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Friday, October 7, 2011

Not a Black Cat

FLD Scout is eager and tries to jump up into the passenger-side floorboard of my Chevy S10 pickup. She's still a bit small to make the leap, so I scoop her up by the belly and plop her in.

Every other Future Leader Dog puppy I've raised gave me a battle about staying put when they first learned to ride alone with me, but not Scout. It's like she knows just what to do. She sniffs out the Nylabone left from our last assignment and settles in for a chew.

We're off to take pictures for an article I'm writing about a medically-discharged Army veteran of 21 years and the woman who sent him handmade cards and letters during his tour in Iraq. I interviewed the vet last week, but I wanted to photograph the two together. Theirs is a touching story, even if there doesn't seem to be a resolution.

Writing letters to soldiers-in-war is Sonja's mission. In her words, "Every one I've written to has come home safe." When she started writing to Charlie, she had no idea who he was or where he was from, but they were almost neighbors. Charlie figured it out, and when he returned from war, he came knocking on Sonja's door.

Charlie is now like a son to Sonja, and she wants me to tell Charlie's story, not hers.

According to the Army, a back injury makes him 100% disabled and unable to work. Charlie doesn't want to be retired, he misses being in the Army and serving his country. He is frustrated with the VA, not only for himself, but also for other war vets who don't get the help they desperately need.

Charlie suffers from PTSD. The little bits of northern Michigan from Sonja helped bring Charlie home safe, if damaged.

Charlie looks at the letters he saved from Sonja.

It is an Indian-summer afternoon when FLD Scout and I arrive. We sit on Sonja's porch in the shade and Charlie shows me the letters. I take pictures and get a few quotes from Sonja.

FLD Scout is a perfect puppy. She greets them, and Sonja's old mutt who wants nothing to do with her, so Scout leaves her alone and settles at my feet.

At some point, Scout gets up to quietly explore, sniffing at yellow leaves stuck to the doormat. Just inside the screen door a fat cat crouches as if she's about to pounce. Scout doesn't notice her at first and ventures closer to the door.

The cat bares her teeth and hisses. Scout freezes, her nose still on the mat. Her eyes roll up, she spots the cat.

The cat growls.

Without lifting her head, Scout tiptoes backwards in wary slow motion, one paw at a time. Off the mat, she stops and stretches to cautiously catch a whiff of this new thing. Should she be scared?

Guess not.

A puppy-breath later, Scout loses interest and bounces over to Charlie. He reaches to pet her. Her tail threatens to lift her like a helicopter. Charlie bends to embrace her and now his face is fair game to her licky-Lab tongue.

I can only match his smile as Charlie starts goo-ing over her and says, "Do you want to go home with me Scout?"

FLD Scout makes friends with Charlie.

Sonja and Charlie on a beautiful October afteroon in Ogemaw County.

Thank you, to all who serve our country!


  1. Erin--good! Hard to not smile with pups like these around!

  2. I could "see" the whole thing with the cat. Great post. I always says the little puppies are therapy dogs before they become Leader Dogs :-)