Spotlight on Service: Belle
Author: Mark Lamers
Honor’s First for Freedom is my full name, but most everyone calls me Belle. I’m a Golden Retriever, born on January 27, 2005, in Charlotte, North Carolina. I left my furry family when I was only nine weeks old and flew to Virginia to start my new life with my new family. My new mom Lisa Dolan met me at the airport in Norfolk, Virginia. Yes, I was born to travel! Besides my mom, I have a sister Becca and a brother Beau. Their father, Navy Captain Bob Dolan, died in the terrorist attack on the Pentagon in 2001.
After their Mr. Bob died, the Dolans attended Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors. Once a participant, my mom decided she wanted to give back to TAPS and honor her husband at the same time. That’s where I come into the story. Mom had encountered therapy dogs after September 11, 2001, and after some research, she contacted Honor Therapy and Assistance Dogs in North Carolina. She wanted to raise a puppy in Mr. Bob’s memory to work with the families who have also experienced the loss of their armed services loved one. That is how I came to be part of the TAPS family.
My first time at TAPS was May 2005. I was only four months old and was just a roly-poly ball of fuzzy fur when I first met the other TAPS families. Many of them were children and first timers like me, so they were scared and nervous, too. It didn’t take long for the hugs and kisses to calm my nerves and theirs. Mom said I was making them feel safe and helping to heal their broken hearts. She said the hugs and kisses are comforting and healing, and it’s the job of a therapy dog to comfort and heal.
I was officially in training back in 2005. It was Memorial Day weekend; a weekend set aside every year to honor and remember the military fallen. Each year TAPS gathers in Washington, DC, to remember the love, celebrate the life, and share the journey. That weekend, I loved, celebrated, and shared with many families. As a young one myself, I naturally gravitated to the youngest: the TAPS children. I became a mascot for the Good Grief Camp and cuddled and licked away many tears. This was my calling; I am a heart healer.
I love being a heart healer. Over the years, I’ve comforted families up and down the East Coast, the Southwest, and the Midwest. I’ve worked with veterans and nursing homes. I’ve rocked with Rolling Thunder and cheered on runners at the Marine Corps Marathon. I love that I have touched so many lives.
While every life I touch is important, no one I meet will ever be as special to me as my TAPS families. Each year Mom and I return to TAPS for the National Military Survivor Seminar in May. We see old faces and new ones, too. It makes me sad that new families are grieving, but I am happy to be there to help heal and comfort them.
This year was my 9th TAPS weekend. I am eight years old now and an honorary mentor at the Good Grief Camp for the kids. Every year I look forward to seeing my TAPS families, especially the children I call my “babies.” Some of my “babies” are beyond their teens now and are mentors themselves. They, too, are heart healers. I’m so proud!
TAPS gives special thanks to Lisa Dolan for training and helping Belle attend all our national seminars.