A Veteran's Best Friend

by Evan Keen
Office of Communications and Marketing intern
Thursday, February 2, 2017 - 11:27am

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Lucy (photo by C. Albright)

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Heather Mueller and Alvin (WWU photo by C. Albright)

Heather Mueller and her husband Richard have a lot to thank their Doberman pinscher, Alvin, for.

Both Heather, who is now a senior at Western, and her husband served in the military for nearly a decade, where they were primarily responsible for repairing and working on ejector seats for military aircraft.  Readjustment has been difficult for both of them, and Alvin has helped hold them together during the hardest times.

A few months after boot camp, Mueller began to have severe stomach pain, which was later diagnosed as endometriosis, a stomach disorder.

This eventually led to Mueller being medically discharged around the time that her husband, whom she met at the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, was honorably discharged. Reintegration into society was tough for Mueller and especially for her husband, who was suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Richard had always wanted a Doberman, so when they left the Navy they went out and brought Alvin into their lives.

“Alvin has helped both of us in so many ways,” said Heather. “On days when my stomach is really acting up, Alvin can sense that and will stay close to me all day.”

After many prescriptions and differing doses, nothing seemed to help Mueller’s husband with his PTSD.

“Richard and I were having trouble with everyday tasks like going to the grocery store,” said Heather. “Having Alvin as a service dog allows us to move quickly through this environment and make the trip more manageable.”

Brittany Dymond and Reuben Cuenca are Western students who met while stationed in Japan in 2009. They served in the Navy for nearly a decade working as cryptologic technicians; their job was to collect, analyze and report on enemy communications.

During their service both served in the Middle East and rural Japan, where they were stationed at the same base. On a deployment in rural Japan, Dymond and Cuenca decided to get a dog - Lucy, a shiba inu.

“We got Lucy in a pet store inside a mall in rural Japan,” said Cuenca. “Once we paid for her she was placed in a box that resembled a Happy Meal box with a handle and air holes where Lucy would stick her nose out, and that’s how we got her home.”

Lucy has been with Dymond and Cuenca for seven years, and has traveled more than most people do in a lifetime. Whenever both owners were simultaneously deployed, Lucy would have to move across the globe to stay with family or friends in the United States.

Now that Cuenca and Dymond are out of the Navy, Lucy is making her presence known.

“She’s been a huge help at the Veteran’s Office,” said Dymond. “Some veterans never used to come in and if they did it would be a quick in and out. Now some of the veterans come in to see Lucy specifically and this has led to more socializing and allowed some of these folks to come out of their shells.”

Companionship can come in many forms but the bond that is formed between an owner and their dog is one that can help overcome many obstacles. For the Muellers, this relationship helped both of them with the after effects of service in the military; for Reuben and Brittany their dog helped them through four deployments and has become a consistent visitor in the Veteran’s Office at Western.

Ann Beck, the assistant director of Veteran Services at Western, has seen the impact dogs have had within the office firsthand.

“I remember one day a veteran brought their dog into the office when it was busy. The dog was laying on the ground with about four or five Marine and Army folks laying with it on the ground playing with it,” said Beck. “Moments like this definitely brighten the mood for the veterans in the office.”