George H.W. Bush service dog photo goes viral

WILMINGTON, N.C. (WTVD) -- It's the photo seen around the world- Sully, the service dog of former President George H.W. Bush, posted beside Bush's casket with a mournful look on his face.

Since the photo went viral, there's been an uptick of interest in the lives and duties of service dogs.

RELATED: Service dog 'Sully H.W. Bush' escorted into the Capitol Rotunda

ABC11 checked in with Pat and Rick Hairston, owners of Canines for Service in Wilmington, to learn more about dogs like Sully.

"They can be trained to assist somebody who has mobility impairment. Pick up dropped items, load and unload a washing machine, retrieve dropped items. Whatever a person who is mobility limited might need," said Pat Hairston.

Hairston told ABC11 the service animals they train are all shelter or rescue dogs that spend roughly a year learning how to perform tasks for a physically challenged partner.

That training comes with a hefty price tag, $32,000 per dog. If more knowledge and skills are learned, the value of trained dogs jumps to $54,000; however, Hairston told ABC11 they give trained dogs to the people who need them at no charge.

Sully's specifically trained to handle issues related to president Bush's Parkinson's Disease. "That bond in itself is almost a reward for the dog," Hairston said, "Because they are so people focused."

So what happens to the bond when the human half of the relationship dies?

"The dog will mourn, the same as humans mourn the loss of their loved one. The dog will need to be given, perhaps, some time to transition, and understand that his person is not there anymore," Hairston said.

She also said the dog's age can influence what happens after a death. Dogs older than about six don't have many years of service remaining due to potential health issues, so the families of the deceased are sometimes asked if they'd like to adopt. If not, Hairston and her staff try to place those older dogs in good local homes.

Sully is still a young dog and has a lot of life in him, and he will stay busy at his next stop, the Walter Reed Medical Center.

There, like the dogs trained in Wilmington, he'll assist disabled veterans and other wounded warriors adjusting to the challenges of life at home.
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