Not all superheroes wear capes. Heroes come in all shapes, sizes and types, and many of those heroes masquerade as regular souls living everyday lives. They don’t draw attention walking down the street. They are Veterans, doctors, nurses, law enforcement officers, and so many others — even dogs. In this particular case, Sergeant Major Deuce, a Chocolate Lab, stands in a class all in his own.
Most people are familiar with the service dogs that are used overseas to help locate I.E.D’s (improvised explosive devices/bombs) and narcotics, however; those situations are not the only ones in which our four-legged heroes are utilized. Deuce is a facility K-9, meaning he is trained to help and assist in the rehabilitation of injured Veterans in a hospital setting.
Deuce worked at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for ten years. Over that time, Deuce had direct contact with thousands of injured Veterans. Deuce worked hand-in-paw with his dad, Harvey Naranjo, an occupational therapy assistant. Harvey is known to be a “hard-ass” when it comes to therapy, and Deuce is no slouch either. For example, Harvey would make Veterans climb the climbing wall three times in a row, then Deuce would play tug-of-war with the Veterans (helping them to gain core strength and helping with balance). Let me tell you from personal experience, after being physically exhausted from climbing, Deuce would push you to your limits. Harvey and Deuce worked as a team, training America’s elite soldiers, getting them back into tip-top shape. Regardless of how innocent and sweet Deuce may look, don’t let that fool you — he’s a badass too.
Deuce’s work didn’t stop at tug-of-war therapy. Not even close. He was also used to train and assess Veterans who were expecting to receive a service dog. Since the process of getting approved for a service dog can take months, Harvey and Deuce would work with that Veteran to safely teach him or her proper techniques and commands until their dog arrived. Deuce would also assist many Veterans through races, most notably the Achilles Hopes and Possibilities run through Central Park in New York City. For many Veterans, this event was their first time out of the hospital and their first time walking a long distance. Deuce would walk by their side assisting them through the grueling hills of Central Park, being there to support them mentally and physically.
As you can see, Deuce is not your ordinary dog. He even knows some pretty cool commands. Deuce knows how to Salute, Stand at Attention and Stand at Ease, all of which are commonly used commands across all branches of the military.
Deuce and Harvey have a special place in my heart. Not only are they great friends to me, but they helped me heal mentally and physically too. Harvey was the one who suggested that I get a dog to help control my anxiety and emotional issues. I was unsure at first, since I never owned a dog growing up, but the experiences I had with Deuce during therapy made me reconsider. Deuce and Harvey attended an adoption event at the Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C. where they met a little brown pitbull (now named) Nike. After a quick interaction with her, Harvey fell in love with Nike and reached out to me about meeting her. The following weekend, Harvey and I went to visit Nike at the Washington D.C. Humane Society. I really don’t believe in “love at first sight,” but something like that happened. The next day, I adopted Nike and I’ve been head over heels for her ever since.
The first dog that Nike ever made friends with outside of the animal shelter was Deuce. He quickly put her in her place, as he did to me during my first therapy session with him. Over the past two and a half years, Deuce and Nike have become good friends. Even though Nike still has her puppy energy and Deuce has the military barrier of a Drill Sergeant, he still shows love and compassion towards her.
As the years added up, so did the battles for Deuce. Last October, Deuce underwent surgery to have cancer removed from his spine. Deuce seemed to bounce right back after his surgery, just like the Veterans he was accustomed to helping. Unfortunately, within the past month or so Deuce’s health has begun to deteriorate, and the pain from his cancer has returned.
On April 18th, animal photographer Virgil Ocampo honored Deuce with a photo shoot, during which the now white-muzzled hero was showered with a very generous ration of treats and ice cream. Despite being in pain, Deuce sat there like a strong soldier, wagging his tail, smiling with his tongue out for the camera.
Naturally, the shoot became a time to reminisce. Harvey proudly shared stories about all the places Deuce has been — Vail, New York City, Rockaway Beach, etc., about all the Veterans he has helped over his long career, and how full a life he has lived. That moment when Harvey began to share memories really stood out to me. The original purpose of the shoot was to capture Deuce’s spirit and honor him for all of his accomplishments over the years, but I think it was beneficial for Harvey as well. Being able to look at these pictures will be a great way to remember Deuce’s service to this great country.
With heavy a heart, at 12:13 PM on May 3, 2016, Deuce went to doggie heaven to be with all the other heroes. To say Deuce lived a “full” life is an understatement. He impacted so many lives during his time at Walter Reed — Deuce helped Veterans, the Veteran’s family members and many others. As hard as it is to see him go, it was even harder to see him go through the pain he was experiencing. There’s simply no way to properly thank Deuce for all the hard work he did throughout his life. Just saying thank you is not enough. Deuce may be gone, but he will never be forgotten.
THANK YOU DEUCE FOR ALL YOU DID!!
***A special Thank You to Virgil Ocampo (Photographer) , Lisa Staruszkiewicz (Photographer Assistant), Sonja Wahi-Miller (Photographer Assistant), and Carly McGee (Editor).***