Monday, September 5, 2011


The bonding that takes place between members of the canine world and their human partners has left its tracks through uncounted centuries of time. Whether as hunter-gatherers, in the tending and herding of livestock, standing guard against all kinds of danger, trekking through snowfields and wild country or merely as unfaltering companions, dogs have been intimate members of human society. In
“Part I” of this series, we considered a dog-human “love story” which had its genesis in a chance meeting. The companionship we will examine today in “Part II” of this series has little to do with “chance” and has ramifications far beyond the heart-warming tale itself.
            For as long as America’s youth have marched off to war, they have come home to us scarred by their experience – often in ways which are not immediately evident or easily treated. I for one believe the adage that says “there is no such thing as an unwounded combat veteran”. Having grown up in the home of a father who carried such wounds, and having added to that my own experiences and those of my close companions in a faraway war, I was deeply affected by this book I can only describe in a fleeting and abbreviated way in these few paragraphs. I can say at the outset that the story told by former U.S. Army Captain Luis Carlos Montalvan under the title “UNTIL TUESDAY” takes its place among my list of
recent “favorites”.
            The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the way in which our Military have responded to their demands differ in one important way from nearly all other conflicts, in that our fighting forces have been subjected to numerous and all-too-frequent deployments, some troops returning to combat two, three, four and even five times!  In the deepest days of World War II, this phenomenon did not often occur. Moreover, to a greater extent than ever before (except for the American Revolution), the brunt of the fighting has fallen upon repeatedly-activated National Guard and Reserve units.
            It should not come as a surprise that our returning combatants have often been exposed to both physical and emotional trauma, with neither time nor resources for adequate rest, diagnosis and treatment for what has come to be known as post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. (The high suicide rate among this segment of our society is just one of many painful consequences.)
            Luis Carlos Montalvan came back from his second tour as a wounded, highly-decorated career Army Captain, his vertebrae damaged beyond repair, his brain traumatized by serious and repeated concussion and his mind addled by exposure to the suffering of Iraqi children he was unable to save from a cruel fate and whose expectant faces he could not erase from a troubled sleep. Along with his PTSD came a severe case of agoraphobia, and a fear of people and places that kept him a prisoner of his tiny Brooklyn apartment and the bottles of booze to which he had surrendered. And that was the way it was until Tuesday.
            “Tuesday” was a Golden Retriever Montalvan was introduced to by an organization known as the Wounded Warrior Project, one of a handful of young dogs trained to be service companions by selected  long term prisoners in New York State’s Penitentiary system – a program called “Puppies Behind Bars”.  Preparing service dogs to be companions for PTSD victims requires about two years of intensive training, and an investment of more than $25,000, even before they meet their potential partners; in this case through a group of dedicated professional trainers with the acronym ECAD. Only then is the individual dog fitted - through a rigorous matching process - to the candidate with whom the final training regimen will begin.
            “Tuesday’s” story is particularly touching, since both “Tuesday” and Luis were “wounded warriors” in their own way, and each needed the other in negotiating challenges worth reading about. It becomes “Tuesday’s” duty to anticipate his partner’s every need, from guiding him through New York’s crowded streets and subways, opening doors and drawers, and bringing him home when memory has flown, to reminding him to take his medications and protecting him when a panic attack is approaching. When Montalvan is accepted into Columbia’s vaunted School of Journalism, it is “Tuesday” who takes him to and from class each day, and it is “Tuesday” who shares the triumph – and a matching cap & gown at graduation.
            Altogether, “UNTIL TUESDAY” is an inspiring love story as well as a reminder to us all to enlarge our personal understanding of the special citizens who live among us – those wounded warriors – who have paid a dear price to fight our battles. And especially should we be accommodating to the presence of service dogs attending to their loving duty.

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