What does the life of one dog matter within the priorities of human existence? On March 2, many in my world and many others came together at the University of Florida Small Animal Hospital to honor the memory of one special German shepherd “wonder dog” named Honey.
Honey came into this world on January 22, 2010, and lived her life as a trained and certified medical service dog for Vietnam veteran Michael Gaither of Chiefland for all of her eight years on this earth. In addition to her duties of assisting him and enriching his life, she saved his life on many occasions by calling 911, waking him with one paw and pulling his oxygen mask back to his face when it fell off in his sleep.
Honey was very much a smart dog. She earned many medals from the American Kennel Club for her service to Michael and our prestigious War Dog Medal for her service to our veterans. She was honored by our governor, hospice, the Masons, the Levy County Commission, the Chiefland City Council and a Levy County judge. One could never be sad in Honey’s presence.
On March 2, her duty and watch ended as she crossed over the rainbow bridge to her eternal reward where angels now sing for her. Her doctors at UF Small Animal Hospital treated her for two separate diseases. When it was determined by her doctors and Michael that she was beyond the scope of veterinary medicine and her conditions were declining, humane euthanasia was recommended.
My heart today is filled with gratitude for all the wonderful people who helped Honey end her life in a calm, peaceful, patriotic, prayerful and respectful manner. Law enforcement agencies and their K-9 teams in both Levy and Alachua counties came together and gave her a last-ride honor from her home and a last-salute honor as she took her walk into the entrance to UF Small Animal Hospital.
In addition to dedicating her life to Michael, she was an ambassador for the U.S. War Dogs Association with her participation and support of veterans’ events and the Kids for K9s educational program we sponsor.
Honey took the fright away from children who feared working dogs and taught them the value of all our hero dogs who serve mankind. Our military and law enforcement depend on them to keep us safe secure and free. Children learned more about how dogs protect us from enemies, help prevent and solve crimes, and find missing children and Alzheimer’s and dementia patients.
They learn the many ways they serve our veterans who have health and mobility limitations and taking away the demons they face in their dreams from post-traumatic stress disorder. They learn how they find our fallen to bring them home to be laid to rest with honor. They learn how they help us see and hear and how they assist us in life’s challenges and comfort us in tragedies. They learn how there would be 10,000 more names on the Vietnam wall were it not for these dogs.
I benefited personally from the friendship and trust Honey gave to me when she was not wearing her vest. Even though I dream now of the moments we shared with her green ball and wish I could have them back. Despite how it hurts to lose her, every minute with her was worth the journey and the sorrow of her loss by having her in my life.
I’m grateful to Michael and Kay Gaither for sharing her with me. On March 2 the grounds of UF Small Animal Hospital felt a tsunami of tears as a large crowd of people came to honor a life well lived and well served. Prayers were said for her by a judge and bagpipes honored her with spiritual and patriotic songs.
She touched the lives of so many and left her paw prints on their hearts. Now she has gone where all the good and hero dogs go — a life that truly mattered and one that made a positive difference in our world.
Honey will always be loved and missed and will never be forgotten. God took back her beautiful soul and we must trust his reasons why. May she now and for all eternity rest and play in peace.
Barbara Snow is executive director of the Southern chapter of the U.S. War Dogs Association.