Lee Asher is motoring cross-country in a battleship gray RV with seven friends.
Six of them — Lillie, Bo-Bo, Cali, Stella, Molly and Butters — don't drive or chip in for gasoline. But they always want to stop for a bite or bathroom break.
That's because they're dogs, all rescued: a Saint Bernard, a chocolate lab, a golden retriever, a pit bull with a hint of Cane Corso, and two, toy-sized mongrels.
U.S. & World
"You are who you hang out with," said Asher, who — because he was bullied as a child — found that pets could be better pals than people. "You learn so much more about the proper way to treat people through the proper treatment of animals."
A strapping, dark-haired corporate trainer from Venice Beach, California, by way of Boca Raton, Florida, Asher is driving left coast-to-right coast — and back — to promote dog adoption; specifically, rescued canines.
I really just Can’t thank you all enough for the daily messages of your newest adopted pups. The bigger this mission gets the more dogs that get adopted and it’s just amazing how far we’ve come in such a short amount of time. I wake up with immense gratitude every day knowing that we are all making a huge difference in the Rescue game, not just by spreading awareness in it but by taking massive action. We as a team do this in a loving way without hate or judgement. We do it through showing not telling people what’s possible. We as a team focus on all of the beautiful things this world has to offer, not the negatives that so easily distract people from what’s actually important. We are a team. You are not a follower, you are leaders and all of you are leading one of the most powerful missions that have ever taken place. Yes, the absolute hardest part of what we are doing is seeing these amazing dogs in the shelters while knowing that’s there’s a possible unfortunate end for them and like you, I also wish I can adopt every single one of them but I leave each shelter knowing that by influencing people to adopt through love, positivity and humor that one day I strongly do believe that we as a team will clear the shelters and we will eventually have to take this mission overseas. Thank you all from the deepest part of my heart...Now Butters is given me that “Yo let’s go” look so I’m gonna give him a snack. Some extra love to a handful of members of the Pack and Swipe🔙👀🐶❤️@woofadventures1 @daygloweric @beachblondekelly @evasdaughter88 @melaniesegal @bestbullysticks @myollie 🙌🏽🐶❤️
Asher wheeled into Midlothian on April 8 to visit the Richmond Animal League, his only stop in Virginia.
The sentiment of a popular bumper sticker notwithstanding, dog is not his co-pilot.
Luke Barton is.
A dog photographer who grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina, but speaks with the lilt of his British birthplace, Barton not only drives but chronicles the journey with stills and videos that are posted on Instagram and Facebook.
The pair and their dog team — the animals usually lounge away the miles in the motor-home's spacious midsection — will visit all states in lower 48 and Alaska. They have stopped in 14 states since departing Los Angeles on Feb. 15.
From Virginia, Asher, Barton and their four-legged friends are heading to Washington, D.C., and continuing north toward New England. They expect to complete their trek in Alaska in November.
Quitting their jobs and selling their possessions, Asher and Barton decided late last year to travel the country, plumping for the companion animals that are a source of joy to millions but increasingly end up in shelters because their owners move, die or lose interest.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals says that 6.5 million dogs and cats annually are placed in shelters and 3.2 million — 1.6 million dogs and 1.6 million cats — are adopted.
Euthanasia is falling out of favor, with no-kill policies the rule for organizations such as the Richmond Animal League.
Asher and Barton are paying for the trip with $57,000 raised online through crowdfunding, $20,000 of which was donated by Best Bully Sticks, a Richmond company that makes digestible chew toys for dogs from beef tendons.
"We came up with the idea in November, launched crowdfunding in December, kick-started it in January and departed in February," said Barton, wearing a wool watch cap tugged over his ears.
About 80 people, many with dogs, turned out to greet Asher and Barton. Before the men arrived, there was a buzz of excitement, much of it attributed to Asher and Barton's avid use of social media.
Hannah Robertson of Richmond, a pediatric nurse, said — while cradling her rescued, black-and-white Boston Terrier-Shih Tzu mix, Pepper — that she has been following Asher on Instagram for a year.
"I sent him a message that I was coming to this event," said Robertson. "He didn't reply. But when I saw him in person — just now — he said, 'You said you were coming.'"