Story by Jennifer Gauntt
Like all Aggies, Bullet’s purpose has always been to live a life of selfless service.
When owner Leslie Staven received the now 8-year-old Australian Labradoodle at 8 weeks of age, it was for the purpose of training Bullet to detect for life-threatening peanut allergies.
Little did Staven know then that Bullet would go on to save more people in many more ways than anyone could have ever imagined, and then, in turn, would need the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences’ (CVM) Small Animal Hospital (SAH) to be saved.
THE NOSE KNOWS
Bullet wasn’t intended to spend his life with Staven.
As a specially trained service dog, he had been sent to live with several children afflicted with peanut allergies, but those children weren't “dog people,” so it never worked out.
But then Staven noticed something about Bullet. While he had been trained to sniff out foods, he was, instead, sniffing out people in need.
She first noticed it when they were around children with autism. Bullet would lead Staven to a child, who would “always assume the same position”—with the child essentially coming nose to nose with Bullet—and they would just stare at each other.
“I'd say something to the child to the effect of, ‘Hey, what's your name?’ and invariably an adult would come in and say, ‘he doesn't speak; he has autism,’” Staven said. “I study psychology and have had a lot of experience with people with special needs, so I developed a way to speak through Bullet to the child. What ended up happening was this child who did not speak always answered.
“One child, who had never said anything in his life, reached up, touched Bullet, and said ‘fuzzy,’ at which point the family all just bawled,” Staven said.
In another encounter, Bullet was attracted to a child who only spoke four or five words, primarily to verbalize his own needs. Staven introduced the child to Bullet and said, “‘Bullet wonders if you have a dog.’
“The boy said, ‘No,’ so I responded, ‘That's cool. Bullet wonders if you have any animals,’” she said. “At this point he said, ‘Yeah, I have a hamster. Its name is Squeak.’ And he went on for 45 minutes, conversing back and forth with the dog. Never looked at me, never looked at the father.”
Children aren’t the only ones touched by Bullet.
On several occasions, both in classrooms and in public, Bullet has detected someone suffering from a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)-related flashback. Each time Bullet has approached, the veteran has wrapped his arms around the dog and Bullet has placed his front legs over the veteran’s shoulders, as if offering a hug. Tears usually fall, and then each veteran tells Staven that “Bullet brought me home.”
Even more incredibly, one day while Staven was taking classes at a university, Bullet began to venture toward a young man.
“The next thing I knew, Bullet was in the boy’s seat, with his legs over the boy’s shoulders and his head on his chest,” Staven said. “I jumped up to apologize, and the boy told me he wanted Bullet to stay. They sat in that position for 20 minutes.
“Weeks later, my professor called me in. She told me she shouldn’t divulge what she was about to tell me, but that boy later came to her. On that morning, he had loaded a gun and planned to kill himself,” Staven said. “For some reason, he decided to go to his first class and if anyone noticed or cared about him, he would go to a mental health clinic. If no one did, he would return to his dorm and kill himself. Bullet saved his life. He said he had never felt so much peace.”
The stories go on and on. Bullet’s Facebook page (I smell trouble – Allergen Alert Dogs) is littered with photos and stories from interactions. As a service dog who travels with Staven, Bullet routinely has these encounters with random people who always need his help.
Luckily, when Bullet needed help, the SAH was there.
While Wustefeld-Janssens said the type of cancer Bullet was treated for is quite common, Bullet, himself, is not.
“We see a lot of therapy dogs and emotional support dogs, and we, as a group, feel very strongly about helping them, especially those who help military veterans and those with PTSD,” Wustefeld-Janssens said.
“Bullet’s story, though, is very unusual,” he said. “But dogs are way more intelligent than we are, anyway. There are dogs that are trained to pick up on if your blood glucose level is low; if you’re diabetic, they’ll tell you to eat. It makes sense that he picks up some kind of emotional distress, but there’s no way to explain it.
“He’s obviously very intuitive and picks up cues that we don’t notice, so he is a special dog.”