President Bush’s dog Sully is just “a service dog who had been with the president for six months, not his lifelong companion,” Ruth Graham wrote for Slate. Graham is not impressed with the viral post of Sully laying at the foot of Bush’s casket. While pets, Graham concedes, do react to their owner’s deaths, Sully is not proof of Bush’s character and his 6 months of service should not be sentimentally conflated. At the end of the day, Sully was just an employee.
- Do you believe Sully was truly heartbroken?
- Should the press be giving so much political importance to a dog?
Sully, the Lab retriever, walks on the tarmac at Joint Base Andrews on Monday, following the hearsay of former President George H.W. Bush.
In January 2009, a pilot named Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger steered his struggling aircraft to a safe landing in the Hudson River and became a national hero. Almost 10 years later, a dog named for the pilot became a beloved “hero” for himself, and he did it much easier: to lie down.
On Sunday night, George H.W. Bush spokesman Jim McGrath posted a Twitter photograph depicting a golden Labrador named Sully sitting in front of the casket of the former president.
Within hours, Sully the dog had become a bona fide celebrity. McGrath’s sentiment has been retweeted 61,000 times and counting, and “Sully” was trending on Twitter at various times on Monday. C-SPAN covered the dog’s arrival at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on Monday afternoon. The picture of the dog lying in front of the casket was covered by outlets from Fox News to NPR as the internet exploded with tributes to the pair’s “forever friendship.” The photograph was submitted as evidence of Bush’s character, of Sully’s character, and as support for the idea that America should not elect a president who “does not love and is not loved by pets.” Heavy.com offered “5 Fast Facts You Need to Know” about the dog. People magazine gushed that Sully was “keeping the 41st commander in chief safe in death as he did in life,” and even produced a slideshow of their “special friendship.” Many suggested Sully was heartbroken, and/or that they themselves were crying over the photo; conservative writer Dan McGlaughlin compared the dog to a Marine.
There’s nothing wrong with applying sentimentality when it comes to family pets reacting to their owners’ deaths. There’s even some preliminary evidence from the small field of “comparative thanatology” that animals notice death, and that some may even experience an emotion we might compare to grief. But Sully is not a longtime Bush family pet, letting go of the only master he has known. He is an employee who served for less than six months.
Sully’s Instagram account, which has 147,000 followers as of Monday night, has been active since late June. That’s when “he” posted a photograph with a sign reading “Walker’s Point Here I Come,” referring to the location of the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine. Sully arrived there over the summer to help the former president, who used a wheelchair because of symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, with tasks like opening doors and picking up objects.