Gabe: a Brother, a Hero
Saving Lives and Inspiring with a Kind Heart
Homeless to Hero
Gabe was found on the streets of Houston, Texas, and eventually taken to a shelter. In 2005, Gabe was rescued by the Army to be trained as a bomb-sniffing dog at the Lackland Air Force Base, in San Antonio, Texas. Gabe began duty in 2006, deployed to Iraq, detecting explosives. Sergeant First Class Shuck describes a memorable find: on a hunch of a caché, Sergeant First Class Shuck and his team walked down a steep mountain down to a riverbank. Gabe had taken the lead, and soon jumped in the water, to find 36 mortar rounds, which were “potentially 36 improvised explosive devices.”
What is most memorable to Sergeant First Class Shuck is that not only did Gabe serve his country, he did it while making an everlasting impact on many of the Soldiers he served with, from Fort Lewis, Washington, to Fort Bliss, Texas, to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, and Fort Hood, Texas. Sergeant First Class Shuck observes, “No matter where we went or what we did, Gabe brought a piece of home to the Soldiers,” who were missing their dogs at home, bringing joy and comfort to his fellow brothers and sisters, playing tennis ball and fetch, while being fed lots of treats. As Sergeant First Class Shuck observes, “Gabe was the most amazing K9 partner a Soldier could ask for,” as Gabe was there, not only to save lives, but more importantly, “he was a dog for the Soldiers that needed him the most when we lost our friends in combat.”
Gabe was not only named as the American Humane Association (AHA, the nation’s voice for the protection of children and animals) Military Hero Dog of the year in 2012, but also the Hero Dog of 2012; the AHA Hero Dog Awards were created in 2010 as a celebration of America’s hero dogs, demonstrating their unconditional bond to humans, whether on the battlefield, or offering therapeutic support. Sergeant First Class Shuck recalls, he never expected Gabe to win, as all the other seven dogs had amazing stories. When Gabe had won, it “caught me off guard,” as Sergeant First Class Shuck considered it to be an incredibly huge honor. Although Sergeant First Class Shuck was proud that Gabe won, to Sergeant First Class Shuck, Gabe winning represented recognition not only for Gabe’s work, but the work of all dog handlers/dog teams, “past, present, and future,” noting that there are approximately 100 MWD handlers/teams in Iraq and Afghanistan. Sergeant First Class Shuck was also honored that Gabe earned $15,000, which he sent to the United States War Dogs Association, which sends care packages to deployed MWD handlers and helps find retired MWDs a home. The United States War Dogs Association could then “send more care: Kong toys, leashes, [and other dog supplies] to Iraq and Afghanistan.” Gabe also won the Award for Exceptional Service from the K9 War on Terror in 2014. Sergeant First Class Shuck felt incredibly honored, particularly because he had the opportunity to receive the award in a theater at Fort Leonard Wood with 1,000 Soldiers in attendance.
In 2009, Sergeant First Class Shuck was taking a new job as a drill sergeant, sad to know Gabe would be partnered with another handler. Sergeant First Class Shuck returned to Lackland Air Force Base for school, where coincidentally, Gabe had also returned to Lackland. Gabe would not work with his new partner. The Army decided to retire Gabe from duty, and “before we knew it, I was signing the paperwork for Gabe’s adoption. I was very lucky.” Gabe retired from active duty in 2009 as a Sergeant First Class, bomb sniffing MWD, a decorated war hero, awarded three Army Commendation Medals, an Army Achievement Medal, 40 coins of excellence, and named the 2008 American Kennel Club Heroic Military Working Dog.
To Sergeant First Class Shuck, adopting Gabe in 2009 after Gabe retired “was the most rewarding thing that ever happened to me.” It was amazing and heartwarming to Sergeant First Class Shuck to watch Gabe sleeping on the bed or the couch, and not the cold concrete he had slept on while on duty. Sergeant First Class Shuck credits Gabe in teaching him to love all dogs, as demonstrated by the three four-legged family members he shares his home with, helping homeless shelter dogs find their forever homes, and raising funds to help dogs in need (particularly in their medical care).
With a laugh, Sergeant First Class Shuck recalls Gabe’s first day home. Sergeant First Class Shuck was living in Texas, and once they arrived home, Gabe immediately ran up to the sofa and jumped on it, “I’ll never forget it.” Of the myriad of photographs Sergeant First Class Shuck has of Gabe, one of his favorites is Gabe on the sofa, with a huge smile on his face. Sergeant First Class Shuck fondly recalls, it was a joy to watch Gabe play with his toys. Toys are generally used as rewards for MWDs, where it was heartwarming for Sergeant First Class Shuck to see Gabe venture into the backyard, with his choice of 20 toys to play with; it was “doggie heaven for a Military Working Dog!” Sergeant First Class Shuck continues to miss Gabe, “I will never have a son like my Pooh Bear ever again.”
Although napping on the sofa and playing with toys are a couple of Gabe’s favorite activities, his most enjoyable moments were visiting children at elementary schools and libraries, with the messages of working hard, staying in school, and treating one another with respect. To Sergeant First Class Shuck, it was important for Gabe to visit children to illustrate the gravity of treating animals with respect, particularly instilled in them at an early age. In seeing Gabe, perhaps it has inspired children in positivity and potential: learning of Gabe’s history, from wandering the streets and living in the shelter, to going to war and saving lives. Gabe’s story of positivity and potential can be translated into the lives of the children.
As important it was to visit children, it was also important to Sergeant First Class Shuck and Gabe to visit troops in combat hospitals. As Sergeant First Class Shuck recalls, he and Gabe were on their way home from Iraq when they had the opportunity to visit wounded troops. Sergeant First Class Shuck and Gabe were staying at a base in Iraq for a week, and had two opportunities to visit the Wounded Warrior ward of the combat hospital, located down the street. Sergeant First Class Shuck and Gabe would visit with the wounded Soldiers, as Gabe was able to bring joy, or at least a smile, to the Soldiers; it was “pretty cool to witness and be a part of it.” To Sergeant First Class Shuck, it was important to visit these Soldiers as a way of giving thanks, acknowledging all the Soldiers who have given their blood, their lives, as Sergeant First Class Shuck feels fortunate that he and Gabe were unharmed during their 13 months on deployment. Sergeant First Class Shuck wanted to “thank their brothers for what they do on a daily basis.” (Sergeant First Class Shuck and Gabe didn’t have the opportunity to visit any female Soldiers)
Gabe’s Legacy: Gabe to the Rescue
Our world lost a beautiful soul when Gabe had passed in February of 2013, at the age of ten, when cancer had spread to his liver and spleen. As accounted by the Times News Lehighton, Gabe was experiencing failing health, and had been rushed to the hospital the evening before he passed; Gabe was given four blood transfusions after internal bleeding was discovered, but it wasn’t enough to help him in a full recovery; the cancer had spread. Sergeant First Class Shuck and Gabe went on one last walk, then said goodbye: “[I] kissed him a thousand times, but I felt peace when he laid his head on my lap and left me,” made comfortable with his favorite toys, snacks, and medals, before Gabe breathed his last breath.
Although Sergeant First Class Shuck was heartbroken over the loss of Gabe, he can celebrate Gabe, as Gabe’s love and legacy lives on through Gabe to the Rescue, Gabe’s Facebook page. As Sergeant First Class Shuck recalls, Gabe’s Facebook page was originally named, “Team Gabe,” started in 2012 for Gabe’s AHA Hero Dog campaign; once the awards had finished, Sergeant First Class Shuck began sharing dogs living in shelters, who were still in search of their forever homes. Sergeant First Class Shuck saw the huge impact in sharing these dogs, “from that moment on, I knew we had something special.” 80 percent of the dogs posted on Gabe’s page get adopted, or are safe, all due to the amount of shares within Gabe’s community of friends and all the hearts of the people Gabe has captured. Often, within days after a dog’s story has been posted, Sergeant First Class Shuck can happily report that dog has been adopted.
Gabe to the Rescue’s goal is to raise awareness for shelter pets: that adoption saves lives. The goal was important for Sergeant First Class Shuck because helping other homeless animals would continue Gabe’s legacy. Gabe’s history was living in a shelter, until “he was saved by someone.” Facebook is a pragmatic medium to help animals find a forever home, where sharing these dogs can potentially “save one, two, five dogs a week [just] by sharing.” Sergeant First Class Shuck also wanted to ensure Gabe’s page was appropriate for all ages, where “a mom of a ten-year-old won’t be worried by the content;” the page restricts swearing, although there may be times where a photograph of a animal in need of medical care, may be graphic. “If I can reach one person, save one dog, that post was worth it.”
Not only does Gabe to the Rescue seek to help shelter animals find their forever homes, it helps the animals who are in desperate need of medical attention; Sergeant First Class Shuck donated funds he raises from Gabe’s children’s book, Gabe: the Dog Who Sniffs Out Danger. Gabe’s book is a part of the AHA Hero Dog series, which includes a book about an arson dog, and one about a therapy dog, where Sergeant First Class Shuck was thrilled that Gabe’s story was chosen to be in the series.
Sergeant First Class Shuck also offered a commemorative coin, created by the K9 Hero Dog Portrait Project, which provides law enforcement and military handlers portraits of their canine partners, at no cost to the handler. Sergeant First Class Shuck has been impressed by Gabe’s commemorative coins, “the detail of the coin is pretty darn amazing,” and have become popular, helping raise additional funds to help more dogs in need of immediate medical attention. Other items have included stuffed animals wearing a “Gabe to the Rescue” tee-shirt and Gabe dog tags.
If Gabe had a message to people, it would be to treat others as you would want to be treated. “In a world filled with hate, if every person did a random act of kindness for the next person, this world would be a better place to live, work, and grow.” All of Gabe’s friends undoubtedly live by Gabe’s message, continuing Gabe’s legacy of kindness to all beings, whether the Soldiers he comforted while deployed overseas, or the homeless animals still in search of their forever families. Gabe embodied a true hero: saving lives with an affectionate demeanor and inspiring others with a kind heart.
To learn more, please visit HeroDogGabe on Facebook