- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at email@example.com.
By Rebecca Frankel
Chief Canine Correspondent
The devastating and long-lasting effects of PTSD are something Tom has discussed at length on this blog. It seems that the trauma of war does not discriminate — war dogs get PTSD, too.
Despite their special training, some dogs don’t ever adapt to the conditions of a war zone or life as a bomb-sniffing dog. Such was the case with Gunner, a yellow Labrador with “liquid brown eyes.”
When Gunner first arrived to serve with Marines in Afghanistan his trainer decided he was too distracted and “so skittish that the troops never risked sending him on patrol.” The Marines decided he wasn’t fit for duty and Gunner was put up for adoption. He couldn’t have found a more fitting home — Gunner was adopted by the Dunhams, a couple whose son, Jason, a Marine, died after sustaining shrapnel wounds from a grenade blast while serving in Iraq.
“My Marine never came home,” says Jason’s mother. “I have a place for a Marine.”
When the Dunhams heard about Gunner they filled out an application and then drove 16 hours to collect and bring the dog home. From the beginning the couple was aware of the dog’s condition — as Deb Dunham told the Wall Street Journal: “[Gunner] was declared excess, which really offended me because he’s not excess. He’s just disabled.”
But Gunner’s “disability” was perhaps more complicated than his new family realized. He would only sleep in his crate and was jittery (“even the site of cameras sent him slinking”). Early on in his stay with the Dunhams, a thunderstorm sent Gunner “cowering with his nose in the corner [of his crate] and his tail sticking out the door.”
But the Dunhams remain positive and patient with their new charge. As Mr. Dunham told the WSJ:
‘I think Gunner will overcome. Everybody’s resilient — human and dog.
To us it’s like Jason died yesterday,’ says Dan. ‘To Gunner, whatever happened to him — it’s probably like that happened yesterday. We get up each day and find a new way to get through the day realizing that Jason’s not here. We have to pass that on to Gunner.'”
Special thanks to Michael M. Phillips of the Wall Street Journal for his great article and for sharing his photos of Gunner.