In a brief but moving Saturday afternoon unveiling ceremony, “Rex” — a bronze statue depicting a German Shepherd in full military kit — became a permanent part of the Edmonds Veterans Plaza.
Dogs have fought in wars since time immemorial, accompanying soldiers onto the field, fighting and dying right alongside them. From war dogs trained in combat to scouts, sentries and trackers, their jobs have been critical, varied and continue to exist today as a vital part of our modern military. At the height of the wars in Afghanistan, more than 2,500 dogs were in service.
But the help of our four-legged friends doesn’t just stop with those in the wars; at least as many dogs are finding service on the home front assisting returning veterans who carry the internal and external scars of battle as they re-adjust to life as civilians.
As testimony to this, present at Saturday’s ceremony was Leah Rosetti and her PTSD Dog Sergeant. Rosetti, a 10-year military veteran who served two tours in the Gulf Wars, was wounded on her last tour. But upon returning home she found herself unable to adjust to civilian life. “When you’ve spent the years from age 17 to 27 in the military, it’s all you know,” she said.
Developing severe depression, Rosetti continued to isolate, finally attempting suicide in 2015. Hospitalized for a month, her case came to the attention of the Edmonds chapters of the Daughters of the American Revolution and Veterans of Foreign Wars, who helped arrange and pay for Sergeant, an English Black Lab, as a PTSD therapy dog.
“He’s saved my life,” Rosetti says. “He just knows when my anxiety peaks and gets in my face to let me know he’s there. On days when I just don’t want to get out of bed, he senses that I need him and he’ll come and literally pull me out. He’s my lifeline.”
The idea of honoring military dogs in the Veterans Plaza began in 2013 when City Councilmember Diane Buckshnis, an unabashed dog-lover and one of the founders of the Off Leash Area Edmonds dog park, visited the Custer Battlefield in Montana.
“I was particularly struck by the gravesite honoring the cavalry horses killed during the battle,” she recalled. “I was so moved thinking of all those beautiful animals who suffered and died right alongside the men with whom they fought.”
Coincidentally, at about the same time National Geographic published an article on War Dog Heroes, and in Edmonds the energy was starting to build for creation of the Edmonds Veterans Plaza.
“The convergence of those three things got me thinking about how great it would be to have a place of honor for K-9 veterans as part of the plaza,” she added.
Buckshnis took the idea to the city and the Edmonds Veterans Plaza Committee, getting an enthusiastic yes from both.
The search for a sculptor began, with the Veterans Plaza Committee suggesting Lena Toritch of Salt Lake City, Utah, who has sculpted military dogs for similar monuments across the country. Arriving in the U.S. as an immigrant more than 20 years ago, Toritch has developed a deep appreciation for this country, its values, and those who defend it. Her fierce American patriotism fires her passion to create monuments that are accurate in every detail and reflect the spirit, pride and courage of the U.S. military.
According to the artist, Rex is intended to represent all military working dogs, each of whom has a unique story of courage and sacrifice. Rex’s stature and the specific expression on his face evoke a gentle strength that tells the story of a rugged war dog, but leaves it to the viewer to imagine the details of that story.
Funding was provided by Off Leash Area Edmonds, whose volunteers run the Marina Beach dog park, and supporters of the dog park. The work was commissioned, completed and installed earlier this year, occupying a place of honor in the Edmonds Veterans Plaza.
“To date, there are only a few cities and states that recognize K-9’s in their Veterans’ Plazas,” said Buckshnis. “With our new memorial in place, I look forward to regularly observing National K-9 Veteran’s Day each March 13.”
— Story and photos by Larry Vogel