WASHINGTON - It's often said that if you want a friend in Washington, get a dog. For the last six months, President George H.W. Bush’s friend was Sully, a service dog.
The yellow Labrador retriever visited the president's casket in the Capitol Rotunda on Tuesday alongside people in wheelchairs who benefited from the Americans With Disabilities Act that Bush signed in 1990.
John Miller, the president and CEO of America's VetDogs, said the Bush family contacted Walter Reed National Military Medical Center after the late president's wife of 73 years, Barbara, died in April. America's VetDogs chose Sully in part for his calm temperament.
"After Mrs. Bush's death, general companionship was a big part of Sully's job,'' Miller said in a phone interview. "One of the things that I think was important to the president was the ‘rest’ command, where Sully would rest his head on the president's lap.''
Sully is 2 years old. He was named for retired airline pilot Chesley "Sully'' Sullenberger III, who became famous for landing a damaged passenger jet on the Hudson River in 2009, saving everyone aboard.
Sully the dog achieved worldwide fame after a Bush family spokesman tweeted a photo of Sully lying by Bush's flag-draped casket with the caption: "Mission completed.''
The pup traveled to Washington with the funeral retinue. And on Tuesday morning, officials issued a two-minute warning for Sully's arrival in the Rotunda. Sully padded in, his leash held by Valerie Cramer, America's VetDogs service dog program manager.
At her command, he lay down — and threw a glance over his shoulder at the photographers scrambling to get his photo. He didn't seem fazed. Cramer then led him around the casket to sit among the others. After a few minutes, the procession headed out.
Sully is headed back to America's VetDogs in Smithtown, N.Y., where he was born and trained, Miller said. Then he'll go for training at Walter Reed to help brace, retrieve items for and otherwise assist the veterans getting care there. Sully will be working with two dogs already in service at the veterans hospital, Sgts. Dillon and Truman.
It can cost upward of $50,000 to breed, train and place dogs like Sully, but America’s Vetdogs provides them free to veterans in need of their services, Miller said.