A Florida man left the Jupiter Inlet early Friday with plans to ride his Pedego electric bike across the U.S. this month.
JUPITER — After four years of utilizing his dogs, Chibby Choo and K Poppy, for pet therapy, Jay Hamm is taking his volunteer work on the road.
With the two dogs in a custom-built sidecar, Hamm rode off from the Jupiter Inlet early Friday on his Pedego electric bike, planning to make it across the U.S. to Huntington Beach, California, before the end of the month.
He was trailed by a support bus loaded up with bedding, coolers, a paddleboard and other supplies, as well as a flock of supporters there to send him off.
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The 52-year-old Jupiter man is making the trek to raise awareness of the benefits of pet therapy and help people in need along the way.
He said he first witnessed the benefits of pet therapy when Chibby Choo, now 6 years old, comforted his sister, Tamra Williams, while she was dying of cancer in 2015.
“I tell everyone that was my God moment, my a-ha moment when God said ’Do something with this dog. Go share the compassion in this dog,’” said Hamm, the facilities director at First United Methodist Church Jupiter-Tequesta.
He had Chibby Choo, a Catahoula leopard hound, certified for pet therapy in 2015 and formed a non-profit, Paws for Compassion, to serve in that endeavor the same year.
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Under the Paws for Compassion banner, Hamm said he’s taken the dog to volunteer at medical facilities in the area, including Jupiter Medical Center and Tequesta Terrace assisted living. Though not certified in pet therapy himself, 1-year-old K Poppy often comes along, too, Hamm said.
He also became a mainstay comforting kids in Parkland, Florida, after the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
“My mission is to actually go do the visiting and be an advocate for this pet therapy world and get more people involved in it,“ he said.
Friend Joe Spano only recently met Hamm, but said he’s quickly come to appreciate Hamm’s volunteer work.
“It’s just amazing what happens in that room when the dogs walk in,” Spano said.
Spano, a retiree, will drive the bus and fill in on the bike if Hamm needs rest. He’s also Hamm’s hype man, with plans for a barrage of social media activity to promote the trip.
“It’s going to be an epic journey, man,” Hamm said.
Once they’re back in Florida, Hamm said he intends to use the bus, which he bought through the non-profit last month, to promote the organization and shuttle his dogs to areas of need around Lake Okeechobee.
Among the supporters who came to the inlet Friday for the sendoff was Jon Charles, who attends Hamm’s church.
The journey is indicative of Hamm’s passion for serving others, Charles said.
“He’s just such a good guy,” the 44-year-old said. “Constantly, constantly helping people.”
But Hamm wants to keep the focus away from him, and instead on his dogs.
“It’s on the news how much a dog improves your life, you know? If it improves your life, it improves other people’s lives,” Hamm said. “And so that’s what we’re out to do.”
This story originally published to palmbeachpost.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the GateHouse Media network via the Florida Wire. The Florida Wire, which runs across digital, print and video platforms, curates and distributes Florida-focused stories. For more Florida stories, visit here, and to support local media throughout the state of Florida, consider subscribing to your local paper.