In the wake of President George H.W. Bush’s passing at the age of 94, the Internet turned to one of its favorite subjects: dogs. Sully, a service dog who was with President Bush for the last six months of his life as he suffered from Parkinson’s and other ailments, was photographed lying before President Bush’s casket in state. The photo went viral. Unfortunately, as the photo gained popularity, a Slate writer argued that the Internet shouldn’t pay so much attention to Sully, as he was just doing a job, hadn’t lived with the President for years and years and therefore did not have a special lifelong bond with his human. I know that as a dog I say this word a lot, but: Woof.
This is a very bad position to find yourself in, almost as bad as eating your human’s shoe. The writer misses the whole point of what service dogs provide: an invaluable service to many different kinds of humans. According to America’s VetDogs, the organization that placed Sully with President Bush, Sully was raised by inmates as part of their “prison puppy program.” This is an incredible service in the criminal justice realm that provides qualified inmates with a companion they can train, with the added benefit of relocating dogs from kill shelters to human life-saving training programs. One thing we dogs can do much better than humans is smell—in fact, our noses are 40 times stronger than humans’. We go on to detect bombs and other life-threatening substances.
Any human with a dog can tell you how important and valuable the bond between them is; service dogs, with their high level of training and intuition, are bonded to their humans to the highest degree. Service dogs help humans with all kinds of disabilities; from blindness to PTSD to seizure alerts, they bond with their humans in impressive ways that scientists continue to discover.
The writer was correct in stating that Sully was doing his job. But part of Sully’s job is to connect with his person in such a way that he can help, guide and comfort him. President Bush loved Sully so much that he had socks with Sully’s face on them. Socks that Sully probably didn’t try to steal, which, as any of us dogs will tell you, is a behavior only the noblest of pups achieve.
To reduce Sully’s behaviors and relationship to President Bush to mere biological responses and training misses the point. Good pups like he and I have been bred over thousands of years to be loving, kind and loyal to our best human friends. The exchange between human and dog is not cold and emotionless, which is exactly why Sully’s picture resonated with so many people. The exchange is one that made both Sully and President Bush happy.
Sully is going on to serve others at the Walter Reed National Medical Military Center and will no doubt make other lasting connections with those whom he serves. Sully makes us civilian pups proud. Godspeed to his human who passed, no matter how short their time together, and Godspeed to Sully as he improves more human lives.
Stonewall Joslin is an eight-year-old Brittany living in Alabama. His primary research interests include treat allowances, squirrel population control, and nap exemptions in labor policy.