By Chelsea Katz for TheEagle.com
Two days after the first anniversary of President George H.W. Bush’s death, a crowd gathered in the rotunda of his presidential library and museum at Texas A&M to celebrate the bond he had with his service dog, Sully, and to see a new sculpture of the dog.
For the last six months of Bush’s life, Sully was by his side. After Bush’s death on Nov. 30, 2018, Sully caught national attention in a photograph. Captioned “Mission complete” on Twitter by Bush spokesman Jim McGrath, the photo showed Sully lying down in front of Bush’s casket.
Sully was at the rotunda for the invitation-only event Monday, as were other four-legged guests, including service dogs and Texas A&M’s mascot, Reveille.
The Bush-Sully connection was made through America’s VetDogs, the New York-based organization that helps veterans with service dogs. Valerie Cramer, Sully’s trainer and service dog program manager at America’s VetDogs, called the statue unveiling “unimaginable.”
“It’s really quite remarkable to think that all these people are going to see him and feel a part of his life,” she said. “That’s what that statue does.”
Beginning Friday, the statue by artist Susan Bahary will take its permanent place in the legacy and memorial section of the museum, director Warren Finch said.
“It’s a wonderful statue, and what I love about this is even at the end of his life, President Bush was doing something for others,” he said. “This dog was bringing recognition to America’s VetDogs and the service they do for veterans.”
Bahary, who has been sculpting service animal monuments for 25 years, first saw Sully during the coverage of Bush’s funeral last December and said she knew that she had to sculpt Sully.
“I hope that it will really raise awareness and support for service animals and their handlers,” she said.
Sully, now 3 1/2 years old, began training with Cramer to become a veteran’s service dog in October 2017 at 18 months old. Following his service with Bush, the yellow Labrador retriever is now part of the working dog program at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
When thinking about Sully’s placement with the 41st president, Cramer said he was the perfect fit with his intelligence and calm and loyal demeanor. While a good companion for the president, Sully was also good around the rest of the family, including children and other dogs.
America’s VetDogs Chief Program Officer Brad Hibbard said by having Sully, Bush also was able to spotlight the service dogs available to disabled veterans throughout the country. Cramer called the statue a “beautiful gift” that shows the need for service dogs, and also reminds people of Bush’s role in signing the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990.
“It all comes together,” Cramer said. “… To have such a powerful man be strong enough to say that he needed help, and to remove the stigma that others might feel by having a service dog is really a beautiful legacy to leave behind.”