Not too long ago, Harold Palmquist found himself in a difficult situation. The Air Force veteran was homeless in Phoenix, Ariz., desperately looking for a place to go.
The trouble was that no shelter would accept his dog, Daisy. And not having his companion beside him was simply not an option.
“I went to a homeless shelter but they wouldn’t accept my dog. So I just called the crisis hotline, and they connected me with Vets and Their Pets,” he said. “They are a nonprofit group, and they fostered my dog while I was in the shelter. They also spayed her ... which is part of the policy. All the dogs must be spayed and neutered.”
Before long, Palmquist was ready to get back on his feet. He left the shelter, picked up Daisy and headed to California to stay with his father.
“It’s a good thing I did too because he was ill,” he said. “He had cancer, and it wasn’t long before he passed away.”
His father’s death prompted him to do something he always wanted to do — ride across the country. But Palmquist also wanted it to be a meaningful trip so he decided to team up with the organization that made such a difference in his life — Vets and Their Pets. He contacted the organization, which supported the idea and helped get him set for his travels.
From there, it was all about packing up his bike (and his Daisy) and hitting the road. That’s just want they’ve done.
Since April 2015, the two have covered roughly 5,000 miles, stopping in 17 states en route to the east coast. Daisy rides in a kennel attached to a compartment on the back of his bicycle. Palmquist says she thoroughly enjoys herself.
“She loves it. She sticks her nose through the bars a little bit and watches everything,” he said.
Along the way, the pair have connected with countless supporters, making Daisy somewhat of a national celebrity as they raise awareness of the plight of veterans and their pets.
“Everyone loves Daisy ... they don’t really care about me,” he said with a laugh. “They give us dog treats and dog food ... it’s really been great. I couldn’t have done it without her. It’s just me and her.”
Through his adventure, Palmquist has spread the word about Vets and Their Pets as well as the general needs of veterans. In many cases, he’s met fellow veterans — many of whom are homeless and who often suffer from mental disorders or other health issues.
“I was in the Gulf War, I exited in in ‘93. I never saw action. But I’ve met a lot of guys who have ... and a lot of them aren’t getting their health benefits. I just got mine,” he said. “I met a Vietnam veteran who hadn’t gotten his yet and he had cancer.”
Through his ride Palmquist is hopeful that the people he reaches have a little better understanding of the challenges facing veterans, especially those who are homeless but have meaningful bonds with their canines.
“It’s unconditional love and it gives you peace of mind. There are a lot of guys out there with PTSD who sleep with one eye open ... having that dog there with them lets them relax a little and get some sleep,” he said.
They’ve certainly done their part. Palmquist and Daisy will be bringing their adventure to a close on Saturday. At 11 a.m., the duo will reach Massengale Park on St. Simons Island, where they will officially end their cross-country trip. He is hopeful that members of the community, military and civic groups will be able to join them to celebrate the milestone.
“We would love to see people come out to meet us. I love to share the message and to show people, especially the young kids, that you can do anything with your life,” he said. “Yeah, you know, I’m a homeless veteran but I could still do something positive. I wanted to make it count.”