Former President George H.W. Bush's service dog, Sully, is preparing for a new role. At the end of the month, the 2-year-old Labrador will start working with veterans at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland.
At a training facility on New York's Long Island, service dogs like Sully are trained to serve those who have served this country. They support veterans and first responders with daily tasks and help mitigate the symptoms of PTSD. They also provide comfort to vets in need – and that is what Sully did for Mr. Bush during the last months of his life.
In a poignant photograph, the Lab was seen watching over his casket. It was an image that touched the nation's soul – Sully paying his last respects.
"That photo will forever memorialize their relationship," said John Miller, the CEO of America's VetDogs, the charity that trained Sully. "I'm getting chills right now even thinking about it."
Miller said they were a perfect match: "I think it was Sully's old soul, so to speak, that really won him over with the president."
He's named for that other Sully, Sully Sullenberger, who landed his plane on the Hudson River, saving the lives of everyone on board. As far as we know, this Sully can't land a plane on a river, but he can do some pretty amazing things, like retrieving a phone on command.
That's the kind of task he did for President Bush, but a big part of his job was simply giving comfort as the president mourned the death of, his wife of 73 years.
"[Sully] would lie at his feet, similar to how he is lying at your feet now," his trainer, Valerie Cramer, told Chip Reid. "You're in good company! And they got along very well, and they were great friends."
Of course, dogs from America's VetDogs don't just help presidents – they've served thousands of veterans, including Dennis Chipps. He told Reid that his companion, Felix, has changed his life: "One hundred percent."
After 11 years in the Navy and Navy Reserve, Chipps was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. "There's been times where I'd even plan trips to Walmart at 3 o'clock in the morning just to avoid people," he said.
Felix comforts Chipps when he shows signs of stress and wakes him from frequent nightmares. "He'll come up and nudge my side and then place his head on my chest," he said.
Chipps is retiring soon from his job as a prison guard. Now, Felix can be with him 24/7.
Reid asked, "Is he ever gonna leave your side?"
"Not once," Chipps replied.
Valerie Cramer is about to have the opposite experience – losing Sully to his next mission at Walter Reed. "He's gonna make people smile every day," she said. "He's got this fantastic trot. And his ears just flop about. And you just can't not smile!"
It costs $50,000 to train one service dog, but the veterans don't pay a penny. It's all paid by America's VetDogs.
By the way, it was President Bush's decision to send Sully to Walter Reed, where he will wear his vest with the presidential seal, so everyone will know who he is.
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