Life of a service dog

A Coast Guard Ceremonial Honor Guard member salutes at the grave of Petty Officer 3rd Class Nathan Bruckenthal. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

A Coast Guard Ceremonial Honor Guard member salutes at the grave of Petty Officer 3rd Class Nathan Bruckenthal. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Nathan Bruckenthal 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. Bruckenthal made the ultimate sacrifice for his nation and his memory lives on in all those who serve in the U.S. Coast Guard.

Paying tribute to Bruckenthal’s sacrifice is the national program Veterans Moving Forward. The organization 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 Bruckenthal. Nathan, a golden retriever, is currently being trained by Cyndi Perry.

Over the next few weeks, Compass will be 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.

Nathan, an assistance dog in training, as a puppy. Photo courtesy of Cyndi Perry.

Nathan, an assistance dog in training, as a puppy. Photo courtesy of Cyndi Perry.

Written by assistance dog in training Nathan with help from his human handler, Cyndi Perry.

Remember the East Coast’s “snowpocalypse” in January 2011? Well, I was born, along with my brother and two sisters, in the wake of that storm. We are English Golden Retrievers, and at the time we had no idea what life held in store for us. All we really cared about was staying warm and getting fed. Jasmine, our attentive mom took care of that. She smelled wonderful and was gentle, warm and always gave us full bellies.

Mom was born in Canada – you’ll want to remember that for a later story in my life! – and dad is from Maryland. We ate and slept, ate and slept. Life was good! After a while we had these new sensations – we could see and hear. It was a whole new world. Our first human mom introduced us to all sorts of noises – loud and soft, bells and whistles, sirens and jackhammers – to get us used to what is out in the world.

Assistance dog in training Nathan playing with his sibling. Photo courtesy of Cyndi Perry.

Assistance dog in training Nathan playing with his sibling. Photo courtesy of Cyndi Perry.

And the toys she let us play with! Balls, soft squeaky things, tubes to run through, ropes to tug – it was amazing. While we were not too steady on our paws we enjoyed wrestling with one another, but it was all so exhausting. So we ate and slept, ate and slept. Oh yeah, we did what comes after eating too.

My human parents introduced us to all manner of new things – a flag flapping in the wind can be a pretty scary thing at first, crutches were not too bad and big cow bells that I could barely tug around.

While we were all called “puppy-puppy” at first, soon I had a name. They called me Nathan. I was told it was after this really brave man who was killed serving his country. Nate was on a boat in the Persian Gulf when he intercepted a boat attempting to launch a terrorist attack. I liked the name and try to live up to it every day. My sister’s name is Lori. She was named in memory of Spc. Lori Piestewa, a heroic Army soldier who was mortally wounded when her convoy was ambushed while traveling in Iraq. We both feel very special and honored to names for these heroes.

One day my brother and sister left with their new families, then it was Lori and I leaving the only home we had ever known. I thought I was going to be scared but it wasn’t too bad as we traveled together and we went with a lady who had come to see us several times. She brought us toys and let us wrestle and lay all over her. This lady became my best friend.

When we were let out of our car kennel we saw a HUGE yard to play in. And there were some REALLY big dogs the humans called horses. Gosh, could life be better than this? After a few days Lori left to live with another family to continue her training as an assistance dog.

Assistance dog in training Nathan playing in his new yard. Photo courtesy of Cyndi Perry.

Assistance dog in training Nathan playing in his new yard. Photo courtesy of Cyndi Perry.

My life was not all play, but I have to tell you that even the work seemed like play. I got to go to work in the city with my human and be around her pack. I had to learn that no one could pet me or touch me unless I was sitting down – isn’t that just the most foolish thing. Sometimes I just don’t get humans, for us dogs it is all about sniffing and touching and licking. We went to meetings where I had to be quiet and take naps under tables or desks – no problem.

The first time I saw a big fire engine it was very loud but my handler said it was ok, so we just watched it go by. There were times I had to walk over the metal grates – whoa, don’t look down – but my handler walked over them with me and said it was okay. She kept saying I was learning to be a working dog. Because I am learning to be a service dog I get to be with my human handler 24 hours a day, seven days a week and go everywhere she goes.

Check back soon as I share a story about visiting Washington D.C.!
-Nathan

Nathan and his sister Lori as puppies. Photo courtesy of Cyndi Perry.

Nathan and his sister Lori as puppies. Photo courtesy of Cyndi Perry.

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