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Vet’s dog was only solace after ravages of war

A new book details the powerful relationship between a U.S. veteran returned from Iraq and his dog.

Metro columnist and political commentator Ellis Henican’s new book, "Tuesday's Promise: One Veteran, One Dog, and Their Bold Quest to Change Lives" tells the story of an Iraq war veteran, Capt. Luis Carlos Montalván, who coped with PTSD through the aid of a golden retriever named Tuesday. For eight years, the pair traveled the country advocating for veterans and others with disabilities. Continuing to struggle with demons, in 2016, Montalván took his own life. But Tuesday continues to work as a therapy dog.

Read below to learn more about Montalván and Tuesday’s story:

“The toughest wounds of war,” Luis Carlos Montalván liked to remind me, “are the ones that no one else can see.”

Luis was a friend of mine. We spent much of last year together writing a book. A captain in the U.S. Army who earned two Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart in Iraq, he knew plenty about the human costs of war. When he returned home, he had a terrible time adjusting to civilian life. This macho combat veteran was so paralyzed with fear and anxiety, he could barely leave his small Brooklyn apartment.

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Then Luis met Tuesday, a lovable golden retriever service dog with a thick, blond coat and a constantly cheerful disposition—and things brightened considerably. Not only could Tuesday respond to 200 verbal commands, he knew instinctively when Luis was about to have a meltdown. With warm breath and a wet nose, Tuesday would quickly nuzzle his friend back to calm and confidence.

What a team these two made, heading off on an eight-year journey of healing. Traveling across America. Advocating for veterans and others with disabilities. Agitating with military commanders and clueless VA bureaucrats. He wrote a best-selling book. They even teamed up with U.S. Sen. Al Franken to pass a law guaranteeing veterinary care for veterans’ service dogs.

“Paws forward,” Luis would say, and the two of them would march out on another urgent campaign. A traumatized Marine was being threatened with a dishonorable discharge. A distraught mother had just emailed.

Everywhere they went, Luis and Tuesday highlighted the amazing talents of these well-trained animals. Man and dog, they won fans everywhere and became widely recognized as two of America’s most effective advocates for our returning vets.

“You understand,” Luis confided more than once. “This mission is also my way of healing myself.”

So it seemed. He and Tuesday even appeared on the “Late Show with David Letterman,” where Dave promptly fell in love with Tuesday. “What do you expect?” Luis said with a shrug. “Tuesday’s a whole lot cuter than I am.”

Luis knew they had a message to share with the world, how a dog had pulled a man back from the darkness, how service dogs could be hugely helpful to others in need. I loved the story. I helped him write the book. I am proud of what we did. The new book hits stores today. It is called "Tuesday's Promise: One Veteran, One Dog, and Their Bold Quest to Change Lives." It’s a love letter to Tuesday and a clarion call on behalf of America’s wounded warriors.

But sadly, Luis isn’t here to celebrate with his friend.

On December 2, just after he and I finished the edits, the invisible wounds of Luis’ war slapped tragically back at him. This man who had improved so many lives decided to end his own. He went into a hotel room in Texas and swallowed a handful of pills. No one saw this coming.

Uncharacteristically, he had left Tuesday with friends in New York. I still can’t help but wonder: Would he have done what he did if Tuesday had been with him?

In his own words

Read how Capt. Luis Carlos Montalván described Tuesday:

With Tuesday at my side, I never had to be alone again.

When I was sad, he would nuzzle up against me. When I was cooped up inside too long, he would shoot me one of his looks that said, “Come on, Luis! Let’s go outside and play!” That look was similar but not exactly the same as the look that said, “Come on, Luis. Let’s go outside. I really need to pee!” I learned to heed both pleas, which got me off the couch and into the great outdoors, a therapeutic maneuver all by itself. Wherever we were, whatever time of the day or night, Tuesday was always tuned into me. Even when I was sleeping, he was still on the job. Just from the rhythm of my breathing in bed, he could tell when I was having a nightmare. He knew to nudge me awake with his cold, wet nose.

Over time, I came to see that this brilliant animal was capable of just about anything, small or large. He could fetch my sneakers when I needed them even before I knew I did. He could make friends with almost anyone. With his smarts, his cuteness, and his relentless jocularity, he could—and did—turn my life around. After being with Tuesday a while, it was almost impossible to tally up all the ways that he helped me—and even more important, all the ways he helped me help myself and helped me help others. He wasn’t just doing. He was teaching. And we were ready to get on with the business of healing others.

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