By Ruth Lando

Army veteran Annette Kirk has weathered tragic losses.

Between active duty and the reserves, Annette served seven years in the Army in the 80’s and 90’s. Her ex-husband Paul was in the Army, too, and their son Paul followed in both parents’ footsteps. But just before young Paul left for basic training, Paul senior died in a car accident. “My son was a strong kid,” Annette said, “he pushed through the pain, determined to serve his country.”

When 23-year-old Army combat medic PFC Paul O. Cuzzupe II was killed by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan, Annette joined the ranks of Gold Star mothers.

Her grief was augmented by the loss of her brother and both parents. Volunteering with American Gold Star Mothers Inc. and the Afghanistan Memorial project helped. But nothing compares to the special powers of a four-legged companion with a mission to heal.

Annette recently welcomed home a loving, bubbly black Labrador named Bruno—a Southeastern Guide Dogs Gold Star Family dog.

“Bruno’s already made a difference,” Annette said. “I feel a lot better about myself. I feel happier. I think because he’s so happy, he makes me happy. He has such a personality. I’m not a touchy-feely person, but with Bruno I am. I hug him a lot and he’s always next to me. I almost see him as a person, not a pet. Almost like a child.”

In September 2016, Southeastern Guide Dogs began offering grieving survivors like Annette Gold Star Family dogs. “We care deeply about the men and women who serve in the U.S. Armed Forces,” says CEO Titus Herman. “In a spirit of compassion and caring, we have introduced this new type of companion, where calm, people loving dogs match a military family’s unique needs.”

“My son Paul was the one who really wanted children; it’s really sad,” Annette notes. “Maybe that’s why I’m really bonding with Bruno—this is my way of having a grandchild. I’m spoiling him like a grandbaby.”

For more information about the Gold Star Family program and Southeastern Guide Dogs, visit

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