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Dear DASY: remembering the death of Marcus Luttrell's first service dog

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We are closing in on a decade since Operation RedWing, the fateful mission in June of 2005 that ultimately claimed the lives of nineteen men – eleven SEALs and eight Night Stalkers. Of those men, three SEALs – LT Michael “Yankee” Murphy, SO2 Matthew “Axe” Axelson, and SO2 Danny Dietz – died in a treacherous mountainside firefight in the Hindu Kush, leaving PO1 Marcus Luttrell as the lone survivor, a phrase which will forever follow Luttrell, including as the title of his first book and the resulting movie. Many of today’s moviegoers are surprised to learn that the book itself was actually published seven years ago, in 2007, unsurprisingly topping the New York Times bestseller list immediately and outselling other military memoirs by leaps and bounds. Publisher Little, Brown, and Co. made a marketing move when they released a paperback version of Lone Survivor right before the movie’s own release using an up-close image of actor Mark Wahlberg on the cover as well as photos of the movie’s actors on the back. Some were none too pleased to see the Special Warfare insignia known as the SEAL Trident removed from the book’s cover. The Trident is earned by a very select few – about 250 rough and ready men annually compared to the tens of thousands who get through Navy basic training each year. The SEAL Trident is also a symbol of brotherhood branded with pride on the hearts and minds of those few warriors with the strength of will and relentless drive necessary to make it as a Navy SEAL. But there are other symbols of brotherhood as well, perhaps not as potent as the Trident, but powerful nonetheless. And for Marcus Luttrell, one such symbol came in the form of a wiggling Yellow Labrador Retriever puppy he named DASY.

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"And when you look long into an abyss, the abyss looks into you." Nietzsche

After miraculously surviving, being rescued, and, finally, returning home, Luttrell was given DASY as a gift to aid his recovery. And while many think they know the healing power of service dogs for veterans, the only ones who truly understand the immense comfort that can be gleaned from these dogs are the veterans themselves. The love and loyalty of dogs is limitless and unending, but perhaps equally important is Emily Dickinson’s observation: “Dogs are better than human beings, because they know, but do not tell.” Any secrets, no matter how painful, dark, or nightmare-inducing, will be met by your dog with compassionate eyes and amazingly adept emotional responses. And they will never tell. No sorrows and secrets are safer than when trusted to your dog. Your dog will never betray your trust or withhold comfort when you need it, and they will only break your heart when it is beyond their control, and that is in their too-soon deaths.

DASY was Luttrell’s life raft in an endless sea of trauma and perhaps the single most important gift of the generous and well-deserved offerings he was given upon his return home. Her name was an acronym, a tribute to his fallen comrades: Danny Dietz, Matthew "Axe" Axelson, Luttrell’s own nickname, “Southernboy”, and Michael "Yankee" Murphy. With DASY, Luttrell should have had well over a decade of unflagging love and companionship. She should have been there for the birth of his first child - a boy honorably named Axe, for Lone Survivor’s movie premier, and for every moment before, during and after. The least the Fates could do was give this American hero the company of the sweet Lab Luttrell said was “like a daughter". But after just four short years, DASY was ripped from Luttrell’s life in the most violent manner possible.

What kind of a man murders an innocent pet? Such a person is not a man, in fact, such an act reeks of inhumanity. Only the dregs of society would kill a dog for sport. Tragically, those dregs found their way to Luttrell’s Texas ranch on April 1, 2009, shooting DASY in the shoulder using a .357 Magnum and beating her mercilessly with a baseball bat. Reports say it was between 1 and 2 A.M. when the single gunshot immediately alerted former SEAL Marcus Luttrell, who was watching TV in his home. He’d just been in the hospital the week prior and was trying unsuccessfully to rest. In true SEAL style, he ran out the front door towards the danger, grabbing not one but two 9mm Berettas. He did not yet know he was setting off in pursuit of his beloved dog’s killers.

First, he did a cursory sweep and, of course, what any good son would do and checked on his mother. Then he headed for the road where the gleam of headlights shone through the trees. A champagne-colored Toyota Camry sat idling while two men stood nearby. Falling back on his training and years of experience, Luttrell quietly crawled under a fence for a better vantage point. He later told police he could see DASY’s still form lying in the ditch while the two men stood by and laughed. When he got down the hill, he could see there was also a trail of blood where the dying Lab spent her last moments trying to crawl away from her killers.

“Which one of you sorry m*****f****** killed my dog?”

Somewhere in the following moments, it became a high-speed chase. The men who coldly executed DASY did the first smart thing they’d possibly ever done: jumped in their car and tried to get away from an enraged war hero. After checking to see if his dog could be saved and finding her bloodied and dead, Luttrell got in his truck, and it was on. The chase spanned four counties, hitting speeds of more than 100 miles per hour, rushing over railroad tracks, flying over miles of road, and all the while, Luttrell was calmly keeping the 911 dispatcher informed of the shooter’s whereabouts. He bluntly told the woman on the other end of the line that since he knew the fleeing car held at least one armed man, and he himself was also armed, it could “turn into a gunfight,” so she’d better get someone out there. And when the dispatcher reiterated that she did not want him to speed to keep up with the shooter’s car, he told her firmly that he would not simply let the men who murdered his dog get away. His assumption that local law enforcement would probably never catch the men if he ceased pursuit was accurate, especially considering he spent twelve minutes on the phone with dispatch, most while traveling at speeds he reported up to 110 miles per hour. The men would have been long gone without his persistence. When she again expressed concern for his safety, he finally replied, “Ma’am, I’m a Navy SEAL…I know what I’m doing.”

When police managed to intercept the killers by waiting miles down the road, the chase finally came to an end. Luttrell, true to his training, backed up the lone officer until a second unit could reach them. The driver was arrested at the scene for driving without a license and was later charged with animal cruelty. The front-seat passenger turned himself in six days later, realizing he would fare better if he helped the state build the case against the other man rather than trying to hide. But on scene, the men continued to show their intelligence by taunting Luttrell as police took control. Marcus Luttrell showed great restraint throughout, not throwing a punch once the car stopped, not firing a single shot during the pursuit (or after). How would any man or woman respond to having their beloved dog shot in cold blood, just yards from their doorstep? Throughout the 911 recording, his voice remains steady, not betraying a single drop of the pain and rage he must have felt. It wasn’t until he got out of his truck and asked “Which one of you sorry m*****f*****’s killed my dog?” that he let his emotions show at all. The calm in the eye of the storm that SEALs are taught is exhibited throughout the ordeal, for even in the moment he was briefly able to confront his dog’s murderers, Marcus Luttrell maintained control.

The wheels of justice turn slowly, and it wasn’t until December 2011 that two of the four men in the car were found guilty. And it wasn’t until March 2012 that the actual sentencing took place. After giving evidence against the man with the bat, the shooter, Michael John Edmonds, who turned himself in days after the event, was simply given five years probation and fined $1,000. He admitted shooting DASY and testified that it was the other man who wanted to go back and proceeded to beat her with the bat. The man who beat DASY with a baseball bat, laughing all the while, was Alfonso Garcia Hernandez, Texas Department of Criminal Justice number 01776116, who was twenty-four years old on the day of the killing. Both men were suspects in the killings of other dogs in addition to DASY. In Texas, penal code 42.092, Cruelty to a Non-Livestock Animal, carries a maximum sentence of two years behind bars. That is the sentence Hernandez was given, leaving him with an expected release date of March 12, 2014.

In court, Walker County District Attorney John Hafley stated during his closing argument that if Luttrell hadn’t been unable to sleep, the men might have gotten away with killing a helpless dog yet again. Alfonso Garcia Hernandez, Hafley said, “is a dog killer who celebrated like they scored a touchdown.” If DASY had been a person, every man in the car would have been implicated in her death. But because she was a dog – nevermind the fact that her very existence was vital to Luttrell’s emotional health – the other men in the car were simply let go. The fact that the shooter himself, Michael John Edmonds, was given parole rather than a prison sentence has to do with the parameters of the law, that he pled guilty, and the fact that he gave evidence against the man who beat DASY after she’d been shot.

The shooter, Michael John Edmonds, has been out on parole this entire time, which is a rather minor inconvenience for joyriding around, murdering dogs. Alfonso Garcia Hernandez has his expected release date coming up, and one has to wonder if the kind of vicious nature that would inspire a man to beat a dying dog with a baseball bat would have changed for the better one iota over the years. Luttrell saw the case through to its conclusion, fighting so that the men who killed DASY would be punished to the fullest extent of the law. In the end, one did receive the maximum two-year jail sentence, while one was simply given parole and the other two were allowed to walk away. The lives of dogs are not treated as having anywhere near the value that they truly have. With these men walking free, will they offend again? Will it escalate, as criminal psychology shows it tends to.

Service dogs have long been proven to have extensive positive effects on their owner’s physical and emotional well-being. Some of those benefits are listed in the article How Your Dog Improves Your Health (http://www.examiner.com/article/how-your-dog-improves-your-health). And in Using Dogs to Treat Soldiers with PTSD (http://www.examiner.com/article/using-dogs-to-treat-soldiers-with-ptsd) we take a look at the some of the specific ways service dogs help veterans. It has long been said that dogs are man’s best friend, but in reality, the bond between canine and human goes deeper than friendship. Dogs are our protectors, our confidantes, our partners, and our families. When Luttrell said that DASY was like his daughter, every dog lover in the country could relate. And when you add the fact that he is the Lone Survivor of a four-man team that displayed mind-blowing bravery and courage in the face of certain death, Americans as a whole should stand united with their thanks for his sacrifices, and outrage at DASY’s death. It is important for moviegoers to remember that Lone Survivor is not mindless entertainment. It is both a tribute to the fallen and a graphic reminder of the sacrifices our military men and women have made and continue to make. And although, to some, DASY is but a tiny piece of the puzzle, she is also another symbol of man’s cruelty to man (and animals) and the need to fight back. In seeing the men who killed his dog convicted, Marcus Luttrell stood for DASY, and in serving as a formidable SEAL, he stood for each and every one of us, and continues to stand today.

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." Edmund Burke

Author’s note: Marcus Luttrell’s first book, Lone Survivor, can be found online, including on Amazon at: http://tinyurl.com/LuttrellBookONE. His second book, Service, can also be found on Amazon at: http://tinyurl.com/LuttrellBookTWO. Also, Dick Couch’s book, The Warrior Elite, about the making of Class 228, the BUD/S class Marcus Luttrell graduated with, can be found at: http://tinyurl.com/LuttrellBookTHREE. Why not offer Marcus Luttrell your thanks? Luttrell’s website can be found at: http://marcusluttrell.com/ and his Facebook fan page at https://www.facebook.com/The.Official.Marcus.Luttrell.Fanpage. Also, support our wounded service members at: http://lonesurvivorfoundation.org/.

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Partial Source List:

F. Erich. (April 14, 2010). Marcus Luttrell on Border. Run Ryder. Retrieved from: http://rc.runryder.com/helicopter/t582352p1/.

Luttrell, Marcus. (April 1, 2009). Marcus Luttrell 911 Call, Full Version. Youtube.com. Retrieved from: http://youtu.be/I3UFIkqx3Jg.

Msnbc.com staff. (April 9, 2009). War Hero Helps Nab Suspects in Dog Killing. NBCnews.com. Retrieved from: http://www.nbcnews.com/id/30136615#.UvKoFPtZgfw.

Sexton, Buck. (December 2, 2011). Dog Killers Convicted for Murdering Navy SEAL Hero’s Beloved Companion. The Blaze. Retrieved from: http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2011/12/02/dog-killers-convicted-for-mur....

Stark, Cody. (December 2, 2011). Man Convicted in Death of War Hero’s Dog. The Huntsville Item. Retrieved from: http://www.itemonline.com/local/x1202029679/Man-convicted-in-death-of-wa....

TDCJ. (Unavailable). Offender Search Database. TDCJ. Retrieved from: http://offender.tdcj.state.tx.us/OffenderSearch/offenderDetail.action?si....

TDCJ. (Unavailable). Penal Code Section. TDCJ. Retrieved from: http://ww2.co.waller.tx.us/cruelty-livestock.pdf.

Warren, Lydia. (December 5, 2011). ‘She Was Like a Daughter to Me’: Justice for Afghanistan War Hero After Two Found Guilty of Brutally Slaying His Therapy Dog. The Daily Mail. Retrieved from: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2069722/Marcus-Luttrell-Justice-....

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