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Slate attacks 'demented' coverage of George H.W. Bush's service dog

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Not everyone felt good about Sully the service dog.

David J. Phillip - Pool/Getty Images

In the days following the passing of former President George H.W. Bush, social media users were moved by a photo of the golden Labrador Sully, Bush's service dog for the final months of his life.

Jim McGrath, a spokesman for Bush, posted a picture of Sully laying down beside Bush's casket. McGrath captioned the photo with a tweet that read "Mission complete. #Remembering41."


As of Monday night, the tweet had more than 260,000 likes and 67,000 retweets. People were inspired by the picture of a service dog's loyalty to his deceased master, and emotionally moved by the appearance that the dog might even be mourning the loss.

Various media outlets, including this one, posted content about Sully. Because people love dogs, and the photo had somewhat of a feel-good quality to it in the midst of the sadness surrounding Bush's death.

Slate writer Ruth Graham simply could not let all this dog content go unchecked, however, and Monday she published "Don't Spend Your Emotional Energy on Sully H.W. Bush."


So what's Graham's problem with the coverage? Apparently, everyone was not fully clear about the length of the relationship between Bush and Sully, and some people were getting needlessly emotional when, in Graham's view, the dog hadn't been around Bush long enough to really care much that he'd died.

Some coverage of Sully seemed to imply "lifelong" friendship or yearslong relationship, when in reality Sully had only served Bush for about six months.

Here's an excerpt:

"It's wonderful for Bush that he had a trained service animal like Sully available to him in his last months. It's a good thing that the dog is moving on to another gig where he can be helpful to other people (rather than becoming another Bush family pet). But it's a bit demented to project soul-wrenching grief onto a dog's decision to lay down in front of a casket."

This writer's perspective

I don't know what that dog was thinking or feeling in that photo. And, full disclosure, I'm a dog owner, so I have a bias here. But I'm quite sure it's better to be the person harmlessly projecting emotions onto a dog than it is to be the person who is calling others "demented" for finding some comfort in a picture of a dog laying next to his owner, one last time.

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