Slate’s Sully Bush Service Dog Fumble

Ruth Graham slanders disabled community

Photo by Jim McGrath

Service dogs are more than pets, and they certainly deserve our respect.

Slate, an online media platform recently published and tweeted out an article entitled “Don’t Spend Your Emotional Energy on Sully H.W. Bush.” This article, by Ruth Graham, is a response to the overwhelming flood of articles about Sully H.W. Bush, service dog to the late president George H.W. Bush who passed away this week.

Sully was famously photographed by Bush spokesman Jim McGrath while laying solemnly next to the casket of his presidential handler. The photo captured the hearts of the nation and the responses were overwhelming.

Graham however was less moved: “The photograph, in other words, is not proof that Sully is a particularly “good boy” or that “we don’t deserve dogs,” as countless swooning tweets put it on Monday. On its own, it says almost nothing other than the fact that Sully was, at one point in the same room as the casket of his former boss. This is simply a photograph of a dog doing something dogs love to do: Lie down.” She would continue her tirade by pointing out that the response from the American public was only a feeble attempt for humanity to project their emotions onto an animal.

Experts disagree. Dr. Stanley Coren of Canine Corner published an article on Psychology Today in 2013 that outlined that dogs experience many emotions including love, joy, fear and distress. Gregory Burns, a neuroscientist at Emory University trained dogs to use an MRI machine to test their emotions and found that there are many similarities between dogs and people in the structure and function of the caudate nucleus, the area of the brain with the largest cluster of dopamine receptors. He also found that many dogs preferred praise to food, and all dogs respond to affection.

Contrary to Graham’s opinion that dogs are not capable of bonding quickly, dogs have historically proven to be incredibly loyal creatures. In 2007, while on tour in Iraq, Major Brian Dennis met a wild dog with clipped ears. He and his fellow Marines quickly befriended the dog and named it Nubs. Nubs had been stabbed in the side by an enraged Iraqi soldier, Dennis helped nurse Nubs back to health before he and his Marines had to leave Nubs behind and travel 75 miles to a new base. Several days later, the Marines were surprised and overjoyed to find that Nubs had tracked their humvee through the desert to reunite with his human friends. Nubs now lives in California with Dennis.

The greatest disservice this article did was to service dog handlers – people with disabilities which force them to rely on animals to help perform daily tasks. As a service dog handler myself, I know that people with service animals wouldn’t consider their dogs merely household pets. They are highly trained, intelligent workers with the ability to sense seizures, smell diabetic emergencies, guide the blind, hear for the deaf, calm the anxious, assist the wheelchair bound, recognise a PTSD flashback, feel emotions, and even alert the endangered. Handlers do not certify their pets so they can strut them around in supermarkets or ignore local and federal laws. They wait in line (often for several years) to receive these specially trained heroes for upwards of $30,000. Service dogs provide assistance and normalcy, enable freedom, and give companionship to their handlers– service dogs save lives.

Slate has undermined the disabled community, mocked those with service dogs, and belittled a family who has lost a loved one.

Being progressive and accepting means always treating others with respect and without bias, regardless if they go against your political agenda.

Trying to malign the image of a deceased politician by mocking his disability and his assistive aide is an unscrupulous attack. Ruth Graham’s caustic words only serve to further the divide in our nation. It is incumbent upon Graham to apologise to the Bush family and the disabled community for this terrible blunder.