Former President’s Service Dog Arrives at Bethesda Military Hospital

Former President’s Service Dog Arrives at Bethesda Military Hospital

Labrador Retriever will help with therapy of wounded soldiers

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Sully is recognized during a ceremony Wednesday morning.

Caitlynn Peetz

Former president George H.W. Bush’s service dog has taken a new post in Bethesda, working with patients and veterans at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

Sully, a 2 1/2-year-old yellow Labrador Retriever, spent about six months with the former president, who died Nov. 30 at age 94.

Named after the pilot who made an emergency passenger jet landing in the Hudson River 10 years ago, Sully joins the facility’s six other service dogs helping to reduce stress and increase morale among Walter Reed patients.

At the hospital, Sully will assist with physical and occupational therapy for wounded soldiers and active-duty personnel.

“For us, and for the entire Bush family, we know this is exactly where Sully needs to be,” said Evan Sisley, former personal aide and senior medic to the president. “President Bush had a quote: ‘A definition of a successful life must include service to others.’ and this is truly keeping in that mantra.”

Bush was a Navy veteran who served in World War II.

Sully was trained by Valerie Cramer, service program manager for America’s VetDogs, a nonprofit that trains and pairs service dogs with disabled veterans and first responders, and is expected to work at Walter Reed until he retires. He is able to perform a long list of commands, including answering a telephone, summoning help in an emergency and fetching items.

Sully spent the beginning of Wednesday’s ceremony at the feet of Cramer, seemingly unaware the festivities were in his honor. But when called on to “perform” an oath of enlistment, Sully perked up and sat at attention.

Sully yawns during Wednesday’s ceremony

He was changed out of his America’s VetDogs vest and into a military uniform, crafted from pieces of Sisley’s uniform, officially marking him as a member of the Walter Reed Bethesda Facility Dog Program. It is a fitting landing spot for the pup whose former handler frequented the hospital, Walter Reed Director Capt. Mark Kobelja said.

“President George Bush … came quietly, privately and spent personal, direct time with our wounded warriors, so it’s not a surprise to me when it came decide what to do with the Bush warrior known as Sully … he came to Walter Reed,” Kobelja said.

Capt. Chelsey “Sully” Sullenberger, the pilot who safely landed a flight in the Hudson River in 2009 near Manhattan after both engines stopped working, saving the lives of all approximately 150 people on board, was not at the ceremony. Sully met his namesake last week on the NBC show “Today.”

Walter Reed says its service dogs collectively average 200 working hours per month and “create a positive patient experience” for about 12 people per hour of work.

The dogs are paired with handlers at Walter Reed, many of whom are active duty service members. The handlers take their dog home at night and on the weekends, and the dogs receive yearly physical examinations.

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com

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