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Furry Tails: A Hero’s Hero

By: Heather Lang
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(Photo Credit: Jeff Geissler / Source: Animal Friends)

(Photo Credit: Jeff Geissler / Source: Animal Friends)

“He’s my best friend.”

The story of former U.S. Army Capt. Luis Carlos Montalvan and his service dog Tuesday is about much more than a man and his pet.

You see, Tuesday is not a pet. No, Capt. Montalvan hates that word.

Tuesday is family, friend, brother, companion, caretaker, confidante. A “beloved furry spirit.”

The word “pet,” says Capt. Montalvan, “trivializes our relationship.”

Appropriately, the 17-year military veteran and his dog visited Animal Friends this past weekend, just in time for the 4th of July. It was an honor to go and hear him speak. And Tuesday is a big furry ball of love, compassion and friskiness.

He spent much of the lecture lying contently at Capt. Montalvan’s feet.

He did show off some of his stuff though, retrieving the veteran’s cane, a water bottle, a wallet, and believe it or not, pancake thin credit cards. How about that identity theft protection!

There was also the touching moment when the tall, strong former soldier and his floppy-eared, shaggy companion shared a hug. Tuesday almost jumping into Capt. Montalvan’s lap! How connected they are, the deep affection and respect is obvious.

(Photo Credit: Heather Lang)

(Photo Credit: Heather Lang)

Loyal, intelligent, friendly, bouncy. Dare I say, this Golden Retriever knows more about how to live a full and joyful life than most people. But we’ll come back to that.

First, some background. Capt. Montalvan is the author of Until Tuesday: A Wounded Warrior and the Golden Retriever Who Saved Him.” A movie, by the way, is also on the way!

A true hero, Capt. Montalvan served multiple tours in Iraq and is the recipient of numerous awards, including a Purple Heart and an Army Commendation Medal of Valor.

But when he got home, honorably discharged in 2007, he was dealing with a lot, to say the least. Injuries, physical and mental, notably severe Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, figuratively paralyzed him.

Agoraphobia, a traumatic brain injury, night terrors and alcohol “to take the edge off.” He also says the PTSD “eviscerated his ability to trust.” And “if you can’t trust, you can’t engage in real relationships.”

It was the highly-trained Tuesday that brought him back to the world, got him up and out of his apartment, and made it possible to get back to, well, living.

Capt. Montalvan called Tuesday his “furry grounding rod.” Keeping him balanced – in more ways than just having to do with the pronounced limp he walks with.

The dark-brown Golden Retriever with a big wet nose wears a black and bright orange vest with an American flag on it and the words “SERVICE K-9” printed all over it. On his back, the vest has a handle where a person can grip for stability. Side-by-side, steadiness, togetherness.

That’s just one of the ways Tuesday cares for the veteran though. Capt. Montalvan himself referred to Tuesday as “his caretaker.” And it’s a mutual relationship.

Tuesday fetches shoes, and Capt. Montalvan brushes him. Tuesday wakes him from nightmares – hot breath and a cold nose on the neck in the middle of the night, and Capt. Montalvan provides the food and treats. And so on and so forth…

(Photo Credit: Heather Lang)

(Photo Credit: Heather Lang)

It really puts into perspective the 33,000-year relationship we’ve had with dogs that Capt. Montalvan talked so much about. He says dogs are “our oldest and most loyal friends.”

Working beside us, fighting with us – day in and day out. 33,000 years. Honestly, when he brought this up, I began thinking about Pittsburgh Police K-9 Officer Rocco. His life and death put into new context for me.

His life on the line, protecting the public and his partner. Sure, Rocco was a working dog, but I’m sure he got excited just like every other pup when the garage door went up, the promise of his family coming home. The wiggling butt and wagging tail a sign of his unconditional love.

The giving of his life to protect his partner and the other officers out on that fateful call, the ultimate sign and sacrifice.

Truly, dogs are our protectors, aren’t they? Examples from Capt. Montalvan – dogs who fight on the front lines with our brave men and women in uniform, police K-9s, border patrol dogs, farm workers, and, of course, guarding our homes as well as looking after their humans.

Let’s be honest, dogs know when something is wrong on the home-front. Not only do they jump into fits of barking when an unknown truck pulls up outside, but they also sense sadness, worry, illness and more.

Capt. Montalvan says it’s due to their “highly-developed sense of olfaction.” Dogs smell 100 million times more what we do. They can sniff out how we’re feeling due to, for lack of a lovelier word, perspiration. That’s how Tuesday knows Capt. Montalvan needs help, and he’s always ready to jump into action. A true and proper protector.

So, back to that full and joyful life that Tuesday has us beat on. It’s Capt. Montalvan who put that into perspective. Recently, he said, they spent a day off, relaxing. During a walk, they spotted a sign: “Rules for Happiness.” There were three.

1.) Purpose
2.) Love
3.) Hope

(Photo Credit: Heather Lang)

(Photo Credit: Heather Lang)

Tuesday’s mission is clear. He’s the hero of one of American’s finest and bravest – bringing purpose, love and hope to a good man’s life. And now to so many more. That happy-go-lucky pup does it aware of the responsibility, but also with a lightness that can give us all hope.

From my own Golden Retriever and me, thank you Capt. Montalvan for your service to our country. Your bravery and strength are truly inspiring.

And to Tuesday, it’s a big heart like yours and the unconditional love you give that makes me believe in humanity. Not just a pet, but a living, breathing, feeling, loving spirit.

For more information on “Until Tuesday: A Wounded Warrior and the Golden Retriever Who Saved Him,” visit the links below:

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Send us photos of your Pittsburgh Pet here:

Stay tuned animal lovers for more Furry Tails! You can follow me on Twitter at @HeatherLang24

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