Disabled veteran, service dog promote pet ministry
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
PITTSBURGH — Since the bestselling book about his therapy dog came out, Capt. Luis Carlos Montalvan has received thousands of letters from people who have dogs and cats and swear that the animals saved their lives, emotionally and physically.
“They will frequently say something to the effect of ... ‘Were it not for Sophie, I wouldn't have made it through this particular illness or trauma,'” says Montalvan, an Army veteran who lives in New York City. The book, “Until Tuesday: A Wounded Warrior and the Golden Retriever Who Saved Him,” was published in 2011.
“They say this with complete conviction and pragmatism, particularly if they're dealing with trauma,” Montalvan says about his fans. “Of course, our furry friends give us love and affection. They're providing us comfort and love that helps get us through some of our deepest challenges.”
Montalvan and Tuesday, the golden retriever, will be at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Upper St. Clair on Oct. 13 to speak about issues relating to military members, veterans and their families, and Americans with disabilities.
“Until Tuesday” may be an inspirational and feel-good book in many ways, but it discusses serious, life-altering issues, Montalvan says.
“Though it has a fluffy cover, the book is about trauma and recovery,” he says. “Thankfully, it touches people. I think it offers them a vicarious form of healing, but also a form of healing that in some ways emboldens them to move further with their healing.”
Montalvan and Tuesday went to the Mt. Lebanon Public Library earlier this year, and members of the Westminster church invited the pair to come to their church for its growing pet ministry, which provides spiritual, pet-theme activities such as an annual blessing of the pets in early October.
The pet ministry coincides with the church's mission statement, says Anna Hiner, Westminster's communications coordinator.
“The whole idea ... is to ensure that we're being good stewards of all God's creation, and God created all creatures great and small,” she says. “This just shows how animals are a part of our lives.
Montalvan says that faith and animals complement each other well.
“The inclusion of furry family members into the community ... it's really wonderful for Christians,” he says. “For a long time, spiritual faith has included animals. ... Animals are part of the Bible and the Koran and the Torah. Pet ministry ... is a way for spiritual communities to congregate around their love of animals.”
Montalvan left the Army in 2007, after 17 years of military service that included time in Iraq. Montalvan earned many honors, including the Combat Action Badge, two Bronze Stars, the Purple Heart and the Army Commendation Medal for Valor. His injuries stem from an attack in 2003 in the Iraqi town of Al-Waleed, near the Syrian and Jordanian borders.
He can walk with the help of Tuesday, whose harness handle has protected Montalvan from falls when he gets sudden vertigo spells. Tuesday also helps with daily physical tasks like fetching items, since it is often painful for Montalvan to bend over.
“Therapy dogs are an ever-growing phenomenon of working dogs that are helping people with disabilities and various conditions,” Montalvan says. “It's wonderful to be a part of this sort of advocacy because ... it has immeasurable positive impacts on (people).”