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Guide Dog Foundation

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Former President George H.W. Bush, former President Bill Clinton and Sully together at the Bush family estate in Maine. Photo from Evan Sisley

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.”

Sully sits by former President George H.W. Bush. Photo from Instagram @sullyhwbush

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.

America’s VetDogs trained a service dog, Sully, to accompany former President George H.W. Bush. Photo from Instagram @sullyhwbush

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.

Smithtown Guide Dog Foundation puppies get used to different smells, like various plants, at Suffolk County’s Association for Habilitation and Residential Care sensory garden in Shoreham June 13. Photo by Amanda Perelli

By Amanda Perelli

Guide Dog Foundation puppies were tested for their obedience at Suffolk County’s Association for Habilitation and Residential Care sensory garden in Shoreham June 13.

Dogs aged 4-to-11 months were invited to the garden, designed to stimulate children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, to acclimate the animals to a place they may soon be visiting with new owners.

Smithtown Guide Dog Foundation puppies get used to different sounds, like drums, at Suffolk County’s Association for Habilitation and Residential Care sensory garden in Shoreham June 13. Photo by Amanda Perelli

Human guests of the garden can test their hearing by playing one of the giant instruments or smell the vertical hanging herbs like basil and mint.

The Smithtown-based nonprofit’s nine four-legged members did the same, as they became familiar with strange sounds, textures and smells and walked over pavers, asphalt, rocks, dirt, grass and puddles in the garden’s splash pad.

“We are here today to be able to give back to the community — to give our puppy raisers the opportunity to have their dogs experience all these different sights, sounds, smells and distractions,” said Jordan Biscardi, a puppy adviser in charge of the volunteer dog raisers who guided the event.

He tested each puppy on how well it could remain seated between its raiser’s legs under a table, seamlessly walk past another dog and react to its raiser with a “paw” shake.

“When you go out in the real world with a guide dog, they are going to come across everything,” Biscardi said, adding the owners raise the dogs from 8 weeks to between 1 and 2 years old.

This is the sensory garden’s second season, and the first time hosting the Smithtown-based Guide Dog Foundation.

A trainer walks her dog around Suffolk County’s Association for Habilitation and Residential Care sensory garden in Shoreham June 13. Photo by Amanda Perelli

“It’s designed for the purpose of stimulating the senses,” said Leeana Costa, director of development of the nonprofit AHRC Suffolk. “We have some residential services here that we have for the individuals that we support, and this space is designed to be available to them and to their families — anyone in the community — and that way it is an integrated space, which is something that’s important to AHRC Suffolk.”

Residents of the campus Monica Marie Antonawich, Chrissy Koppel and Pam Siems enjoyed watching the
puppies, learning about the Guide Dog Foundation and later getting the chance to interact with them. They said they are big animal lovers and as members of AHRC Suffolk’s self-advocacy group, recently collected food, blankets and beds for the animals at the Smithtown Animal Shelter.

“I thought it was wonderful, I really did,” Siems said of the event. “I’ve had dogs all my life and I would love to take one home — I love them. We wanted to help the animals this year. We collected dog bones and some things for the cats, too, and we want to continue doing this for the summer.”

Inviting the Guide Dog Foundation felt like a natural tie-in, Costa said. It was an educational, interactive and engaging experience for everyone.

“We serve a different population of individuals with disabilities,” she said. “We thought that this would be a nice partnership between both organizations, so that we could build awareness for the great work that each organization is doing — and everybody loves puppies. It was a successful and productive partnership for all.”

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