Kaya the German Shepherd: A Beloved Ambassador for Service Dogs and Veterans’ Mental Health
Kaya was a remarkable German shepherd who became a beloved ambassador for service dogs and veterans’ mental health across the United States. Sadly, Kaya left this world on February 4th, just shy of her 9th birthday.
“Kaya greatest legacy is — and always will be — the veterans who reached out and told me that she inspired them to get their service dog,” Cole Lyle, Kaya’s owner, told NPR. “And if they hadn’t, they would have killed themselves.”
Returning from Afghanistan with PTSD, Lyle found that medication only worsened his symptoms over time. In 2014, he adopted Kaya and found an instant connection with the smart and intuitive dog.
Kaya stood by Lyle’s side as he advocated for service dogs as a treatment for PTSD, working with the nonpartisan advocacy group Mission Roll Call. Together, they successfully lobbied for the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers (PAWS) Act, which was signed into law by President Biden in 2021, providing funding for service dogs for veterans struggling with mental health.
Our thoughts and prayers are with @ctlyle1 through this heartbreak.
Kaya saved so many, inspiring countless veterans to get the help they needed. She championed for the passage of the PAWS Act, leading to real, legislative change.
She saved so many, and now it’s time to rest. pic.twitter.com/aT3677VtiI
— K9s For Warriors (@k9sforwarriors) February 10, 2023
In December 2022, Lyle noticed an abnormal growth on Kaya’s front right leg and after further medical testing, Kaya was diagnosed with cancer. Despite medical intervention, including radiation therapy, it was clear that Kaya’s life could only be prolonged for a few more months. Lyle made the difficult decision to bring Kaya back home to Texas, where she spent her final days surrounded by friends and family.
“I just didn’t want her to be in pain, or continue to be stressed out going to veterinary appointments,” he said. “So I made the excruciating decision to take her home.”
Southwest Airlines, who flew Kaya and Lyle on numerous occasions to help establish the PAWS Act, shared a video of the touching journey on their TikTok account. The video went viral, receiving millions of views and a heartfelt tribute to Kaya’s legacy.
“I can’t tell you how many veterans…reached out to me in years past and even now and said, ‘you know, Kaya inspired me to get my own dog, because I saw you talk about how powerful she was for you, and if I had not done that, I would have killed myself.’ And I think that is… https://t.co/pXoKoNmhm1
— Cole T. Lyle (@ctlyle1) February 11, 2023
“Throughout her career, Kaya flew with us over 250 times to help establish the PAWS Act, which united veterans with service dogs,” the airline captioned the video. “We are so grateful to be a part of her legacy, and we thank her and her owner, Cole, for their many years of service.”
Lyle documented their journey on social media and expressed his gratitude for the outpouring of love and support they received. He captured the moment the entire terminal also cheered for Kaya when the pair arrived at the airport.
On Kaya’s trip home, the pilots made special mention of her before we took off – see below.
When we landed, we loaded Kaya onto a cart to take her out, and when we got to the top of the ramp…the entire terminal cheered and clapped for her. If you were one of them: thank you. pic.twitter.com/l11sFtDIUN
— Cole T. Lyle (@ctlyle1) February 3, 2023
He hopes that Kaya’s story will continue to inspire people to remember the importance of mental health resources for veterans and the lifesaving role that service dogs can play.
“I certainly had no idea the extent to which it would resonate with people, and that people would want to be supportive,” he said. “I really want to acknowledge the people that took really good care of her, and made her feel comfortable and wanted to honor her in her last few days for all of her work, and everything she’s done for me, and for veterans across the country.”
Lyle took Kaya to some of her beloved spots in Dallas, including Texas A&M University where he graduated, after bonding with friends and family at a local pub. They spent their last precious moments together by a pond that held a special significance as one of Lyle’s favorite study spots.
“I just laid with her for several hours, and told her how much I loved her and how loved she was,” he said. “I just wanted her to feel comfortable and happy in her last few hours.”
Lyle wishes that people will keep Kaya’s contributions in mind as she worked hard to raise awareness and advocate for the mental health needs of veterans. Kaya’s memory will live on through the countless lives she touched and the veterans she helped heal.
We were honored to fly our loyal friend and hero, Kaya, home to rest after a lifetime of hard work. Throughout her career, Kaya flew with us over 250 times to help establish the PAWS Act which united Veterans with service dogs. We are so grateful to be a part of her legacy, and we thank her and her owner, Cole, for their many years of service. ❤️
Service dogs play an important role in helping veterans with mental health issues, including PTSD and traumatic brain injury, US News reports. These dogs are trained to assist and support veterans in their day-to-day lives, and can provide numerous benefits that can greatly improve a veteran’s quality of life.
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