky-based nonprofit organization Pawsibilities Unleashed to perform therapy visits and educational programs, according to the press release.
Kait said the children's homes have been the most touching visits thus far. "The dogs have such an impact on those kids," she said.
While the couple does try to walk 15 to 25 miles a day, they take days off, if not for themselves, then for the dogs, according to Kait. "We have to take care of the dogs," she said. "We have to make sure we protect them; this is a challenge on all of us."
Carrying 15 pounds of dog food certainly cannot be easy on the couple either. "We quit our jobs, and we've never worked this hard in our life," said Kait.
In recent years, gimmicky cross-country treks for this cause or another has increased media and public skepticism about such journeys.
However, the couple said the majority of what they have heard has been positive feedback. Kait said she and John are regularly approached by older individuals, commending the couple on their profound endeavor, and for attempting it at such a young age.
"We're trying to inspire people in many ways," said John. "We want to encourage people to pursue their dreams and to make sure (they) live while (they're) alive."
The Seyals said it's going to be the good nature of the human spirit – the inspiration, encouragement and support of others that will carry them to the West Coast.
"We hit each day with a little bit of passion and a little bit of faith, and we stay alive," said John. "We use our instincts."