The 401st Blow :: Thoughts On Media

The Hurt Puppy Locker

Posted in Content by Noah Harlan on March 4, 2010

Somewhere in Hollywood an executive asked if there was a way to make a film that is Hotel For Dogs meets The Hurt Locker. If there is, then it’s this story.

This article (“Even His Red Squeaky Toy Can’t Get First Gunnery Sgt. Gunner, USMC, To Fight” – the link might expire, apologies but that’s paywalls for you) tells the tale (tail?) of a yellow lab named Gunner who is suffering from PTSD in Afghanistan and can’t work. It’s heart breaking. It’s of particular interest to me as both a dog lover & owner, but also as someone producing a film about soldiers and PTSD (Liza Johnson’s Return).

Out of the 58 bomb-sniffing dogs the Marines have in Afghanistan, only one—a brown-eyed, floppy-eared yellow Lab named Gunner—is suffering from such severe canine post-traumatic stress disorder that he had to sit out the ongoing offensive in central Helmand Province.

“With some Marines, PTSD can be from one terrible event, or a cumulative effect,” says Maj. Rob McLellan, 33-year-old operations officer of the 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, who trains duck-hunting dogs back home in Green Bay, Wis. Likewise, he says, the stress sometimes “weighs a dog down to the point where the dog just snaps.”

For weeks after he arrived at Camp Leatherneck, Gunner refused to leave the kennel compound. Even now almost any sound sends him into a panic. If a shipping container door slams somewhere nearby, Gunner hunches down and bolts for an open cage door. If an artillery round goes off in the distance, he races into Cpl. McCoy’s tent, then weaves around the cages, his tail low and twitchy. Even the click of a camera shutter can send him flashing back to some bad experience only he can recall.

I particularly loved the part about how the dogs are assigned ranks:

The Marine Corps gives each dog a military rank, one notch above his handler’s, to reinforce the idea that the dogs deserve respect. Gunner is formally assigned to a gunnery sergeant, so he’s a first sergeant, a high rank among enlisted Marines, human and canine.

It’s really heart breaking and moving.  And if you have a cold little heart that hasn’t been broken by that story, then I defy you to watch these videos of soldiers returning home to their dogs and not shed a tear.

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