We’ve all seen videos or Facebook posts about animal heroes, courageous critters who save people’s lives, alert family members to fires or intruders, K9 and military dogs who sniff out drugs and bombs, and search and rescue canines who find lost children and elderly people with dementia. Each and every one of these creatures are brave and persevering. Their loyalty is beyond measure.
Many such dogs, military heroes, search and rescue champions, service stars, and others, are honored annually through American Humane Association’s Hero Dog Awards; the program is telecast each fall. Voting for Hero Dog of the Year continues through September 5.
Perhaps you know a courageous critter – a dog that rescued your child or a neighbor’s child from a situation, such as drowning. Maybe your grandmother’s cat alerted her to a fire. Or, you’ve read a story about such a brave pet.
I lived with one. No, she didn’t save the family from an intruder nor did she pull someone to safety. Her name was Sage, and she lived with blindness most of her life. Instead of rescuing people from danger, she courageously lived life, navigating stairs she couldn’t see, whether at home or in a strange building; she jumped up on furniture without having the security of knowing she’d land on the bed, couch, or chair – she couldn’t see and therefore, she bravely tackled the attempt. Sage inspired me, and she inspired others. Through classroom trips and library visits, Sage encouraged children who faced challenges, whether physical or emotional – her life as a blind dog epitomized courageous and perseverance. She lived both daily.
I wrote stories and books about Sage’s life and her impact upon others. One story was published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Dog Did What? Titled “Seeing with the Heart,” I share the impact Sage had on some of the children we met during classroom visits. Her ability to sense when a child needed comfort touched many hearts, including my own, and her kindness and triumph over her disability impacted many kids.
My husband and I adopted Sage in 2001; we weren’t told, and we didn’t realize she was losing her sight. Although we were shocked when our veterinarian told us, “I’m sorry but your dog is going blind; she has an irreversible disease known as Progressive Retinal Atrophy,” we came to accept the outcome. We expected a depressed, dejected dog, but Sage’s courage and perseverance arose, and she tackled many obstacles, which inspired many. That special springer spaniel was the catalyst for me to become a strong advocate for pet adoption and to become an author. My first book, Sage’s Big Adventure: Living with Blindness, was created to encourage children to face their own obstacles with the tenacity Sage exhibited. Five years later, Walking in Trust: Lessons Learned with my Blind Dog, was published; this devotional-style publication discusses the many lessons I and others learned from Sage.
We humans can learn great lessons from the pets in our lives as well as from those who don’t share our household. Animals can inspire us, if our hearts are open to the lessons and encouragement.
Want to read about my delightful dog named Sage? Pick up a copy of one of my books about her!
Learn more about and purchase Sage’s Big Adventure: Living with Blindness here.
Learn more about and purchase Walking in Trust: Lessons Learned with My Blind Dog here.
View a video about my brave springer spaniel Sage and the books about her below.
In 2012, I wrote the article found below for a local publication. I am posting it to my blog today in honor of Luis Carlos Montalvan, former Army captain, author, and advocate for American veterans, especially those suffering from PTSD. Luis died in December; I learned about his passing just last week.
I followed him on Facebook and several years ago, had the honor of meeting him in person. Luis had a service dog named Tuesday, who received the 2013 American Kennel Club ACE Award (Awards for Canine Excellence). The two visited my local library after the release of Luis’ book Until Tuesday. Their story is moving and I was honored to have met them in person and later to follow Luis (and Tuesday) on Facebook. In their honor, I post this article published November 2012 in Our Town Casper magazine:
I recently finished reading an incredible book, Until Tuesday: A Wounded Warrior and the Golden Retriever Who Saved Him. I was privileged to meet and briefly speak with author and former Army Captain Luis Carlos Montalvan. Listening to Captain Montalvan, witnessing his service dog, Tuesday, and then reading about them in Luis’ book, touched my heart and soul. I’ve met a few service dogs and their human partners in times past; coupled with Captain Montalvan’s recent presentation and reading about him and Tuesday in the book, I possess a deeper appreciation for the service that assistance animals provide – as well as a deeper understanding about the horrors of war and the affects upon our service men and women.
In light of Veteran’s Day and my encounters with Luis, Tuesday and their story, I spent a bit of time researching and learning about animal assistance programs for veterans. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will pay for guide dogs for blind veterans, hearing dogs for the hearing impaired, and assistance dogs for veterans with other physical disabilities. However, the agency ruled in September that it would not pay for service dogs for veterans suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) – see link: http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/09/06/13708645-va-wont-cover-costs-of-service-dogs-assigned-for-ptsd-treatment. Yet, it will provide (and prescribe) nearly any type of pharmaceutical drug for treating mental and emotional distress.
Scientific studies show people with pets are less prone to depression, are more active physically, and have lower blood pressure and cholesterol. Dogs, cats and other animals trained as therapy pets visit nursing homes and hospitals and help lessen anxiety among those with whom they spend time. Emotional support animals (ESA) are used with people who have an emotional disability, and can be prescribed by a licensed mental health provider (learn more at the National Service Animal Registry website: http://www.nsarco.com/emotionalsupportanimals.html).
Our wounded warriors can use such assistance. The Pentagon reported earlier this year that suicide among American active-duty military personnel rose to an average of one per day. Additionally, according to the Army Times in 2010, about 18 veterans each day committed suicide. It’s estimated that 30 to 40 percent of veterans suffer from PTSD. These are startling, and scary, statistics.
Capt. Montalvan suffers from PTSD as well as remnants from traumatic physical injuries to his brain and vertebrae from an incident in Iraq. He also experienced nightmares, sleeplessness, hypervigilance, and isolation, common threads in PTSD.
Although his condition improved after being partnered with Tuesday, his service dog, Montalvan will never be completely healed, either physically or emotionally. He relies on Tuesday to get through his days and his nights. Tuesday is trained to respond to Luis’ needs, the physical and the emotional. Tuesday provides Luis balance, steadying him on the bumpy, concrete sidewalks and helping him navigate stairs (Luis walks with a cane). Tuesday provides Luis balance emotionally as well, navigating the signals of anxiety as they walk through towns and travel on subways or airplanes.
Luis admits in his book, “I don’t look exactly like a typical disabled person with a service dog.” And for that, he, and numerous others, have been and are discriminated against. Service animals who are trained to perform tasks to help disabled people wear a vest, often with the words “service animal” or “working animal” on them; there are laws which allow such animals into places where most typical “pets” are not: restaurants and other public buildings, airplanes and public transportation, housing. However, Luis recounts numerous times the discrimination he encountered.
Although Emotional Service Animals are not always allowed in the same places as certified assistance animals, there are federally protected rights for these animals and their human partners, including flying on an airline not being allowed into “no pet policy” housing.
I am grateful those who need such physical or emotional service can and do receive that. Numerous others do not. May this Veteran’s Day be the eye-opener we need to recognize and honor those service men and women who have lost limbs, experienced traumatic brain injury and PTSD, or perhaps even suffer silently yet can greatly benefit from the devotion and care a service animal provides. Our wounded warriors deserve whatever medical treatment suits them best… and sometimes that’s lick in the face or a paw on the knee from a four-footed creature that adores (and sacrifices) for them.
If interested in learning more about Captain Montalvan and Tuesday, visit: http://until-tuesday.com/.
From the Blogger/Author: Although Luis has passed, an upcoming book will continue his and Tuesday’s legacy. Tuesday’s Promise is scheduled for release in May. Tuesday, now 10 years of age, is being cared for by the organization that brought them together: Educating Canines Assisting with Disabilities (ECAD). If you are so inclined as I was, you can make a donation in Luis’ memory and Tuesday’s honor at this website: https://connect.clickandpledge.com/w/Form/9f980d6d-5bbf-4162-be1c-3821bc674d0f
On this Thanksgiving Day, I wanted to share a devotion from my book Devotions for Dog Lovers: Paws-ing for Time with God. May you and your family and friends, including your four-footeds, enjoy a blessed Thanksgiving!
Thankful for the Little Things
Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name! Psalm 100:4
Willie dashes through the shrubbery and rocks, pursuing a bunny along the wooded trail. A dachshund, Willie is just doing what his ancestors did: chasing and in some cases capturing the rats and other intruders on the farm. Willie's family, my friends, know this behavior is normal for his breed. They live in a big city, so they take
Willie and their other doxie on runs through wooded park areas each weekend, allowing their dogs the opportunity to be... dogs! Willie and his canine companion weave through grasses and brush, zip along dirt trails, and sprint across rocky inclines, doing their doxie doggie dash as they search for rabbits and sniff for songbirds. And, each family member gets exercise in the process!
Willie knows these outings are special, and after a bunny chase or a short run through the woodland, he returns to his human family, looks up and wags his tail, as if thanking them for the opportunity to get outdoors, run, play, pursue, and be... himself! After a “good boy, Willie!” the little short-legged doxie dashes off again, sniffing and running like the dog he's meant to be.
After the outing and back in the car, Willie lays his cheek against his people's cheeks, once again as if saying “thank you.” It doesn't take much to make Willie happy, nor most other dogs for that matter: a warm shelter, a loving family, playtime, good food – all things we humans sometimes take for granted, but yet, many people around the world do not have. How thankful are we for our small yet important blessings?
If you have a house or apartment (a warm, dry place to live and sleep), a car in your driveway, and clean clothes in your closet, you have more material goods than many people in the world. If you make more than $10 a day, you have more money than nearly 80% of the people in the world. If you have food on your table and in your fridge, you're already eating better than almost one billion people in the world. If you can turn on the tap and get clean drinking water, you have more than nearly two billion people in the world. (Note: all statistics based on organizations including World Hunger Education Service and the United Nations.)
How thankful are we for these blessings? Do we, like Willie, run back to our Master and thank him? Or do we go through life taking things like food, clothing, and water for granted, grumbling about what we don't have and constantly asking for more? Let's be thankful, even for the small things!
“Father God, thank you for the multitude of blessings you bestow. Thank you for those things I take for granted: food, clothing, water, family, friends. Forgive me for my ungrateful heart and help me to remember that all good gifts come from you, even those that are small and seem insignificant. Help me to no longer take any good thing for granted. In Jesus' Name – Amen.”
Gayle M. Irwin is a writer and public relations professional who volunteers with various animal rescue groups. She enjoys sharing her books and her passion for pets and the environment with others.