Sometime around Christmas 2002, circa Dec. 22, a puppy was born at a flea market on the south side of Oklahoma City, Okla.
Faith the Dog, as the puppy would later be named, came into the world part of a litter of between 10 and 12 puppies. Only four were born healthy and normal; Faith wasn’t one of those.
According to Faith’s owner, Jude Stringfellow, Faith’s mother, Princess, developed a uterine infection while pregnant, causing her to birth a mostly inviable liter.
Faith herself was born without front legs.
Instinct kicked in for Princess when she saw the state of her liter. According to Stringfellow, the full-blooded black Chow began smothering the nonviable pups, and had started on Faith when Stringfellow’s son, Reuben, interceded.
“He grabbed Faith and ran away as fast as he could,” Stringfellow explained. “To put it mildly, Princess wasn’t pleased.”
Reuben succeeded in saving Faith’s life, and not long after, it would be Jude’s turn.
Jude took the two-legged pup to a vet named Diane Delbridgein in Yukon, Okla., who advised euthanasia.
“Diane and I went to school together from the third grade up,” Jude explained. “So she knew me pretty well. She told me that most people would put a dog like Faith down, and agreed that would be the most humane thing. I told her euthanasia wasn’t an option.”
As a result, Delbridgein helped Stringfellow develop a training regimen for Faith; Jude and all three of her children — Reuben, Laura, and Caity — would spend 12 weeks intensively working with and training the feisty Golden Lab/Pointer/Chow-mix.
Those 12 weeks involved a lot of babysitting, Jude said. The family worked with Faith in two-and-three-hour shifts, watching her round-the-clock, nursing her and making sure she didn’t lie in or eat her own feces.
Standing on only two legs didn’t come naturally for Faith, either, and the family had to train her to do that as well.
How did they manage it?
“We sat her in the snow,” Jude said. “When her butt got cold, she stood.”
Learning to stand on two legs didn’t mean Faith could automatically walk on two legs, and Jude made the decision not to push her dog to walk bipedally. “I wanted it to be her decision,” she said.
On March 22, 2003, Faith decided.
“We owned a Corgi name Ean at the time,” Jude explained. “Corgi’s are sheepdogs, so they’re natural herders. One day, he was playing with Faith, trying to guide her and get her moving — doing what sheepdogs do. He was biting her on the feet, and Faith got tired of it. She took off after him. We had a big backyard, and Faith chased him across the entire thing.”
When Faith caught up with the pip-squeaked Corgi, she grabbed it by the nape of the neck with her teeth and threw it down.
“From that day forward,” Jude said, “she’s walked on two legs.”
Once Faith began standing and walking and living a mostly normal doggy life, nothing could have prepared the Stringfellows for the avalanche of attention that followed.
“Faith has been a huge change in my life,” Jude explained. “The changes stretch from sky to sky, but more than anything else, she’s made me a far more compassionate person.”
Faith and the Stringfellows have appeared or been featured on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” “Maury,” “The Ricki Lake Show,” “Nova,” “Ripley’s Believe it or Not,” and cable TV’s Animal Planet and Discovery Channel — among others.
“Oprah called Faith her favorite guest ever,” Laura Stringfellow said of that appearance. “I really felt cheated on, because Faith took right to Oprah; she acted like I didn’t exist. I think she’d have gone home with her. She did the same thing with Sharon Osbourne when we toured with Oz Fest in 2007.”
Laura and Faith spent six months on the road with Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne and the bands of Oz Fest. They attended shows from Texas to Washington state down through California and back to Texas. They left the tour, Laura explained, only because “it got a little too wild.”
“Faith loved every minute of it,” Laura said. “She’s a big ham. She loved being on stage and getting her picture taken with all the fans and the bands, but I got very concerned for her safety. There was too much moshing.”
Faith has also traveled the world and worked with the US Military’s Wounded Warrior Program. She’s visited troops overseas, too, who were “actively fighting for us,” according to Jude. She added, “Faith is an E-5 Sergeant in the US Army. The military has done things with her I’m not at liberty to discuss.”
Although the Stringfellows are Christians, Faith’s appeal has transcended not only international and cultural boundaries, but also religious ones.
“Faith is very big in the Islamic community,” Jude said. “She’s been blessed many times and is popular in the Jewish community and among Hindus too.”
She continued, “She’s a true icon in Brazil. She’s so popular there, it’s almost scary. Whenever we’re in public there — in the airport or whereever — people try to reach out and touch me or Faith, thinking we’re a miracle and wanting to transfer some of that to them. I always stop them and ask what they’re needing help or guidance with, and I pray with them about it. It’s important they understand; there’s nothing special about me. God’s the one they need to look to for answers or help.”
Faith has also responded to the scene of national disasters.
Jude recalled, “After Hurricane Katrina in 2006, we visited New Orleans and went to the Super Dome. There were all these people there, huddled in large group, with so much anger and despair everywhere. Faith came in, just walking around, and people started coming up to meet her. And before long, you could feel the atmosphere in that building change.”
Asked why Faith appeals to so many people, Jude answered, “I think people look at her and think ‘if she can pull through it, I can pull through it.’”
Jude doesn’t like referring to Faith as a miracle though.
“The world sees her as a miracle,” she said, “but she’s really just a dog. She’s extraordinary because she’s chosen to be normal.”
She continued, “We, as human beings, often get caught up in the belief we have to be more than what we are, but we don’t. We are made for a reason, and if we do what we’re supposed to do, everything else will fall into place. God will take care of the rest.”
Faith is officially retired from public appearances now, but Jude would still allow her to be called back into service for the Wounded Warriors. The recent devastating tornadoes that slammed through Oklahoma City hit the area where Faith was born and where the Stringfellows are originally from (the family now lives in the Indianapolis area).
“I’m sure we’ll get a call from Oklahoma,” Jude said. “And we’ll go. They need all the help they can get out there.”
Jude has written three books about Faith. The latest, “Faith Walks,” was released last year.
“We’re currently trying to get funding to do a movie based on the book,” she said.
Contact: Rob Cox 812-663-3111 x7011