Paul Heroux hadn’t been on a vacation in over three years.
The Attleboro mayor was eyeing a trip to the Middle East when he got some unexpected news in September: Mura, his 10-year-old dog, needed emergency surgery.
Doctors had found a three- to four-pound tumor pushing against her spleen, causing it to rupture. She survived, but the tumor was malignant.
Mura had blood cancer. She was dying.
Even with chemotherapy, she was given a 50 percent chance to live another six months.
Heroux, also looking to check off a few boxes on his own bucket list, decided to make the most of it.
On Friday, the duo rode Heroux’s 2015 Volvo S60 back into their hometown after a two-week, 8,500-mile cross-country trip that took them to some of the nation’s most beautiful treasures — one long ride of a lifetime for a faithful four-legged companion.
“My thinking was mainly I wanted to spend my vacation time with my dog because we have little time left and she’s family to me,” Heroux said in an interview that afternoon, after driving the final 1,300-mile, 22-hour stretch.
Each stop — extensively documented by Heroux in popular posts on his Facebook page — was a long way from Attleboro City Hall, where Mura walks side-by-side with her politician owner, or the city’s streets, where the two canvassed door-to-door during Heroux’s bid for state representative.
The two are, in some ways, one entity. As Heroux noted, voters may not have remembered his name, but surely they would recall “the guy with the dog.”
“She would go to schools with me. She would go to senior homes with me. She would be a mascot here at City Hall. … She’s been a pretty big part of my political identity, but she’s just family,” he said.
The two set out for Niagara Falls on Oct. 28 before heading west to Yellowstone National Park. Their adventures west brought them face-to-face with an elk and bison, the Old Faithful geyser, and the Rocky Mountains.
While Heroux and Mura still had some way to go to complete their loop back to Massachusetts, their lifelong journey together came full circle when they paid a visit to her breeder in British Columbia.
The out-of-country departure was a distinct memory aside from many in their travels for Heroux, who has driven across the country several times himself.
“When I was leaving it hit me that the breeder is never going to see her again, at least alive,” he said. “And that was a really emotional moment because she was born there and she trusted her with me and then I brought her back to see her before she passes away.”
Stateside again, Heroux and Mura made their way down the West Coast, through San Francisco and Los Angeles, where she walked along the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
In Santa Monica one night, they watched the sun disappear over the horizon. Heroux recalled the sight in one Facebook post:
“Imagine Mura watching the sunset over the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica. Imagine she is looking at the sun setting on the horizon [as] it dips below the Pacific Ocean. Her mouth open and her eyes slightly squinted looking and that little smile on her face but her tongue was not hanging out.
“If you can visualize that, that picture probably would’ve been among the best of this entire trip. I decided to just keep that one as a memory.”
The next morning, they saw it appear again over the Grand Canyon.
The journey back east brought Heroux and Mura through Texas, Oklahoma City, and the Gateway Arch in St. Louis before returning to Attleboro on Friday.
Heroux’s Facebook page, which resembles a scrapbook filled with journal entries of their trip, has received thousands of likes and comments on dozens of posts logging the sights and observations of their life on the road.
“Filling up my gas tank. $40 Staying in a sketchy hotel. $60,” read one post. “The look on Mura’s face after she just ate a nasty freeway gas-station hotdog. Priceless”
Commenters wrote how the updates provided a daily dose of light-hearted social media. Some mentioned they also served as a reminder of the beauty of America.
Heroux often received a suggestion nestled among the well wishes that will now become one of his next projects: a children’s book about Mura’s trip on the road.
He hopes the story will help kids cope with their own dogs being diagnosed with cancer, he said.
In the meantime though, Heroux and Mura’s story has received admirers from around the globe, reaching news outlets as far as Germany, the Netherlands, and Australia, and has made national news here in the U.S.
On Friday, before the media attention ballooned to those heights, Heroux was still floored by all the interest his vacation received.
Trying to make sense of it, he said he thinks the fact that a politician was sharing something positive amid today’s political climate was a driving factor.
It also helped, of course, that that “something positive” involved a dog, he said.
“Nobody had anything negative to say. This was one of those rare moments where everybody was just really positive about something,” Heroux said of his Facebook posts. “It was just very, very unusual on a political (Facebook page). … Everyone was being nice. Nobody was being mean. It was incredible.”