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President George H.W. Bush

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

A service dog raised in Smithtown won the hearts of thousands across the nation by demonstrating, perhaps, why dogs may truly be man’s best friend till the very end.

An Instagram photo of Sully, a 2-year-old yellow Labrador retriever, laying besides the flag-draped coffin of the late President George H.W. Bush posted by his spokesman Jim McGraff with a simple caption of “Mission complete” from Houston Dec. 2 went viral, quickly receiving more than 270,000 likes. The dog’s trainers at America’s VetDogs in Smithtown could only watch from a distance with mixed feelings.

“It hit us all very emotionally,” Brad Hibbard, chief program officer for America’s VetDogs said. “It was very sad for him, for George H.W. Bush’s family and Sully. Sully had quite a bond with the president, he slept in his room every night. It was so emotional, very sad but also with pride.”

President George H.W. Bush with President Bill Clinton and Bush’s guide dog Sully

Sully, named after the former airline pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger III who safely landed a damaged jet on the Hudson River in 2009, was trained by America’s VetDogs earlier this year for Bush. The sister nonprofit organization to the Guide Dog Foundation trains and places guide dogs for veterans and first responders who are blind, have impaired vision or have lost their hearing. In addition, they train service dogs for those who suffer physical disabilities or have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Hibbard said starting with Bush’s very first phone call to VetDogs about receiving a service dog, the 41st president expressed his concerns what would happen to the dog should something happen to him. After a lengthy discussion, the former president expressed that he wanted Sully to serve at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, where he had first learned about the nonprofit organization.

“There was no doubt in our minds what the president’s wishes were,” Hibbard said.

Sully will go to work alongside two fellow VetDogs graduate canines, Sgt. Dillon and Sgt. Truman, at Walter Reed medical center next year, according to Hibbard, to help assist thousands of servicemen and women who pass through the facility while undergoing physical and occupational therapy.

“Sully will be able to have a huge impact there,” Hibbard said.

Sully lies at the foot of President George H.W. Bush’s coffin.

After the late president’s funeral, the 2-year-old service dog was brought back to the VetDogs’ Smithtown campus, located on East Jericho Turnpike, for some well-deserved rest and decompression during the holidays before making his next transition. Hibbard said the nonprofit is currently in communication with Walter Reed about the facility’s needs, and Sully will undergo any necessary additional training, possibly in the area of assisting with occupational training, before heading back to work early in 2019.

Once in Maryland, Sully will officially join the U.S. Navy — the same branch George H.W. Bush served in — and be given an honorary military rank as per tradition according to Hibbard. Sully’s fans may be happy to know his trainers are seeing if it’s possible to keep his Instagram account, @sullyhwbush, running.

To learn more about America’s VetDogs, donate or volunteer, visit www.vetdogs.org or call 631-930-9000.

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President Bill Clinton visits George H.W. Bush last year

We join the nation in mourning the passing of former President George H.W. Bush (R), the 41st president of the United States who died Nov. 30 at the age of 94.

Like all who serve in political office, Bush had his adversaries, but in the end we hope he’ll be remembered for the request he made for a kinder, gentler nation when accepting his party’s nomination for president, especially in these divisive times.

Bush was well prepared when he first took over as president Jan. 20, 1989. The World War II combat hero’s political résumé included two terms as a U.S. congressman, ambassador to the United Nations and chief of the U.S. Liaison Office in China. He also served as CIA head and is credited with turning around low morale at the agency. After he lost the 1980 Republican primary to Ronald Reagan, he was appointed by the future president to be his running mate for two terms as vice president.

While some may remember Bush’s only presidential term as ending in a recession and others may criticize how he didn’t do enough to fund HIV/AIDS education programs and prevention, there are those who applaud his approach toward foreign policy while in office. Many will remember him as a strong leader who helped oversee a smooth transition after the fall of the Soviet Union and for being the commander in chief who orchestrated quick success in the Persian Gulf War. On the home front, he was responsible for the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Clean Air Act Amendments, both in 1990.

What we find most impressive about Bush’s achievements is after his term as president he took to heart in making the nation a better country by helping others.

He is most known for his charitable work with fellow former President Bill Clinton (D), with whom he teamed up in January 2005, after his son President George W. Bush (R) asked the two to help figure out how to administer aid to the coast of Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand after a devastating tsunami. Later in 2005, the pair joined forces again and set up a joint nonprofit, raising millions for victims of Hurricane Katrina that had struck New Orleans.

The philanthropic partnership led to a friendship between the two former political opponents and shows how two people from different political parties can get along and even be friends. The two served as a prime example of what can be done when people are willing to reach across the political divide to work together for a common cause.

And when it came to achieving a kinder and gentler nation, Bush knew that goal started in his own home with the love he had for his wife of 73 years, Barbara, who died in April.

We hope Bush 41 is remembered for his quest for kindness, gentleness and lack of divisiveness, attributes that are most needed now.

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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.

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