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Chaney-IMG_3802

Photo Credit: Lori Fusaro, provided courtesy of Laura Coffey.  Chaney, a retired military working dog, trekked thousands of miles and sniffed out explosives during multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2010 and 2011, Chaney’s handler was U.S. Marine Corps Corporal Matt Hatala. Their story is chronicled in the book “My Old Dog: Rescued Pets with Remarkable Second Acts,” written by Laura T. Coffey and with photographs by Lori Fusaro. (Photo credit: Lori Fusaro / “My Old Dog”)

Laura T. Coffey, a senior writer, editor and producer for TODAY.com, the website of NBC’s TODAY show, is also the author of the best-selling non-fiction book My Old Dog: Rescued Pets with Remarkable Second Acts (New World Library – Sept. 2015)  An award-winning journalist with nearly three decades of experience, Laura has written and edited hundreds of high-profile human-interest stories. She lives in Seattle with her husband, Michael, their son, Tyler, their two senior dogs, Frida and Manny, and their rescued cat, Obi-Wann Catnobi.

Earlier this year, Laura was awarded the Captain Will Judy Special Award from the Dog Writers Association of America for a chapter from My Old Dog titled ‘Never give up’: How an Ex-military Dog Rescued the Veteran Who Needed Him Most.

Please tell us about the article you wrote for your nomination. ‘Never give up’: How an Ex-military Dog Rescued the Veteran Who Needed Him Most first appeared as a chapter of my non-fiction book about senior dog rescue, My Old Dog: Rescued Pets with Remarkable Second Acts. Then I adapted it as a story for TODAY.com, the website of NBC’s TODAY show.

What/who inspired its creation? Please share with the story of how you came to write this. While working on My Old Dog, I knew I wanted to include some compelling stories of working dogs who needed help securing safe, comfortable retirements when they aged out of their vocations. Chaney, the retired military working dog featured in this story, absolutely fell into that category. Chaney trekked thousands of miles and sniffed out explosives during multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the years 2010 and 2011, Chaney’s handler was U.S. Marine Corps Corporal Matt Hatala. When Chaney became too old to work, he encountered a logistical morass and languished in a kennel for months because he was a “contract working dog” owned by a private contractor. Matt Hatala kept trying to adopt his former bomb-sniffing buddy and he encountered many roadblocks along the way, but his perseverance ultimately paid off and the pair were reunited. As soon as I heard about this story, I knew I had to write about it!

Why do you think this piece qualified for the Dog Writers Association of America’s Captain William Lewis Judy Award? First of all, can I tell you how honored I am that this story won the Captain William Lewis Judy Award? Because I am! This is an award for a story that educates people about the important role of military dogs and the emotional and physical care these dogs need during their training, active service and retirement. Chaney’s role in helping Matt and Matt’s fellow Marines while serving in Afghanistan was far-reaching and powerful. This importance of this role became especially evident after Matt returned home from Afghanistan and struggled with severe post-traumatic stress disorder. Matt opens up about his struggles — including his attempt to take his own life — in My Old Dog. This is what made Matt’s eventual reunion with Chaney so crucial. Matt credits Chaney with saving his life, and Matt has become an advocate for the benefits of service dogs for veterans. When veterans are out and about with dogs, the dogs are people magnets — in a good way! The presence of dogs leads to inevitable conversations, which leads to veterans getting thanked profusely for their service, which leads to veterans feeling less alone and alienated from other people. It’s so, so important.

Please talk about your work with the TODAY show and how that role can help educate the world about the roles of our dogs in society. I’ve been a writer and editor for the TODAY show’s website since 2008, and over the course of this incredibly fun decade, it’s been rewarding to watch the site’s coverage of pets and animals grow in such a positive way. I’ve written and edited every imaginable kind of story for TODAY over the years, but almost all of my “greatest hits” have involved dogs! One stand-out story involved a dog rescued from abuse who went on to help a young boy with autism. I’ve also written about iconic dogs, floating dogs, military dogs, guide dogs, therapy dogs, cleaned-up dogs and hero dogs. One day I wrote a story about senior dogs being overlooked in animal shelters — and that story went so viral and affected people so profoundly that it led to the writing of My Old Dog! These days I’m working as an editor for TODAY Parents so it’s tricky for me to write as many pets stories as I’d like, but I still try to do so whenever I can. Other wonderful writers like Arin Greenwood are crafting so many great stories about pets and animals for TODAY.com on a regular basis, and that makes me very happy to see.

Please tell us about your role as the current Vice-President of the DWAA. I love being involved with the Dog Writers Association because it’s a support network for writers and editors who all love dogs and care deeply about telling animal stories well. At first blush these stories might seem a little bit “fluffy” to some people, but they’re actually quite important. They matter because they touch people’s hearts, and they make people think. When told well, the stories we write can inspire people to perform incredible acts of kindness and selflessness — and, when that happens, our readers’ lives become more happy and meaningful and fulfilling. This is not a small thing. This is a huge thing, and it’s one of the reasons I’m so proud to be a dog writer.

Note: We were saddened to hear of the news that Chaney passed last month. To learn more about this remarkable dog please go to: https://www.facebook.com/MyOldDog/posts/2024671337565668

 

I thank my local American Legion Post of Brick Township, NJ for their continued sponsorship of the Captain Will Judy Award, named for the man who founded National Dog Week and promoted the humane use of military dogs and Service Dogs in the 1930s, and Laura for embracing the dog-human bond through her words and actions and her work on behalf of the DWAA. The DWAA Writing Competition Nomination season opens July 9th, so please take a look at the DWAA site to learn about our writing categories for the annual DWAA Writing Competition that is open to members and non-members! We hope you’ll enter your best canine-centric work! https://dogwriters.org/writing-competition/

Happy Fourth of July everyone! To learn more about Will Judy and National Dog Week, please go to: https://www.facebook.com/NatDogWeek/

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