I am a USMC Veteran suffering from PTSD.  I live alone and until recently I owned a Chocolate Lab I had named Gunner.  My Psychologist at the VA had suggested I write a letter to Gunner as it might be of some help to me in my grief.

There is much to be said of the relationship between veterans and their pets. Gunner was not a certified “Service Dog,” but he was a major stabilizing factor in my life.  He was a very special dog.

This is our story.

I got Gunner when he was 3 months old.  He was my  first dog.  I spent a lot of time, effort and love in training him and by the time he was 6 years old he was as good a dog as anyone could hope for.  I was looking forward to many more years with him. He understood when I was upset and would interrupt me to play or get a brushing or a belly-rub or fetch his red “Kong” ball.

If I had a nightmare during the night he would stretch himself out next to me, or wake me up. Everyone loved him.  He was good with other dogs and he was kind, young, and tough.  He was beautiful.

But Gunner was an adventurous “country dog” and  with a road in close proximity I had to take precautions.  I tried an electronic fence but he would just go through it while it continued to shock him.  So I got a training collar and hand-held transmitter which worked well.  But I dreaded the possibility of an accident and always had an eye on his whereabouts.  Letting him out after sunset worried me the most.  Gunner was frequently slow to come when called at that time and seemed energized by the cooler temps as winter came.

So at around 8pm on Sunday November 10th (the USMC birthday) I let him out and after 10 minutes or so began pressing the beeper to call him in. No Gunner.  So I went outside and called for him. I saw no lights of any vehicles approaching on the road but if I had, I knew that I would have about 30 seconds before they reached my house.

Shortly after, I heard the sound of an impact and a car had stopped.  Despite my fear, I put on my coveralls and set out with my flashlight.  It was very cold and windy and I was expecting to find the worst.  My neighbors had also heard the impact and were out also.  They thought it may have been a deer, but I told them Gunner was missing so we began to search.  Someone thought they had heard a dog whine near the creek.

My flashlight caught the reflection of Gunners eyes.  He was upright and I ran to him. “Its ok Gunner, I’m right here.” I said.  Gunner rolled onto his side and I checked him over.  He was stunned and scared but with few visible signs of injury other than to his right leg.  I wrapped my arms around him to keep him warm and comforted him.

We got him into a wheelbarrow and into the house and onto his bed.  I called the vet and left a message.  Gunner tried to walk a couple of times but couldn’t.  The vet called and after trying to assess his condition by phone, agreed he was somewhat stable.  I arranged to bring him in the following morning.

I treated his superficial wounds and gave him crushed aspirin.  I stayed up all night with him…monitoring his breathing which was somewhat labored between 35-45 breaths. About 7 am he seemed quite a bit better and I lay down next to him and fell asleep.  The neighbor came first thing and by then Gunner was upright and alert.  He even tried to bark at the knock on the door and wagged his tail.  He drank quite a bit of water and I gave him more crushed aspirin.

So on Veterans Day I got him in the truck and took him the 25 miles to the vet.  As I left I noticed his red “Kong” ball in the neighbors yard.  He must have had it in his mouth when he was hit.  I arrived at the vet and went inside.  “My name is Cole and I have Gunner here, I need a stretcher.”   X rays showed no broken bones, but there was a pneumo thorax issue.  And he had radial nerve paralysis to his right leg. I was hoping he would live, even if he lost the limb.

Gunner was still alert and through it all he never once cried, or whimpered.  I reluctantly hugged him and told him I was leaving him there for a couple of days. I was barely holding myself together.

The next morning Nov 12 at 9 am they called and said he had turned critical and was possibly dying.  15 min later they called again to say he did not make it. He had collapsed on the exam table and died at 0915 on 11/12/13.

They wanted to do an autopsy for free so I agreed.  But I specifically asked them not to give me the results for a few days.  I was heartbroken and exhausted. I spent the day at a neighbor veterans house.  When I returned I had 2 messages on my answering machine describing the autopsy report.  I lost it and left them a message accusing them of mis-diagnosing and killing him.

I called the VA the next morning and spoke with my doctor (Jim)….I had an appointment with him the following day but I cancelled, telling him I was exhausted and barely able to talk. He re scheduled me.  I arranged for Gunners body to be cremated and settled up with vet for the bill.

The past couple weeks have been more difficult than I ever imagined.  I feel stunned, heart-broken and alone.  Despite much support I am just “muddling” through.

Two days ago I got the call and drove 50 miles through a snowstorm  to get Gunners ashes from the vet.  A tin about 6x4x4 weighing about 5 pounds (Gunner was 80 pounds).  Gunner is home but I miss him terribly.  My story, although tragic, is one of love and companionship with a very special dog. Writing this down is one way I can say good-by and I want people to know how special he was.

— Richard from Prattsburgh, NY