Veterans Moving Forward provides veterans with therapy and service dogs and amongst the puppies they are raising to help veterans cope with various injuries is an assistance dog in training that is near and dear to our hearts. His name is Nathan, in honor of Petty Officer 3rd Class Nathan Bruckenthal.
Compass is sharing Nathan’s journey from birth, through his puppy “years” and into his final stages of training in our series “Life of a service dog.” We hope you enjoy Nathan’s story as he goes from a clumsy puppy to a focused service animal ready to serve our nation’s veterans.
Written by assistance dog in training Nathan with help from his human handler, Cyndi Perry.
As a young pup I was told a lot about becoming a service dog, even though I really did not know what it all meant. I just figured I would understand someday. For now, I was busy having fun learning about all the new things in my life. My handler who I sometimes call my two legged mom – I’ll tell you a little canine secret, we call humans “two leggers” ‘cause most of us mammals have four – she thought it was time for me to learn a little more about my namesake, Petty Officer 3rd Class Nathan “Nate” Bruckenthal.
As most of you know, Nate was on a security mission near the Iraqi Khawr Al Amaya Oil Terminal in April 2004 when suicide bombers initiated a waterborne assault. He was severely wounded and later died from his injuries. He sacrificed his life for his country and I was eager to learn more about him to live up to his memory.
But since I can’t read, my handler thought it was best for me to visit Arlington National Cemetery to introduce me to Nate. One beautiful spring day we went to Arlington. Stopping at the visitors center for instructions and directions – being a boy and a dog I would not have needed directions but mom wanted directions. She got something on a piece of paper and off we went to Section 60. She picked a row and began searching the raised stones, stopping at various ones for writing that matched what was on the piece of paper.
I started pulling on the leash because I knew exactly where I was going. As a young pup I was not very well versed in your human language. You see canines may not be able to read your language very well but we have some senses that humans either don’t have or don’t exercise very well. We read body language and can “see” emotion via our keen sense of smell. And sometimes we simply see other stuff that is hard to explain to humans.
I finally pulled my handler a couple of rows away and further into the field of raised stones and lay next to one of the stones. Nate was here. She was not happy with my tugging on the leash and walked past me still looking at her piece of paper. She tried to get me to move, but I would not. Nate was here. She walked back to me, I looked up above the stone and she realized we were in the right place. I had found Nate on my own. I “knew” this place. It was a calm, peaceful place. I have never met Nate, but I met him here.
For the first time I realized how important it is for me to carry the same strength of character, confidence, sense of duty – to eagerly serve (oh, that’s where the “service” in service dog comes from) when asked, and to love and be loyal to family, friends and those that might need me.
We stayed with Nate for a long time and I was very comfortable. I told myself I would live up to Nate’s memory and be a proud ambassador for him and the U.S. Coast Guard. I wanted to stay, but it was getting late and we had to go. My tummy told me it was approaching my dinner time. I knew I would see Nate again and that made leaving all right. A few moments after jumping into the car I immediately fell into a deep sound sleep. Remember, we puppies sleep a lot.
About a month after visiting Nate at Arlington, we were off to New York City again. I had done so well the last visit everyone thought I could go again. This time was going to be special, not just because we were going to be meeting people who would help Veterans Moving Forward, but I was going to get to meet Nate Bruckenthal’s father, Ric, and other members of his family. I could hardly wait.
This trip to New York we took the train from Union Station in Washington D.C. to Penn Station in New York City. In the station there were people everywhere and all sorts of smells and noises, which added to my excitement. I met several nice people from Veterans Moving Forward who were traveling with me, but I was focused on meeting Nate’s father. I could barely sleep on the train as it rocked and rattled. Finally we arrived at Penn Station, but had to walk many blocks to the place where the gathering was taking place.
When we arrived there were lots of nice people to meet, but not Nate’s father. We waited. We walked out to pee. I still have to say, when you are use to grass and mulch, peeing on concrete is … well … different. When we got back to the gathering we met several aunts and uncles and cousins but not Nate’s father. Finally there he was! It was hard to get to him because of all the people’s legs in the way. But when I made it to him he dropped down to meet me, not like most people who lean over and pat my head. He came close to me so I could touch and smell him, that is what we dogs do to say hello.
I liked Nate’s father from the moment I met him. He was warm and had a generous spirit. And he likes dogs! He introduced me to Pat who also likes dogs and soon we were all hugging and petting – it was wonderful to feel this warm embrace. Next we gathered for a photo. I got to “sit” right in the middle of all these wonderful people. I was so proud to be part of this family. I am the luckiest dog in the world – I have a canine family, a handler and trainer family, a Veterans Moving Forward family, a Bruckenthal family and a Coast Guard family. I intend to make them all proud.
The evening ended all too soon as we had to catch our train back to Washington D.C. I slept soundly all the way… zzzzzzz …
I hope you’ll join me for my next story, when I share more about my training, but until then catch up on my previous adventures!