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 I grow up I am beginning to learn more about what it takes to be a service dog. A good service dog has to be healthy, happy, confident and steady. Oh, and did I say smart? All of these traits are also traits many Coast Guardsmen have. Just as in their training, I am provided all sorts of experiences so I can be prepared. I’d like to think I am “always ready” just like they are!
While some activities are challenging, I know my human is with me and will not allow anything bad to happen and she actually makes it fun. And so it was that I began flying. Now, I actually can “fly” off the dock into the water to reach a tennis ball. Or, I was once caught “flying” over the couch playing chase with my sister Lori. I know, not my most professional move, but it sure was fun at the time! Anyway, I’m talking about getting into what you humans call a plane and going way above the ground. I have to tell you from a canine point of view this is not an easy concept.
We first went to the airport so I could get familiar with the new sights, sounds and smells. Pretty easy. The next time we went I actually got on a plane! At the airport we had to stand in long lines. Walk a few feet and sit down. Walk a few feet and sit down. The short walks and sitting was punctuated by me occasionally laying down. I am finding a great deal of service dog training is pretty boring.
Then we moved on to stairs, elevators and moving floors – I’ve got to tell you those are simply un-natural, but I got a few treats and lots of praise, so I could do it. After a train and finally a long hallway I was on the plane. Getting in the plane was no big deal. People smiled at me. I peeked into the front where all the buttons and lights are. Then we moved to our seats, in the front row – they said there was more room for me there, I hope I don’t get any bigger or it is going to be one tight fit! I listened attentively as the nice flight attendant talked about safety. I felt the plane rumble, we moved and I began sliding. That was a little scary. But I got a few treats and lots of reassurance. I also got to hold my favorite stuffed animal toy so I felt better. I don’t need my toy anymore – just want to make that clear. I’m a big dog now, a pro at flying and have done it many times on different planes to different places. If the person who I am to help needs to fly I know how to do that with them.
All this flying talk reminds me of how I came to be named after Nate Bruckenthal. You see Nate’s detachment was co-located at Air Station Miami where my human handler’s nephew and godson, Lt. Cmdr. Troy Glendye, was stationed. Even before I was born Troy and Cyndi began talking about me – what kind of service dog I might become and how we might pay tribute to someone’s service and ultimate sacrifice. Troy, a pilot in the Coast Guard, suggested I be named after Petty Officer 3rd Class Nate Bruckenthal, who was killed when suicide bombers assaulted his security mission in Iraq. So Troy wrote to Coast Guard officials and asked permission from the family to do so. Nate’s father happily approved the request. I was about six-weeks-old when I first heard humans speak my name – Nathan. I liked it right away. It is a strong, solid name.
When Lt. Cmdr. Glendye heard I really liked flying, he invited me to visit Air Station Washington for a tour. Troy greeted us at the door and walked us in to this huge room – he called it a hangar. In the hangar was a plane and I got to smell the tires, dogs like to do that! We met some nice Coast Guardsmen who were checking the outside of the plane. Then Troy invited us to see the inside of the plane. Well, he did not need to ask me twice, I had walked up plane stairs many times so this was easy. The plane seemed about the size of some other planes I had been in so I knew how to move about – carefully backing up when there was no space to turn around, not bumping into anything. My human handler calls that body awareness, she says I have good body awareness.
It was very exciting to be at the Coast Guard Air Station Washington and meet some of the great people who are part of the Coast Guard. I am proud and honored to carry Nate Bruckenthal’s name and be embraced by the Coast Guard family. Stay tuned for my next blog as I grow into an awesome service dog!