Branch 13 of the Royal Canadian Legion broke new ground in Corner Brook on Saturday when it bestowed an honorary lifetime membership upon a dog.
But Spark is no ordinary dog — she’s a service dog. Mike Rude, her handler, is a veteran who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Back in November Rude and Spark were denied entry into the Valley Mall after an employee there questioned the dog’s role as a service dog.
The experience left Rude shaken, but also resulted in a public outcry and a call for better awareness of the role of service dogs.
Branch 13 member Greg Schroh was the one to come up with the idea to make Spark an honorary member.
Schroh is a former military mechanic who served with the Lord Strathcona’s Horse regiment in Edmonton. He’s never served overseas, but has experienced the suffering of friends and family who have.
After Rude was refused entry to the mall Schroh got to thinking about how wrong that was.
“That’s his companion and his number one man, his right-hand man should be with him and it should be in the Legion,” he said.
Her number one job, said Schroh, is to protect Rude.
Spark is already a regular at the Legion, attending bingo games with Rude and has always been welcomed.
But Schroh felt they needed some recognition of it.
“Silence speaks a lot of words if you can read it and the members who go over and do that fighting, past and present, there’s a lot of silence and a lot of walls built.
“I think the world has to take recognition. It’s not just the country. It’s not just the city. The actual world has to take recognition to what these men and women are doing for our freedom.”
So Schroh brought his idea to the Legion executive and the next thing he knew, it was happening. To be part of the ceremony on Saturday, he said, was gratifying.
For Spark the membership means she’s welcome in the Legion with no questions asked.
Rude was emotional as he accepted the membership certificate with Spark by his side.
“I can’t afford to go through that again,” he said, his voice quivering.
He said the Legion is the one place the two of them have felt at home.
And he thanked his wife, Elaine Kearney, for being the one to fight for him at a time when he said he doesn’t have it in him anymore.
Prior to the ceremony Rude said his feelings were a little mixed as he felt the membership was a fantastic idea, but he recently learned that the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary would not be laying any charges following an investigation into the incident.