‘Today I Cried’: A Family’s Loyalty, A Veteran’s Lost K-9 Helper

Sue Hassmiller has been blogging from the tornado-damaged area in Alabama, where she’s volunteering for the Red Cross. This and all other posts in this series are being collected on a separate page for easy reference.—JM, senior editor/blog editor

Today I cried.

Although I’ve seen horrific things and heard the worst stories imaginable here in Alabama, it was not until today that I cried. It had to do with my soft spot for daughters and dogs. 

The daughter. My morning visit was to a 50-year-old woman, Kate (not her real name), in the most rural of rural Alabama. Our team went to see her because she had lost not one family member, but three: her mother, her sister, and her brother. Kate told us that her mother and sister wouldn’t leave her wheelchair-bound, 6’ 4” brother for shelter. They didn’t have the strength to move him, so they simply sat with him in the living room and prayed for the best. She later found them in the field, with her sister still holding her brother in her arms. 

As sad as this was, this did not make me cry. Kate told us how she and her mother spoke on the phone every morning at 8:30 am sharp. Although they saw each other often, living in adjacent towns, they called each other just to touch base, to talk about the previous day and the plans they had for the hours ahead. They were best friends, after all. Kate said she couldn’t bear the fact that that 8:30 am phone call would never again take place. I cried as I thought about my own almost daily phone call to my own daughter and how important that phone call is to me. 

I’m glad that my teammates were there to cover and carry on. You just never know what will hit you and when. For me, this was it . . . and then there was this . . .

The dog. In another small town that was hit hard, Boley, Alabama, there was a woman who had a K-9 camp business. I didn’t know what that was, but learned that she trained dogs: cadaver dogs, search-and-rescue dogs, and service dogs for the disabled. What an extraordinary field to be in, and what a service to the world!

Then the tornado struck and 120 dogs were killed, the entire kennel decimated. I’m a big dog person and adore my own mutt (sorry, Jake!) more than anything. He loves me unconditionally, and I depend upon him when I’m sad and when my day hasn’t gone particularly well. 

One of the dogs that was lost from the kennel was one week from graduation after a whole year in training: the plane ticket bought; signed, sealed, and delivered to a vet who’d suffered a brain injury in Afghanistan and was paralyzed. This vet, who had served his country so well, wanted that dog more than anything. He longed for that dog. She was to be his lifeline. I cried for the vet because I could only imagine what that dog would have done for him: twice as much as Jake does for me, and that’s a lot!

Bookmark and Share

2016-11-21T13:13:16+00:00 May 11th, 2011|Nursing|3 Comments

About the Author:

Senior editor/social media strategy, American Journal of Nursing, and editor of AJN Off the Charts.


  1. Mimi Turi May 13, 2011 at 8:35 am

    Sue- Thank you for the work you do every day. You are an inspiration.

    Thanks for taking the time to share your stories. This one is very sad but reminds me to be thankful for my many blessings.

  2. Joe Marx May 11, 2011 at 11:05 pm

    Sue–thank you for the important work you and other volunteers are doing and the tremendous support you are giving to so many in need. And thanks for sharing their stories.

  3. christine May 11, 2011 at 3:34 pm

    I can’t even begin to say how sad that story made me.

Comments are moderated before approval, but always welcome.