A Smithtown-based nonprofit has given a former United States president a new best friend to help him through his golden years.
America’s VetDogs delivered a specially trained service dog to former President George H.W. Bush at his family’s Maine estate June 25. Two staff members were on hand as Sully, a 2-year-old yellow Labrador retriever, met the president for the first time.
“Sully is a very compassionate dog, skilled at the tasks of retrieval and opening and closing doors,” said John Miller, president and CEO of America’s VetDogs. “Between his temperament and his skills, we knew he would be the right fit for the president.”
America’s VetDogs, a sister 501(c)(3) organization to the Guide Dog Foundation, trains and places guide dogs for veterans and first responders who are blind or have impaired vision or have lost their hearing. The organization also trains service dogs for those who suffer from physical disabilities or have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Bush first learned and made contact with America’s VetDogs to request a service dog through their program at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, according to Miller. He said the organization has three service dogs in the hospital who assist veterans who are currently inpatients for operations or in recovery.
“They work all day long going room-to-room to cheer up veterans to assist them, retrieve items as small as a credit card or cane, and open or close doors,” Miller said. “Most importantly, they bring smiles to all the veterans.”
Sully, who was hand selected for Bush, is named after the former airline pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger III, who became famous after he safely landed a damaged passenger jet on the Hudson River in 2009. The Labrador was raised and trained through the VetDogs prison puppy program, in which inmates raise future service dogs until they are 15 months old. The inmates work with the puppies on housebreaking, obedience, standardized commands and three basic service dog tasks: retrieve, push and pull.
Once America’s VetDogs staff selected a service dog for the president, Miller said they created a video that demonstrated Sully’s skills and took a number of photographs to send to Bush and his staff. Two staff members made the flight to the Bush’s family compound, Walker’s Point in Kennebunkport, Maine, to introduce the president to his new canine companion.
“Sully has been getting rave reviews from the president,” Miller said. Bush’s staff members have already set up an Instagram account, @sullyhwbush, to share photos of the dog meeting with the president and exploring his new home. The account had more than 33,000 followers as of the date of this publication.
Bush’s staff member could not be reached for comment on Sully.
America’s VetDogs has previously trained a service dog for former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Arizona) who was shot while at a campaign stop in 2011, according to Miller, but never before a president. Each dog costs more than $50,000 to breed, raise, train and place, but is provided at no cost by VetDogs to the individual receiver thanks to donations from corporations, foundations and businesses.
“Sully will be the highest profile service dog in the history of the country,” Miller said.
To learn more about the Smithtown-based nonprofit, visit its website at www.VetDogs.org.