A couple of weeks ago, the nation mourned the passing of former President George H.W. Bush. One of those mourners who gained notoriety was Sully, a yellow Labrador Retriever who served as President Bush’s service dog in his final months. The fact that Sully visited former President Bush’s casket was quite symbolic, considering that Bush was influential in passing the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Who Is Sully?
Sully is an adorable, two-year-old yellow Lab. After the former president’s wife Barbara passed away in April, members of the Bush family reached out to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Walter Reed worked with America’s VetDogs to find the perfect service dog for former President Bush. After careful consideration, the organizations chose Sully, who was known for his calm, mild-mannered temperament.
America’s VetDogs CEO John Miller recently told the Associated Press, “After Mrs. Bush’s death, general companionship was a big part of Sully’s job. One of the things that I think was important to the president was the rest command, where Sully would rest his head on the president’s lap.”
The company’s chief program officer Brad Hibbard elaborated, “When we received the request for President Bush, we knew we needed to find a dog that was super adaptable, because the President did a lot of traveling and got a lot of visitors. We immediately thought of Sully; we knew he was the right dog for the job, especially with Mr. Bush being older and in a wheelchair. He needed a dog that would also help him with his daily tasks.”
When you hear the name “Sully,” it may ring a bell thanks to a recent Hollywood film featuring Tom Hanks. That film, of the same name, covered the events and aftermath of the Hudson River passenger jet landing in 2009. It was Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger III who so heroically landed US Airways Flight 1549 on the icy river that day, saving hundreds of lives that day. This is perhaps another touch of irony, as Bush himself served as a naval pilot in World War II.
Sully Gains Notoriety
Sully began to gain attention from the media during the funeral, when a spokesperson for the Bush family tweeted a picture of the dog laying next to the casket, which was draped in an American flag. The spokesperson chose a simple caption for the photo: “Mission Completed.”
The time that Sully spent laying next to the casket was “personal,” allowing him to say goodbye. Those inside of Capital Rotunda were given a two-minute warning when the dog was set to arrive. Sully then walked in with America’s VetDogs program manager Valerie Cramer. He then laid down in front of the casket for a couple of minutes as photographers scrambled for an iconic shot. Afterward, he joined others in attendance for the funeral.
The Next Steps For Sully
Although former President Bush passed away, Sully’s time as a service dog is not yet complete. He is soon headed back to Walter Reed where he will continue to work with military veterans in need of care. America’s VetDogs has said that they plan to place Sully alongside two other dogs currently in service, Sargent Truman and Sargent Dillon.
Service dogs play an integral part of the healing process for veterans upon returning home. The dogs serve as a much-needed companion during a time of need and can help servicemen and women regain quality of life. Service members are not charged for the dog’s services. However, training the dogs can become very expensive. Owners must know what type of dog they are receiving, and training is highly specialized. The $50,000 process includes:
Dogs like Sully are not your average pets. They can perform a wide range of tasks, including turning lights on or off, opening doors, and even answering the telephone. And, their job takes them all over the world. Not only do they serve veterans who return from battle, but the dogs themselves often go overseas on combat missions.
Recently, America’s VetDogs’ animals have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. There, they’ve worked alongside operational stress control teams. The dogs served as part of a new initiative by the US Army that sought to protect soldier’s mental health while deployed. Sully himself, however, never saw time overseas. The company trains four different types of dogs:
- Hearing Dogs
- Service Dogs
- Therapy Dogs
- Guide Dogs
How Bush Was Influential In Passing The ADA
The fact that a service dog was able to say goodbye to former President Bush at his funeral was ironic because the president himself was influential in passing the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. This bill, still in place today, explicitly forbids discrimination against those with intellectual or physical disabilities. Many view the ADA as influential to people with disabilities as the Civil Rights Act was to people of color.
At the time of the law’s passing, President Bush said, “It was the fair and right thing to do…I think there are a lot of people who, if given access to the workplace, for example, can achieve things. But if they are denied that, they won’t have a shot at the American dream.”
President Bush often spoke candidly about the ADA after his time in office had come to a close. He often told reporters and confidants that he was proud of his role in getting the bill passed and that he felt as though it was the best thing he did while in office. Bush often spoke about this frequently after he too found himself in a wheelchair.
At the time of his death, one reporter recalled that Bush had remarked he understood the gravity of the ADA much more after his own experiences with a disability. It was perhaps quite fitting that President Bush was able to spend the last six months of his life with a well-trained pup like Sully. Service animals would not have been possible without President Bush’s heroic actions a few decades prior.