By BY PAUL SINGLEY
Republican-American of Waterbury
(WATERTOWN, Conn., AP) — Former U.S. Marine Cpl. Ryan Bugler had a nightmare the other night and awoke to find his new best friend, Noonan the dog, sitting on his chest and staring into his eyes.
Noonan, it appeared, wanted Bugler to know he would be OK. That’s exactly how Bugler says he’s felt since Noonan walked on four legs into his life last year, following a period that Bugler, an incomplete paraplegic, recalls as a dark time in his life.
“Without him, I just don’t know what I would do,” he said. “He has brightened my life.”
Bugler, 32, a Massachusetts native now living in New Hampshire, suffered a knee injury while serving stateside for the Marine Corps in 2002. He was medically discharged and became a firefighter and paramedic. Two years ago, he injured his spinal cord while trying to lift an obese paraplegic patient. The injury left Bugler, himself, an incomplete paraplegic; he can use his left leg, but not his right. He uses crutches for short periods but mostly uses a wheelchair.
The injury also left Bugler in a self-described state of depression. Suddenly, the man who worked diligently from the time he was 14, was now homebound and largely confined to a chair.
At the urging of a Department of Veterans Affairs employee, Bugler looked into getting a service dog. Initially, he balked at the idea since he’s used to being self-sufficient and is incredibly proud. But he went, reluctantly, to check out a few dogs. It turned out to be one of the best decisions of his life.
“It was an almost instant bond,” Bugler told the Republican-American in February of his first meeting with the black Labrador retriever.
The dog now helps Bugler pick up things that he dropped, help him if he falls, open doors, turn on light switches, retrieve objects and other everyday tasks. Noonan, with whom Bugler trained for 10 days, knows more than 60 commands. Apparently, the dog also can sense when its owner is in distress, even if that owner is sleeping.
On Sunday, Bugler and Noonan had a chance to thank the people who brought them together, and the family of whom Bugler’s four-legged companion is named.
A ceremony was held here at Oakville VFW Post 7330, whose ladies auxiliary raised about $8,000 to name three dogs after local veterans who died in combat. One of those dogs was Noonan, who is named for Army Pfc. Gebrah P. Noonan, who was shot and killed by a fellow soldier while serving in Iraq in 2010.
Noonan, who was 26 and a graduate of Watertown High School, was known as a comedian of sorts for his incredible sense of humor, family members said. Interestingly, Noonan the dog shares similar traits.
Bugler said the dog makes him laugh several times a day with his wacky antics, such as running and sliding on a throw rug or jumping into the shower with him. Bugler showed a reporter photos of Noonan, who appears to be smiling in his sleep.
“He puts me into a good mood,” Bugler said. “I can’t even reprimand him because I just start laughing.”
Gebrah Noonan’s father, William Noonan, said the dog’s personality seems a lot like his son’s.
Gebrah’s Noonan’s sister, Sheminith Kaily Noonan, said she’s pleased that her brother’s name will live on through the dog.
“He’s still making people happy,” she said.
Information from: Republican-American, http://www.rep-am.com