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Man walking across Canada for homeless people who have pets

'There were absolutely no homeless shelters … that would take pets, so I decided to fix that,' said man whose trans-Canada walk aims to raise awareness of the issue
James Caughill, 60, has spent the past seven years walking across the country to raise awareness about the difficulty of finding shelters that will accept both people and their pets. He recently completed the western leg of his journey, and will soon head towards St. John’s from Washago.

For those experiencing homelessness, choosing between housing and keeping a beloved pet can be a grim, but necessary choice, as few shelters in Canada are able to accommodate both people and their pets.

That's why James Caughill has been walking across Canada with his dog for seven years — to raise awareness about the issue and encourage shelters to do more.

In September 2016, he set out from his hometown of St. Catharines, walking through the summer, and resting through the winter, with the goal of reaching Vancouver.

He recently achieved that goal, caught a train back to Ontario, and is now gearing up for the eastern leg of his trans-Canada campaign in Washago — this time heading for St. John’s, N.L.

Caughill initially faced homelessness a number of years ago after he lost his job and his father passed away. It was then that he realized he and his dog, Muckwah, had no place to go, and that’s when he decided to start his journey.

“There were absolutely no homeless shelters … that would take pets, so I decided to fix that,” he said. “We just started walking for awareness, just to let people know that there's something wrong with the system when you can't bring your family with you into a new home or shelter.”

He has run into setbacks along the way, getting stuck in Manitoba through the pandemic, and with the loss of Muckwah to cancer in 2019.

“I couldn't see a future without Muckwah. I just saw black — there was no future for me,” he said.

Ultimately, Caughill pushed on after a friend helped him adopt his new travelling companion, Muck, and he said dozens of shelters around the country have begun accepting pets since his campaign began.

He hopes to raise enough money to open pet-friendly shelters of his own once his journey is finished.

“That's when we put up the three Muckwah shelters for the homeless and their pets, in Toronto, Winnipeg, and Victoria,” he said. “I haven't built anything yet, but (there) are existing shelters that are now taking pets because of us.”

With Muck and his cart full of gear in tow, Caughill said he is beginning his journey east this week, and he hopes to arrive in St. John’s in three years.

He has raised funds, in part, through a series of books documenting his journey, titled Walking to the Rockies with Muckwah, from which a portion of the proceeds are set aside to help fund his goal of opening pet-friendly shelters.

He said a new series of books will capture his journey east.

“I'm doing this until the mission is done,” he said. “(A pet) is very important to your mental stability, but it also gives you a reason to go on.”

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Greg McGrath-Goudie

About the Author: Greg McGrath-Goudie

Greg has been with Village Media since 2021, where he has worked as an LJI reporter for CollingwoodToday, and now as a city hall/general assignment reporter for OrilliaMatters
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