Loyal Service Dog Gets A Special Send-Off On Her Final Flight Home

Service dogs are extraordinary companions, particularly for veterans who greatly benefit from their therapeutic support, particularly in dealing with conditions such as PTSD. These dogs not only offer unwavering companionship but also play a vital role in treating and improving the well-being of those they serve.

One Marine Corps veteran, Cole Lyle, experienced the profound impact of having a service dog in his life. Kaya, a remarkable German Shepherd, became Cole's closest companion, accompanying him on numerous flights and standing by his side through thick and thin. Cole, hailing from North Texas, returned home after a challenging six-year tour in Afghanistan, battling with PTSD. He tried various treatment options, including medication and therapy, but found little relief. At a critical juncture, a fellow veteran suggested the idea of getting a service dog, which led Cole to bring home Kaya, the runt of her litter. Despite the hefty cost of $10,000 for training, Cole was determined to provide the best care for Kaya.

The investment proved invaluable. Kaya underwent specialized training to wake Cole from his nightmares and alleviate his anxiety attacks. Remarkably, the impact she had on Cole's life was truly transformative, even going as far as saving him from suicidal thoughts. Cole expressed his gratitude, stating that a dog can be a powerful anchor during times of despair, reminding individuals of their responsibilities and their importance to their furry companions.

However, Kaya's influence extended beyond Cole's personal journey. After becoming an advisor to the US Senate on veterans' policies, Cole, alongside Kaya, embarked on a mission to advocate for the PAWS Act—a bill aimed at providing canine training for veterans suffering from PTSD. Their efforts were rewarded when the act received bipartisan support and was signed into law in August 2021. Kaya's involvement in the political arena allowed her to cross paths with influential figures and celebrities, and she even had the privilege of accompanying Cole on countless flights throughout the country.

Regrettably, in January, Kaya's quality of life began to deteriorate due to a tumor under her tongue that had metastasized. Witnessing her suffering, Cole made the difficult decision to end her pain. However, he wanted her final moments to be in the place she was born and first met him: Texas. Determined to fulfill this wish, Cole arranged for one last flight, this time with Southwest Airlines, a company with whom they shared a long history of traveling together. Southwest Airlines, upon learning the significance of this final journey, orchestrated a touching tribute to Kaya.

During the flight on February 2, the pilot made a special announcement over the intercom, introducing Kaya to the passengers. He described her role as a service dog and her contributions to the passage of the PAWS Act. The pilot expressed his solemn honor to be a part of Kaya's last flight, as she returned to rest in the state where her journey began and where she met Cole for the first time. On behalf of Southwest Airlines and the two veterans in the cockpit, the pilot extended heartfelt gratitude to Kaya and Cole for their service. The passengers, moved by this remarkable story, erupted into applause, and Kaya, who had been lying down, raised her head in acknowledgment.

Upon their arrival in Dallas, Southwest Airlines even provided a cart to assist Kaya with her mobility issues. However, a few days later, Cole announced with a heavy heart that Kaya had passed away. Through a heartfelt message on Twitter, Cole bid farewell to his loyal companion, celebrating her well-lived and loved life. He expressed both his broken heart and the solace he found in knowing that Kaya was no longer in pain. Cole thanked her for embodying the spirit of "Semper Fidelis."

Rest in peace, dear Kaya.

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