SUNSHINE AND LOLLIPOPS AT WRANGLER NATIONAL FINALS RODEO

If you’re looking for a community populated 100 percent by people committed to the love of animals, rodeo tops the list. If you’re searching for a community that truly loves all people unconditionally, that would be dogs, and Sunny is their queen.

Her official service dog vest says “Please Don’t Pet Me.” Fat chance among the cowboys and cowgirls of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. Everything about her from her huge block head and matching paddle paws, to those comely eyes and lopsided grin is irresistible.

A few short months ago, the smiley, young pit bull was chained out in a Virginia yard with two other starving dogs. Her story would have ended there had someone not made an anonymous phone call to animal control who promptly whisked them off to a shelter. It was too late for one of her friends, but Sunny rallied. It seems to be her way.

On September 11, 2001, long before this blue pup made her grand entry into a world that would treat her harshly for the first two years of her life, Capt. Eva Scofield, an intelligence officer of the U.S. Navy, was on assignment away from her post at the Pentagon. Forty of her friends died on that fateful day. Those friends will haunt the dedicated patriot for the rest of her life.

In the United States, the suicide epidemic caused by our veteran’s invisible wounds claims 22 souls a day. Six months after Scofield’s retirement in 2015 and still under medical care for severe post traumatic stress disorder, she was prescribed a service dog.

As doctors learn more about PTSD, programs like Train a Dog – Save A Warrior are using the dog’s natural ability to sense emotional changes in their people and building on that, teaching them to intervene to derail the panic attacks, escalating anger issues and other pathologies that accompany the condition.

Colleen McDermott is a dog trainer and military wife with a heart for the soldier and a vision that matches her skill set. Traditionally, service dogs are specifically bred for and trained to assist people with physical disabilities. The program uses shelter dogs, saving that first life immediately. The program protocol puts the homeless dogs through a series of challenges in the selection process. Once chosen, McDermott works quickly to get those candidates into their new homes with compatible veterans. The new best friends actually complete the training under her guidance.

“Colleen introduced me to two dogs,” Scofield said. “A doberman who was sweet enough, but a little aloof. The pit bull ran over and jumped in my lap.” Kisses commenced and the two haven’t been separated since.

Sunny (short for Sunshine) has been hard at work at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo where tension is high among contestants, entertainers and staff who will all admit to a little PTSD and flirtations with schizophrenia and use the duplicity for the greater good of the rodeo world. As one of the WNFR’s official photographers for the PRCA, Scofield is focused on her work for about 12 hours a day. Her brother, Ian, is here keeping Sunny entertained.

Sunny herself? She’s making do in the absence of her person by checking out the rest of us and jumping in the occasional, stressed out lap to administer smiles and kisses. She takes her work as a healer seriously and hasn’t met the first person who isn’t real grateful for that.

A young veteran said once “Love kills and it feeds.” From Sunny’s perspective, it’s all banquet and everybody is invited to her table.

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