George H.W. Bush’s Service Dog Stood Vigil By His Casket

Nancy Bilyeau
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Sully, the service dog of former President George H.W. Bush, spent the night of December 2, 2018, lying before Bush’s flag-draped casket in Houston, Texas.

Jim McGrath, spokesman for the Bush family, tweeted a photo on Sunday night, captioning it “mission complete.”

Bush, who served as the 41st U.S. president between 1989 and 1993, died on November 30th at the age of 94. Sully traveled with the casket on the flight from Texas to Washington D.C. on Monday, December 3rd.

The former president’s body is due to lie in state this week ahead of a day of national mourning.

Official portrait of George H.W. Bush, former President of the United States of America.

The coffin is being flown to D.C. on board Air Force One — temporarily renamed Special Air Mission 41, in homage to the late president – and then back on Wednesday, with Sully accompanying the body throughout.

Jeb Bush, the late president’s son, had also tweeted the image, saying, “Sully has the watch.”

Sully, a two-year-old Labrador Retriever, is named after the airline pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, who landed a passenger jet on the Hudson River in New York in 2009, saving all of the 155 passengers and crew on board.

Sully, the yellow Labrador retriever service dog of former President George H.W. Bush, waits as joint services military honor guard carry the flag-draped casket of the remains of his master during a departure ceremony to Washington D.C. at Ellington Field on December 3, 2018 in Houston, Texas. Bush, who died on November 30, will lie in state in Washington before returning to Houston for his funeral on Thursday. Photo by David J. Phillip – Pool/Getty Images

The dog was assigned earlier this year as a service dog to Bush, who used a wheelchair in the last years of his life.

During the summer, Bush tweeted, “A great joy to welcome home the newest member of our family, “Sully,” a beautiful — and beautifully trained — lab from @AmericasVetDogs. Could not be more grateful, especially for their commitment to our veterans.”

According to the BBC, “A highly trained dog, Sully can perform a number of commands, including opening doors and fetching items such as the phone when it rings. He will now work as a service dog, assisting with therapy for wounded soldiers.”

The former president had been receiving treatment for a form of Parkinson’s disease and had been admitted to the hospital with a blood infection in April.

The United States flag is lowered to half mast aboard USS George H.W. Bush on December 1, 2018.

The disease caused slow movements and difficulty balancing, among other symptoms. Bush frequently used a wheelchair toward the end of his life, and Sully provided assistance with daily life.

“Sully could open doors, pick up items and summon help,” The Associated Press reported.

According to the Washington Post, “The display of instinctual, animalistic devotion captured the reaction to Bush’s death in a way that the words spilled all weekend over the Internet could not. Dogs, wrote the poet Emily Dickinson, ‘know but do not tell.’ ”

A portrait of Bush in the White House is pictured draped in black mourning crêpe on December 1, 2018.

Bush and his wife, Barbara, were noted dog lovers.

While in the White House, the Bush’s presidential pets were Millie, a springer spaniel, and later one of Millie’s puppies, named Ranger.

(Spot, the White House pet of George W. Bush, was also a puppy of Millie’s.)

Millie was famously referred to during the 1992 presidential campaign, when Bush said, of Bill Clinton and Al Gore, “My dog Millie knows more about foreign affairs than these two bozos.”

Bush’s remains will lie in state inside the rotunda of the United States Capitol, pictured here in 2005. Photo by Matt H. Wade CC BY-SA 3.0

Sully was part of America’sVetDogs, “a service dog program that assists veterans, active-duty service members and first responders with disabilities.”

The Washington Post said, “The Labrador was raised by VetDogs, first through its prison puppy program that gives inmates a chance to teach animals the basic tasks of housebreaking and standardized commands, and then at the program’s campus in Smithtown, N.Y.”

Sully celebrated his birthday in July “with a bone tied in a bright pink bow. Last week, he was already preparing for Christmas.”

That Sully will continue to serve veterans was important to the Bush family. George W. Bush, the late president’s son and 43rd president, predicted that Sully will bring joy to patients at Walter Reed.

Read another story from us: The First Dog in American History to be Awarded Military Rank

President Bush will be buried at the presidential library in Texas, alongside his wife, who died seven months ago.