George H.W. Bush's former service dog is at America's Vet Dogs' campus in Long Island, New York, after an eventful month

By Kelli Bender
December 19, 2018 04:31 PM
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Credit: Courtesy America's VetDogs

George H.W. Bush‘s service dog Sully has returned to the place where his journey started.

After paying tribute to Bush throughout the 41st president’s funeral proceedings — resting by his owner’s casket and attending Bush’s Capitol Rotunda viewing — Sully is back at America’s VetDogs‘ headquarters in Smithtown, New York.

Sully was born at the America’s VetDogs campus and went through his first few weeks of training at the facility before completing his basic obedience training through VetDogs’ prison puppy program.

On Wednesday, many of the people who had a hand in making Sully the loyal service dog he is today, along with dozens of the dog’s fan and supporters, gathered to welcome the Lab back to his birthplace. The crowd included government officials and veterans, all of whom stood to applaud Sully as he entered the event.

The non-profit’s President and CEO, John Miller, spoke on Sully’s past few weeks, including the dog’s rise to fame — jumpstarted by the chills-inducing photo George W. Bush shared of Sully curled up in front of the 41st president’s casket, which happened to be the first shot of the casket shared with the public.

“We all felt a tremendous sense of pride in, not only having worked with the president, but all the different veterans and veterans group we work with,” Miller said of his reaction to shot showcasing Sully’s loyalty.

Credit: Courtesy America's VetDogs

The national attention on Sully following Bush’s Nov. 30 death has put America’s VetDogs in the spotlight as well, allowing the non-profit to “shine a light on the services available to all veterans.”

Valerie Cramer, Sully’s final trainer at America’s VetDogs and the organization’s service dog program manager, was the one by Sully’s side in Washington, D.C., in the days following Bush’s death, and she is the one by his side today.

Credit: Kelli Bender

Having Sully back in her life seems to be bittersweet for Cramer, who has a “long relationship” with the Lab, because she loves being with Sully, but she also witnessed the bond Sully shared with the former president.

Cramer was the one who “took the call” from the Bush family when they contacted America’s VetDogs, on Walter Reed Medical Center’s recommendation, about finding a service dog for Bush following the death of his wife Barbra. And it was Cramer who dropped Sully off with his new owner in Kennebunkport, Maine, once the canine’s training was complete.

“From the first moment that the president said ‘Welcome home!’ I knew that it was an absolutely perfect match,” Cramer said. “As our training drew to an end, I watched the president and Sully, surrounded by family, near the beach, watching their guests jump off the dock into the sea and enjoy the day. It is a picture that will always remain in my mind. It was then that I was sure that it was time for me to leave Sully to do his job.”

Credit: Courtesy America's VetDogs

Before Bush died, he made it clear that when he passed away, he wanted Sully to go on to help other veterans. America’s VetDogs has honored this promise. Sully is set to become a facility dog at Walter Reed Medical Center. This transition is scheduled for February 2019.

“In his new role, Sully will visit injured veterans, helping to provide comfort during rehabilitation center sessions and visit with families during what can be an emotional and very difficult time. He will be fulfilling President Bush’s request,” Cramer added.

Until Sully makes his move to Bethesda, Maryland, he will be staying with Cramer in Long Island, New York.

Credit: Kelli Bender

“We’re polishing up some of his training,” Cramer said of Sully’s holiday plans after an eventful month. “I am just giving him time to settle in and relax.”

Relaxing for Sully means lots of running (one of his favorite activities) and picking up a new hobby: the energetic Lab has taken up bowling.

“One of the tasks that I teach for the dogs at Walter Reed, is that the dogs bowl for people. So I have a little set and we put it on the floor. Maybe there’s a child that has been in the hospital for a long time and hasn’t gotten out of bed for a while, so they can bowl with them,” Cramer said.

“[The dogs] push the bowling ball with their nose and knock the pins down. It’s just interactive and joyful.”

Sully will also learn other new tasks during his winter break, so he will have all the tools he needs to help Walter Reed’s patients come February.

To learn more about Sully’s training and the numerous ways America’s VetDogs helps veterans, visit the non-profit’s website.