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Buoyed by blue: Mohawk-sporting canine inspires man in his fight against cancer

Jim Brunetti, right, meets his inspirations Kentucky Gallahue, left, and Derby, in their matching mohawks, on Sept. 2.
(Courtesy)

Jim Brunetti hasn’t let his battle with cancer give him the blues — unless you count his hairstyle.

He’s been inspired by a local man and his dog to not only copy the canine’s unusual coiffure but also his joyous, energetic nature.

Brunetti first laid eyes on Point Loma residents Kentucky Gallahue and his goldendoodle, Derby, in June on Torrey Pines Road in La Jolla while being driven to his radiation treatment.

“I look in the mirror and there’s a motorcycle behind us with this guy with a mohawk and this dog with a mohawk in dark glasses” in a sidecar, Brunetti said.

Brunetti, a San Bernardino resident, has been staying with his daughter, La Jolla resident Jolie Michelle, the past six months while undergoing treatment for Stage 4 metastatic lymphoma.

“He’s been through quite a lot,” Michelle said. “It’s been an uphill battle.”

Brunetti has had 56 rounds of radiation, along with surgery, infusions and chemotherapy.

Seeing Derby that day, “this beautiful personality” sporting a blue mohawk and a grin, inspired him, Brunetti said.

In the midst of radiation-related hair loss, Brunetti adopted a mohawk and had it dyed blue in honor of the dog that brought him joy.

Jim Brunetti sported a blue mohawk (and mustache) in honor of Derby the goldendoodle.
Jim Brunetti sported a blue mohawk (and mustache) in honor of Derby the goldendoodle.
(Courtesy)

“I thought, ‘What the heck.’ I’m a retired fire chief, and this is the craziest ... thing I’ve ever done,” Brunetti said. He even dyed his mustache blue to match.

Brunetti would think of the dog “when he was down,” Michelle said. Derby became a beacon of encouragement during Brunetti’s arduous cancer fight, a way for him to take charge of the cancer by emulating his wild style.

Brunetti has since lost the remainder of his hair, but he kept the impression Derby made.

“This dog has so much energy,” Brunetti said. “That sort of inspired me when I was losing my hair. [Derby] has this spirit, Kentucky has this spirit. I just loved that.”

Michelle’s boyfriend, Erik Argenti, took photos during the first Derby sighting and later learned that Gallahue and Derby compete in surf contests together and participate in other local events.

Argenti tracked down Gallahue in August to share Brunetti’s story. The family created a video to showcase Brunetti’s journey through cancer and his mohawk-aided fight against it, and sent it to Gallahue.

Gallahue immediately asked to meet Brunetti. “It brought tears to our hearts,” Gallahue said. “It made us feel like we’d done something to change somebody’s life.”

Kentucky Gallahue and Derby are often seen in their motorcycle and sidecar.
(Courtesy)

Gallahue said he adopted Derby as a skittish year-old pup seven years ago in his native Atlanta. The duo moved to San Diego five years ago. Gallahue works in construction and learned to surf, putting Derby on the board with him and entering competitions.

Gallahue and Derby, in their matching mohawks, attract attention wherever they go, landing a spot on Amazon’s “The Pack,” an “Amazing Race"-style competition show streaming soon. They’re currently involved in a children’s book.

“We love to meet people, to know we’ve touched people’s lives,” Gallahue said. “We love to give back as much as we can.”

He arranged to meet Brunetti through Michelle’s daughter, Briana Kelvin, and Gallahue and Derby rode up in their motorcycle and sidecar to Michelle’s house on Sept. 2.

“That was a wonderful event,” Brunetti said, expressing gratitude to Gallahue for making the trip.

Michelle said that in meeting Derby, she was reminded a lot of Brunetti’s personality, which she called “spunky, happy, lights up a room ... caring, willing to share.”

Gallahue is a “symbol of generosity,” Brunetti said, “because this man and his dog [are] all about helping other people. I am so impressed by this team, what they’re giving to this community.”

“After meeting Mr. Jim, just seeing how lit up he was seeing Derby and swapping stories, I thought we would totally be best friends,” Gallahue said. “I like connecting with like minds and adventurous spirits.”

Gallahue promised to visit Brunetti again.

“I just kind of think me and [Derby], we’re two goofballs who look the same, and it just happens to make people laugh,” Gallahue said. “That’s all we like to do, just put smiles on people’s faces.”

To view a video of Brunetti’s cancer fight and meeting Derby, visit bit.ly/jimandderby. To follow Gallahue and Derby’s adventures, visit @derbycalifornia on Instagram. ◆