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OXFORD, MISS. — Veterans, friends and staff at the Mississippi State Veterans Home in Oxford spent a recent morning remembering and paying tribute to a fallen comrade.
Stryker served his country for 14-plus years. He didn’t take up arms against an enemy or lie in the trenches. His job was to lay his head on the arms of American heroes and lie down at their feet providing warmth and comfort.
Stryker, a 15-year-old golden retriever, came to the home as a young pup in 1998 as a therapy dog. He and two of his siblings were donated to the three veteran nursing homes around the state. Stryker outlived his brother and sister, but this past week he died, leaving a huge hole in the hearts of everyone who walked through the doors of the veterans home.
“Stryker had a happy and wonderful life here,” said Amanda May, the director of the veterans home. “I thought we could ease the pain a little by having a memorial service for him. He was such a joy. Everyone fell in love with him.”
Residents and staff shared stories about Stryker, who was afraid of thunderstorms. In his panic, he would often run outside or jump into whatever was close by, which sometimes could be into the arms or laps of residents or a nearby closet.
“One day during a storm I was helping a new veteran unpack and he jumped into the suitcase we were unpacking,” May said.
While Stryker was supposed to be on a strict diet, as he was a big boy, residents delighted in sharing their breakfasts, lunches and dinners with him — every day.
“He must have had 10 sausage patties every morning,” May said.
About 100 residents, family members and staff crowded into the main meeting hall recently to say goodbye to Stryker. His ashes sat in a temporary urn next to a life-like drawing someone sketched years before. May said a large urn was being ordered and Stryker will remain on the mantel in the front of home near the entrance along with the picture.
“He deserved that,” she said.
Some veterans openly wept over the loss of their friend and others shared stories, poems and memories of their furry comrade.
“He likes to play ball and I would throw the ball and he would retrieve it and bring it back to me,” resident Ralph Hutchins said.
“One day a rabbit ran by and Stryker chased that rabbit all the way to the fence. The rabbit got out and Stryker didn’t stop and just slammed his head into that fence. Then he looked back like he was seeing if anyone had seen him do that. We’ll always miss him. But he ain’t dying, just passing on. What would heaven be like if there weren’t dogs there waiting for us?”
Karen Pegues has worked at the home since April. She didn’t know Stryker long but that wasn’t a prerequisite to falling in love with him. To help her pain, she wrote a poem in his honor, titled, “All American Vet Pet.”
“Stryker was not just an ordinary pet. He was an All-American valor vet pet. … He was a soldier ‘til the end and served his country, this facility with honor … Stryker’s service was not in vain, his charge was in beauty. We salute and bid farewell with a five-star badge for your active daily duty,” the poem read.
May said she is working on getting another therapy dog into the home.