Cross-Rutted Column

Jean Turner | November 6, 2019

Cross-Rutted

COLUMN

Our nation’s eyes are currently on canine war veterans following the news of the hero dog injured in the recent Syrian raid, and rightly so. The story of the dog (and her handlers) who cornered the ISIS leader in Syria is remarkable in every sense; Conan and her team deserve our utmost respect. Her story brought to mind another honorable veteran I met at the Bonneville Salt Flats in 2018—his name is Bullet.

Last summer at the Bonneville Motorcycle Speed Trials (BMST) as we gathered for the riders meeting, I snapped a few photos of a Belgian Malinois who was wearing goggles and a camo vest with a patch that read, “Doin It For The Bitches.”

Upon closer inspection, there was a smaller “Special Forces” patch and his collar read “K9 Explosives.” I chatted with his owner, David Scott, a competitor at BMST and also a veteran.

“This is Bullet,” David proudly said in the deepest voice you can imagine. “I got him from Mission K9 Rescue in Texas.”

Cross-Rutted Column
You meet the nicest people at the races. But sometimes they’re not people at all.

The story of Bullet is far more complicated than a veteran canine retiring to a loving new home. What never occurred to me is that our canine soldiers suffer from PTSD, much like their human counterparts. Sadly, it is even harder for the dogs to find the help they need to cope with life after service. But thanks to guys like David Scott, healing and rehabilitation is possible, even for a dog like Bullet who was nearly deemed beyond rehabilitation after his eight years in Afghanistan.

“When I got him, he was so aggressive they were kinda fearful of who they could give him to,” David explained. “They were thinking about a guy named Mike Ritland that’s a retired Navy SEAL, and he trains dogs for special operations. But he has a non-profit Warrior Dog Foundation that takes in dogs that are super aggressive that have been at war and they have real issues like doggy PTSD. He puts them out to pasture and lets them live their life out on his ranch. I donate every month to his Warrior Dog Foundation. They were thinking about giving Bullet to him but I said, ‘you know what, I think I’ll try it.’

“When I got him it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. I got bit. My girlfriend almost got bit, my realtor almost got bit. He was really, really aggressive. But what I did was slowly over time, I got him to learn that people aren’t bad.”

David spent the next three years working with Bullet every day, helping him learn to be “at ease” and trust people again.

“What I did was I muzzled him, and I’d let people try to pet him and he’d try to attack and bite them. After a while, he started going, ‘Well that’s not so bad. That kinda feels good to get my ear scratched by someone I don’t know.’ So after a while, he got calm and I pulled the muzzle off, and I started letting people very carefully pet him. It took about three years and he’s my family pet now.”

Seeing Bullet sprawled casually on the salt at David’s feet as he told the story, it was hard to believe he was talking about the same dog. “You can pet him. He’s totally fine,” David said. I kneeled down and gave Bullet a friendly ear scratch. I asked if the vest he was wearing was a calming device (like anxiety vests you can buy for dogs).

“No, that’s so I can carry his shoes and his ball and all his toys and stuff around,” David replied. The ball is extremely important to Bullet, and as David described, it’s what motivated his years of service as an explosives K9. “His reward for finding explosives was he got to play with one of these.” David pulled a tennis ball out of his pocket. “Watch this dog change.

“Bullet, you want this?” David bounced the ball on the ground. Bullet immediately scrambled to his feet, his attention trained on the ball. David bounced the ball to Bullet, who snapped it up and plopped down on the ground to enjoy his reward.

“He loves that ball. He did everything that he did in Afghanistan for the joy of playing with that ball.”

Adding up eight years of service and three years of rehabilitation, I began to mentally calculate how old Bullet must be. He didn’t look a day over 8, so imagine my surprise when David revealed his age.

“He’s 14 years old,” David said as I gaped. “He’s getting old now. But he’s looking good!”

Everything about Bullet is pretty remarkable, a sentiment that David Scott agrees with. “This guy’s my best friend,” he said with a tone of affection you rarely expect to hear from a hardened veteran of his caliber. The two are a tight pair, and as calm as Bullet has become through his years of rehabilitation, all it takes is for David to step away to throw him into utter anxiety. When David heads to the start for a speed run at Bonneville aboard his turbo-charged Hayabusa, Bullet is left panting, whining and pacing aimlessly in the pits. But as soon as his best friend is back within earshot, like a lightswitch, he’s back to carefree and calm.

I wondered aloud how sorry I’d feel for the poor soul who ever tried to threaten David. Funny story, it actually happened. David regaled me with a tale of a would-be thief that made an incredibly bad decision one night by breaking into his Fresno home. Bullet handled the situation exactly how you’d expect a retired war dog with PTSD to do, and was in the process of giving the intruder his Darwin Award when David ran into the room. He gave the command to release, which Bullet promptly did, but he remained fixed on the bad guy, awaiting any flinch or gesture that would permit him to carry out his duty.

“I’m going to go get my gun, but I’m going to leave him here with you,” David recalls telling the intruder. “If I were you, I wouldn’t move.” Bullet stood watch over the thief (who didn’t dare move an inch) until the police arrived.

Who’s a good boy?

I left Bonneville with every intention of doing a writeup on David and Bullet’s story after I had cranked out all my BMST content. But as the weeks and months slipped by, I became hesitant. I didn’t exchange contact info with David, and I didn’t know what condition Bullet was in, after all, he was 14 years old at the time. I wanted to be sure Bullet was still doing well before I published anything about him. Without any way to contact David, the writeup turned into yet another idea that never materialized.

We returned to Bonneville in 2019, and the day before the meet we were dining at the local Mexican restaurant, where you will always find the land-speed racing crowd. Familiar faces continued to file in as we dined on tacos, and I was thrilled to see one in particular as he strode through the door—Bullet!

I rushed over to greet Bullet and David, amazed to see Bullet still looking sprightly, now at 15 years young! How could I have doubted this incredible pup’s resolve? David beamed as I gushed over Bullet, telling him how great it was to see them both again, remarking, yet again, about his incredible story. David seemed a little surprised that I remembered so well. To be honest, I blanked on his name at first, but I instantly remembered one of the most awe-inspiring dogs I’d ever met.

At the end of our meal we asked for the check, but were told it had already been taken care of by “the guy with the dog.” I went over to thank David, who sat at the corner table with his best pal lounging at his feet. He simply smiled and replied, “Thank you for loving my Bullet.”

While not many people can take on the task of rehabilitating a psychologically distressed war canine the way David Scott did, we can all donate to the organizations that do, such as Mission K9 Rescue and the Warrior Dog Foundation. Check them out, and make a donation in Bullet’s name to help take care of dogs like him. CN

 

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Jean Turner | Contributor A former staffer at Cycle News, Turner continues to contribute to the website and magazine as a columnist and someone we can count on to whip up a few thousand words on an off-road race when needed.

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