In 2015, the news outlet Today posted a video interview with Chopper Maroshek, a former Navy Seal, about the "unbreakable bond" between himself and his service dog, a German Shepherd named Chopper. Before Chopper was Maroshek's service dog, he was his multi-purpose canine partner, trained and deployed for combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. This article analyzes representations of Chopper and Maroshek in the Today video, its comment archive, and popular news articles to show how Chopper, in his role as a multi-purpose canine-cum-service dog, is hailed to participate in the project of ablenationalism. I argue that Chopper is constructed as an exceptional technology of rehabilitation, facilitating Maroshek's ability to fold back into the nation as an "able-disabled" subject. Building on transnational disability and animal studies scholarship, I illuminate how the circulation of Maroshek and Chopper's spectacular story justifies the uneven biopolitical inclusion of American veterans with mental and/or psychiatric disabilities, effectively obscuring the violent production of disability through war. Ultimately, I show how the nationalist affects that shape Chopper as the apotheosis of a service dog covertly sutures an ablenationalist politics of disability to a racialized U.S. biopolitics of war.
On November 20, 2015, the news outlet Today posted a four-minute video interview with former Navy SEAL Trevor Maroshek on their YouTube channel. 1 The Today hosts open the video, "Navy SEAL and Canine Partner Share an Unbreakable Bond," emphatically: "Former Navy SEAL Trevor Maroshek put his life on the line to protect our country when he enlisted in the military after 9/11, and as he was fighting to save lives at home, his life was saved on more than one occasion by his special partner." The special partner that the Today hosts are referring to is Chopper, Maroshek's German Shepherd service dog. Before Chopper was Maroshek's service dog, he was his multi-purpose canine partner, specifically a Navy SEAL dog, trained in five areas of expertise: "explosive detection, search and rescue, laser target acquisition, sixth sense training, and bite work" (Cabrera et al. 2015). 2 In the video, Maroshek explains that in his former role as a Navy SEAL dog, Chopper regularly saved the lives of fellow human service members "on the battlefield of Iraq and Afghanistan" from improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and he also "thwart[ed] ambushes from the Taliban." Now, as Maroshek's service dog, 3 Chopper "continues to save [Maroshek's] life" off the battlefield. Chopper, in Maroshek's words, is "the best thing going for [him] dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, battle stress, and a traumatic brain injury." The Today hosts note that Chopper and Maroshek, together, also continue to "save" the lives of their fellow human service members through their work with the non-profit organization, SEAL Dog Foundation (SDF). Founded by Maroshek when he returned from deployment, SDF provides trained service dogs to military veterans who have combat related injuries, as well as assists veterans who are self-training their service dogs. Framed as both a protector of the U.S. nation-state and a healer of those who served, the figure of Chopper and his spectacularly sentimental story circulates as a testament to the power of a dog's unconditional love.
This article is animated by Today's representation of the "unbreakable bond" between Maroshek and Chopper, which I suggest provokes questions about the fundamental entanglements that subtend their spectacular story, that of human/animal, service dog/multi-purpose canine, and war/rehabilitation. It is no surprise that "Navy SEAL and Canine Partner Share an Unbreakable Bond" has over 212,000 views, 2,000 likes, and 92 comments on YouTube. The video's virality is reflective of a recent cultural fascination in the United States with assistance animals—specifically service dogs—and their disabled handlers. In popular media culture, representations of service dogs have hit a critical mass: from documentaries that showcase the painstaking process of training, such as Prison Dogs, a 2016 film about a service dog training program at Fishkill State Correctional Facility in New York state, to fictional representations in television, such as the 2019 CW crime drama, In the Dark, about Murphy Mason, a blind twenty-something who works at a training school for guide dogs as well as uses a guide dog named Pretzel. 4
Recent scholarship in disability studies has revealed that these popular media representations most often frame service dogs solely in terms of their utility: as tools that facilitate the disabled handler's reintegration back into the normative strictures of society, specifically as the "last resort" for integration when all else fails (MacPherson-Mayor and Daalen-Smith 2020). Within these representations the relationship between the disabled handler and service dog is commonly hyper-sentimentalized. The service dog is overwhelmingly positioned as an "angel on a leash," a savior who offers the disabled handler—most often disabled children and veterans—with "a new lease on life" (Harris and Sholtis 2016; Lunsford 2021). As a "savior" of Maroshek, Today's representation of Chopper falls in line with this and insidiously reinforces an ableist, medicalized construction of disability as merely a target of "intervention and amelioration" (Mykhalovskiy et al. 2020, 27). Scholars have also noted that popular media representations often perpetuate confusion about the rights of disabled people and the rights of their service animals (Kerzner et al. 2020). Moreover, notably absent in popular narratives is the recognition of the mutual constitution of disability and animality and the entangled nature of speciesism 5 and ableism, one that structures the disabled handler and service dog's material reality (Jenkins et al. 2020). Overwhelmingly, these one-dimensional media representations privilege the human perspective over the non-human animals' and belie the nuanced experience of interdependency and relationality that many disabled handlers articulate in first person narratives about their relationships with their service animals (for first person narratives see: Michalko 1999; Oliver 2016; Taylor 2017; Price 2017; Kuusisto, 2018).
However, what sets Chopper and Maroshek's story apart from other popular media representations of service dogs and disabled handlers—and what I find most intriguing about the Today video—is the focus on and veneration of Chopper as a former Navy SEAL dog. As a Navy SEAL dog, he was an indispensable technology of the 'war on terror,' an international military campaign spearheaded by George W. Bush that followed the September 11th attacks. Animal studies scholars have noted how military working dogs have figured centrally in discourses of "cultural difference that produce white American supremacy and bolster national sentiments" (Elder, Wolch, and Emel 1998, 194; Glenney Boggs 2013; Kim 2015; Tyler 2016; Boisseron 2018; Diamond-Lenow 2020). Specifically, Diamond-Lenow (2020) argues that the use and celebration of dogs as militarized weapons in the 'war on terror' as well as the attendant broader affective orientation toward dogs as loveable and loyal "best friends," as evidenced in the introductory anecdote, participates in a shoring up of "American exceptionalism that positions the United States as a kind, civilized, and benevolent nation" (10). As such, I am interested in how Chopper, as a multi-purpose canine-cum-service dog, is shaped by nationalist affects and how this informs the construction of the service dog as an exceptional technology of rehabilitation for the contemporary disabled veteran. I ask, what is at stake when the apotheosis of a service dog is a former Navy SEAL dog? I suggest that the spectacularly sentimental story of the "unbreakable bond" between Chopper and Maroshek can offer insight into contemporary neoliberal disability politics through illuminating a process of "uneven biopolitical incorporation […] of disabled subjects, who in certain times and places are made representative and 'targeted for life', even as others are disabled in different ways […] and targeted for death" (McRuer 2010, 171).
In what follows, I perform a close textual and visual analysis of several popular news media stories about Chopper and Maroshek alongside the Today video and its comment archive. 6 I show how Chopper, in his role as a multi-purpose canine-cum-service dog, is hailed to participate in the project of ablenationalism, most explicitly through his facilitation of disabled handler Maroshek's rehabilitation post-deployment. Disability theorists David T. Mitchell and Sharon L. Snyder (2015), drawing from Jasbir Puar's (2007) concept of "homonationalism," formulate ablenationalism to theorize the uneven patterning of inclusion for certain newly visible disabled identities into late twenty-first century neoliberal economies. Under the auspices of ablenationalism, disabled bodyminds 7 that can "approximate historically specific expectations of normalcy" are deemed worthy of protection from the state, while others who have been pathologized as "too impaired" to labor or consume in alignment with neoliberal expectations of productivity are rendered disposable (Mitchell and Snyder 2015, 2). Although outwardly appearing to value disabled subjects as a part of the multicultural tapestry of the U.S., ablenationalism in effect reifies existing values of able-bodiedness, heteronormativity, and rationality—or what Mitchell and Snyder (2015) call "normative modes of being" (2).
Through teaching Maroshek how to love again, Chopper facilitates the folding of Maroshek back into the nation as an "able-disabled subject." Specifically, Chopper restores Maroshek's marketability and is instrumental in building Maroshek's family. The rehabilitative exceptionalism of Chopper, however, is bound up in his legacy as a Navy SEAL dog. As a multi-purpose canine-cum-service dog, he is positioned as the ultimate "good dog," or what Karla Armbruster (2002) characterizes as the dog who places humans' needs over their own innate "wild" instincts, specifically "in the service of his human family, the representatives of white Western civilization and of human culture" (358). Chopper's value is thus figured not only through his service to Maroshek, but through his role in securitizing (literally and symbolically) the nation-state post 9/11.
In the next section, I move to briefly historicize the relationship between the service dog, war, and rehabilitation. Although Chopper's role as a multi-purpose canine-cum-service dog makes plain the linkages between the U.S. military industrial complex and service dogs, here I show how the service dog's role as a contemporary technology of rehabilitation for disabled veterans is connected to a longer history of rehabilitation as a national post-war project. I then move to discuss how the contemporary logic of rehabilitation has become fused together with neoliberal capitalist ideologies. As the mind of the disabled veteran is now the target for repair, it follows that the incorporation of veterans back into the nation—like Maroshek—is premised on the restoration of "invisible wounds" or "mental health." In analyzing scenes in the Today video that capture the relationship cultivated between Maroshek and Chopper, I suggest that the legacy of the pet dog as a "love machine" informs the contemporary rehabilitative exceptionalism of the service dog, as the dog is imagined as the perfect tool to teach the veteran how to properly harness feeling again (i.e., to properly affect and be affected). I show how the rhetoric of "invisible wounds" and "love," however, euphemistically positions mental/psychiatric disability as an individual bodymind emotional state that Maroshek must defeat, which further depoliticizes the context (the 'war on terror') in which he acquired his disability. I then move to a discussion of Chopper's smooth transition from multi-purpose canine to service dog, critically analyzing the comment archive of the Today video to illuminate what is at stake when the epitome of a service dog is shaped by nationalist affects and attendant pro-U.S. military sentiment. I show how the uncritical celebration of Chopper's training as a Navy SEAL dog and his success violently securing the nation-state from the terrorist "Other" covertly sutures an ablenationalist politics of disability to a racialized U.S. biopolitics of war, a formation of power that marks the U.S. enemy other as expendable and disposable (Puar 2007, 2017; Gorman 2016; Diamond-Lenow 2020).
Although the most visible narrative that circulates about Maroshek and Chopper is one that positions Chopper as the "savior" of Maroshek (and the nation), in the last section I uncover a far more nuanced picture of interdependency, caring across species lines, and reciprocity. Using Harlan Weaver's (2020) concept of "becoming in kind," I discuss two lesser circulated narratives about Chopper and Maroshek's relationship and bring to the fore a recognition of the network of care that Chopper and Maroshek co-created, born out of the violence of U.S. imperialism.gorm
The Service Dog and the Logic of Rehabilitation
In the United States, the history of the service dog is insidiously embedded in a broader twentieth-century history of disability, war, and rehabilitation. Despite the novelty suggested by the recent fascination with service dogs, many scholars mark World War I as the beginning of the "modern" use of dogs trained to assist disabled people (Fishman 2003; Ascarelli 2010; Ostermeier 2010). In 1927, American philanthropist Dorothy Harrison Eustis, who was at the time breeding and training German Shepherd police dogs in Switzerland, wrote an article for The Saturday Evening Post detailing how Germany was training dogs to assist blind veterans: "because of their extraordinary intelligence and fidelity, Germany has chosen her own breed of the shepherd dog to help the rehabilitation of her war blind" (Eustis 1927). As the story goes, a twenty-year old blind man from the United States, Morris Frank, read the article, sent Eustis a letter, and traveled to Switzerland to learn how to become a guide dog handler. A year later in 1928, Frank, his guide dog Buddy, and Eustis went on to establish the first guide dog school called The Seeing Eye in Nashville, Tennessee. A day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, The Seeing Eye began to prioritize veterans who had lost their eyesight in the line of duty (Ostermeier 2010). Post-World War II, schools for the blind rapidly proliferated in the United States, many of them launched by dog breeders wanting to "take advantage of wartime emotions and of a new federal law, which appropriated funds to supply war blind veterans with dogs" (Ostermeier 2010). 8
World War I also marked a shift in attitudes and treatment of disabled veterans, transforming cultural understandings of disability (Stiker 1999). Prompted by an unusually high number of physically disabled soldiers returning home, a consensus began to take shape where instead of viewing war injuries as "lingering memorials to the epic disaster of war" or the result of an "avoidable social calamity," disablement was instead perceived as "inevitable" or a natural consequence of an unavoidable event (James 2011, 138). This framing absolved the culpability of the state and transformed the body into an "object of repair," something that could be returned to a "prior, normal state" (Stiker 1999, 124). The compulsion to "fix" the corporeal body—through the use of emerging new technologies, such as the prosthetic—went hand-in-hand with the impulse to redeem society. By eradicating the physical signs of "disaster," this new ideology facilitated purging the collective memory of war (James 2011, 138).
This is what many scholars of disability have characterized as the logic of rehabilitation. Not only does the logic of rehabilitation operate by transforming the injured body into an object of repair that can be normalized and restored, but it seeks to invisibilize the alterity that characterizes disabled embodiment. Made "ordinary again," successfully rehabilitated disabled bodies can fold back into the nation and its attendant institutions, such as the family. More than just a medicalized process, it is a cultural logic that dominates how we still conceptualize disability (Stiker 1999; McRuer 2006; Elman 2014; Elman and McRuer 2020). The "rush to fix" bodyminds that are labeled disabled or mentally ill often obscures the context in which disability is produced, covering over how, for many, disability is a product of violence (e.g., war, state violence, etc.).
The modern history of the wheelchair further illustrates the logic of rehabilitation. In North America, the widespread use of this technology post-World War II served to restore the marketability of white, disabled veterans, allowing them to leave long-term care and medical institutions and enter back into the workforce (Stiker 1999; Gerber 2003; Fritsch 2013). It also facilitated an increased visibility of disability in the public sphere. The wheelchair became a "tool of aggressive normalization," Fritsch (2013) argues, allowing veterans to restore independence through their newfound ability to access mainstream labor opportunities (138). The incorporation of these disabled veterans into the public sphere was a "crucial component of post-war national projects of rebuilding hope and happiness and a way of overcoming, if not forgetting the suffering and catastrophes of war" (Fritsch 2013, 138). Here, again, we see the entangled process of fixing and forgetting that characterizes rehabilitation as a logic. Further, Serlin (2004) argues that the post-war obsession with physical rehabilitation has become an "allegory for national rehabilitation" (2). Connecting Fritsch's history of the wheelchair to the history of the guide dog, we see how national investments in technologies of rehabilitation for veterans, specifically, are also national emotional investments.
Neoliberal Logics of Rehabilitation: Healing "Invisible Wounds"
Maroshek and Chopper's sentimental story emerges within a historical moment characterized by national debates about veterans' mental health and their lack of access to mental healthcare, most urgently characterized by a growing "epidemic" of veteran suicides. 9 In 2010 veteran mental health was explicitly addressed through the creation of the Senate Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Mental Health. In 2015, the year that the Today video was uploaded, then President Barack Obama signed the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act. Named after a Marine Corps veteran who died by suicide, the bipartisan bill "requires independent reviews of the Veterans Affairs (VA) and Department of Defense programs aimed at preventing suicide, creates peer support and community outreach pilot programs, and forms a program to repay loan debt for psychiatry students to incentivize them to work in the VA healthcare system" (Leonard 2015). It also establishes a website that provides veterans with mental health services as well as allows the VA to collaborate with non-profit mental healthcare organizations on suicide prevention. At the White House signing ceremony, Obama remarked, "Today we honor a young man who isn't here but should be here. He suffered physical injuries that healed, and he suffered invisible wounds that stayed with him" (Leonard 2015).
Healing these "invisible wounds" has become a national priority, as it is the mind of the veteran that has now become the target of repair. 10 Their incorporation back into the nation and its attendant institutions is contingent on the restoration of "mental health." As such, there has been a recent proliferation of campaigns from both the private and non-profit sector that aim to raise awareness and funds for veterans' mental healthcare. For example, the 501(c)(3) organization Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) developed and campaigned for the Clay Hunt Act, mentioned above. They describe their mission on their website as "serv[ing] and empower[ing] our post 9/11 generation" and emphasize the fact that they believe "these dynamic men and women represent America's future—[the] next greatest generation." A couple of months after the bill was signed into law, IAVA partnered with EHE Health, "the leaders of preventative healthcare" on a veteran mental health awareness campaign. The campaign, titled "Sometimes Even Heroes Need Help," was featured on windows at Rockefeller Plaza in New York City—on the same block as the Today show window. The image used for the campaign is of a group of diverse muscular veterans, most wearing tight fitting fatigues, illustrated in a comic-book style. At the front of the group is a white man wearing a USA t-shirt, combat boots, and cargo shorts. He stands tall with his prosthetic leg firmly in the center of the scene. The text on the left reads "post-traumatic stress disorder (ptsd) may affect family and friends returning from service. Recognize the signs." On the right it details that IAVA is the leading "veteran empowerment organization" with the most "diverse" veteran membership in the U.S. There is also a link for donations as well as a link and phone number for more resources. In the press release, former CEO and founder of IAVA Paul Rieckhoff remarks, "As the first and largest veteran empowerment organization for post-9/11 veterans, IAVA has a vast array of resources at its disposal to help veterans deal with mental health challenges and connect them with others in the community. Our veterans are not a charity; they are an investment" (IAVA 2015).
The rhetoric of "investment" is particularly illuminating as it reveals one way the contemporary logic of rehabilitation has become fused together with neoliberal capitalist ideologies, namely the financialization of everyday life. 11 Rieckhoff positions the contemporary disabled veteran—as a subject to invest in—in opposition to a subject that is in need of charity, evoking the trope of the disabled person who is a burden on the state (imagined as a non-productive body that requires assistance). Under the auspices of neoliberal capitalism, one way that a subject's value is delineated is by their productivity as a flexible worker; specifically, one who is self-reliant, independent, and can quickly transform to fit the different roles that the unpredictable market demands. As the disabled veteran in this formulation becomes knowable through the neoliberal parameters of investment, risk, and profit, successfully rehabilitating the mind of the solider is framed as a national mission to recover lost productivity.
IAVA's partnership with EHE Health, the "Sometimes Even Heroes Need Help" window campaign, Rieckhoff's and Obama's statements are all examples that make clear the changing representational approach to mental and/or psychiatric disability under the purview of ablenationalism, as it is informed by neoliberal tactics of inclusion and governance. These "nationalist-inflected" media portrayals of "mental health challenges'' construct veterans with mental and/or psychiatric disabilities as a valuable population for rehabilitation, rather than "parasitic" to the nation-state (Mitchell and Snyder 2015). Obama's recognition of "invisible wounds" as the target for national attention elucidates how veterans with mental and/or psychiatric disabilities have come to symbolize "a certain kind of embodied value" for the United States (Mitchell and Snyder 2015, 15). His "open rhetorical claim to a new era of inclusion" for veterans with "invisible wounds" is a tactic of American exceptionalism, wherein mental and/or psychiatric disability is imagined as the final frontier of national progress, a testament to the United States' pronounced benevolence and generosity toward a vulnerable population (Mitchell and Snyder 2015, 19). Further, the public/private partnership that gave rise to Clay Hunt Act and the "Sometimes Even Heroes Need Help Campaign" attests to the fact that not only is this population of disabled veterans symbolically valuable, but it has become a new commodification opportunity for preventative healthcare firms and the non-profit industrial complex. Within this web of public/private partnerships, what is further obscured is the state's accountability and its role in the production of these "invisible wounds."
"Learning to Love Again": Chopper as a Technology of Rehabilitation
Returning to Chopper and Maroshek's spectacular story and "unbreakable bond," we see how Chopper is positioned as an exceptional technology of rehabilitation, healing Maroshek's "invisible wounds" and facilitating his return to civilian life. Specifically, by showing Maroshek how to "love again," Chopper effectively expedites Maroshek's transformation into an "able-disabled" subject. In effect, Chopper functions as a linchpin to Maroshek's overcoming narrative, which first naturalizes heteronormativity as a successful (and desirable) measure of rehabilitation; and second, euphemistically positions mental/psychiatric disability as an individual bodymind emotional state that Maroshek must defeat, which further depoliticizes the context (the 'war on terror') in which he acquired his disability.
A series of idyllic scenes in the Today video serves to illustrate Chopper's success as a technology of rehabilitation. In the first scene, we return to Maroshek's home in suburban Southern California. Maroshek is riding a skateboard and Chopper is in front, pulling him on the leash. In the second scene, Maroshek and Chopper are playing catch at a park. In a third scene, the viewer is brought along to the Pacific coast. Chopper and Maroshek are surfing together—literally on the same surfboard. In a voice-over during this particular part of the video, Maroshek emphasizes: "Chopper is the best thing going for me dealing with post-traumatic stress, anxiety, battle-stress, and a traumatic brain injury. Chopper is really a part of me, he is always there for me." There is a lightness to these playful scenes; Chopper and Maroshek's intimacy is rendered visible. The surf scene, specifically, is a symbolic testament to Chopper's success facilitating Maroshek's "return" to civilian life and a prior state of bodymind "wholeness" (Clare 2017). In various interviews Maroshek claims that he was a "surf rat" before he was a soldier, and now he is able to return to his "surf rat" subjecthood, as it is made possible (again) through his companionship with Chopper. Maroshek explains in the Today video that returning home and "trying to deal with life on life's terms was very difficult" for him, and that he recognizes that it is for "a lot of guys." "What has really cushioned that ride," he says, was having his "companion," Chopper.
Chopper's unconditional love is framed as what ultimately engenders Maroshek's successful return to normative American civilian life, specifically as represented through his ability to fold back into the institution of the family. Discussing Chopper's impact on his ability to cultivate a family, Maroshek says, "now [Chopper] sits at home with me and hangs out with my family and helps me raise my newborn baby Sasha." During this monologue, the video transitions to a clip of what we presume is Maroshek's family's home. Chopper is sprawled out on top of Maroshek's wife who is sitting on a leather couch, she is smiling and hugging Chopper tightly. Maroshek is sitting next to her petting Chopper. The scene then transitions to a photograph of a newborn baby wearing a camouflage printed beanie, wrapped in a leopard print blanket with pink trim. "It's really hard to describe the relationship and companionship," Maroshek continues, "but for me, aside from helping out and being my partner downrange, and in the battlefield, he also showed me how to love again. He showed me what true companionship is." This last sentence and the accompanying scenes are telling. When Maroshek says "partner downrange" the video transitions to a military drill scene. When he says that Chopper showed him "how to love again," the montage shifts and the camera tilts up to a still image of Maroshek, his wife, and two German Shepherds: Chopper and his son, Thor. Wearing hiking gear, they are all posing in front of what appears to be a rock overlook; the bright blue sky is juxtaposed against steely gray jutting mountains.
This rehabilitative narrative affectively shores up the naturalized linking of heterosexuality and able-bodiedness/mindedness, participating in what Robert McRuer (2006) has named "compulsory able-bodiedness" (2). Specifically, Chopper is positioned as the conduit for the possibility of heterosexual love's healing. In multiple interviews, and in this video, Maroshek notes that without Chopper, he may have never met his wife. He explains that one day he was out with Chopper and a "beautiful woman approached," asked if she could pet his dog, and "the rest is history" (Sharon 2016). Stories that evoke heterosexual love in crisis, like this one, function to consolidate the power of compulsory heterosexuality. Sara Ahmed (2008) writes that in these stories "heterosexuality becomes itself a form of happy return: promising us to overcome injury. Heterosexual love is what heals" (134). In converting "bad feelings" into "good feelings," Chopper is the one who ultimately brings the "suffering" veteran back into the "national fold" (Ahmed 2008, 134). Further, as the video attests, Chopper is also valued for his reproductive labor, securing heteronormative, white futurity through helping "raise" Maroshek's daughter, Sasha. If under ablenationalism disability has been made primarily "knowable within the parameters of heteronormativity," then this spectacular framing of love works to further sediment assimilationist modes of belonging and citizenship as a desirable measure of disability inclusion (Mitchell and Snyder 2015, 36). Vis-à-vis Chopper's companionship, Maroshek is transformed into an enabled minoritized subject, one who does not significantly challenge the prevailing "normative practices of majoritarian lifestyles that create and perpetuate inequality" (Mitchell and Snyder 2015, 43). Concomitantly, the service dog transforms into a technology of proper heteronormative feeling.
"Learning to love again" euphemistically frames Maroshek's disabilities as matters of individual concern, shifting the focus away from a broader socio political critique of U.S. militarism—the context in which mass debilitation like Maroshek's is produced—to a focus on an individual's emotional capacity for rehabilitation. Returning to a flashback montage sequence in the Today video, we can further dissect the stakes of this individualizing impulse. The montage sequence in question ends with Maroshek discussing his post-deployment work with the SEAL Dog Foundation. In the culminating photograph, Maroshek and two other men who are wearing fatigues are huddled around a German Shepherd. All three men are adjusting the dog's harness, but Maroshek's is the only face that is visible to the viewer. He is smiling wide as his arm is outstretched and touching the dog. In a voice-over he says that with his work in SDF he hopes to "help other service members and wounded warriors acquire that same companionship and hopefully find that love with themselves and their family." Here again we see the rehabilitative process framed as "find[ing] the love," placing the responsibility of overcoming on each individual handler and their dog. Successful recovery, or rehabilitation, is contingent upon the cultivation of a properly affective interspecies relationship. Rather than a process of coping with and learning to live with the shared somatic or psychological effects of war, rehabilitation is conceptualized as an individualized process of becoming productive once again in the service of the nation (through joining the labor market and reproducing the family—as Maroshek's success story attests). As such, Maroshek is venerated as the epitome of the "able-disabled" subject. Self-enterprising and entrepreneurial, he is held up as an example of the enduring potential that all individuals possess to overcome disability and "fit into normal society" (Titchkosky 2003, 527-530).
Ultimately, the euphemistic language of love and the sentimental montage footage dissuades the viewer from contemplating power relations and structural culpability. Instead of provoking the viewer to consider disability as a "category to be contested and debated," the narrative fixes disability as something that must be eradicated through the love of the dog and the family (Kafer 2013, 3). The narrative also works to insidiously depoliticize the work of the service dog. By emphasizing the "common-sense" linkages between animal love (specifically dog love) and the American family, the value of Maroshek and Chopper's interdependent relationship, is always, already linked to the white, nuclear family. Their service dog/handler relationship is constructed as a vehicle for Maroshek to fold back into the normative strictures of able-bodied/minded society, rather than a testament to a radical interdependency that was forged out of a shared relation to the oppressive and debilitating power of the U.S. military industrial complex.
Most insidiously, one could argue that the rhetoric of emotion ("love") in combination with Today's use of "wound" (a physical metaphor for a psychological condition) to describe Marsohek's experience of disability, functions to effectively disaggregate his experience (and others like him) from that of the (racialized) "dangerous mad subject." While this framing shifts cultural perceptions of veterans with mental and/or psychiatric disabilities, facilitating the potential for inclusion for those who can "learn to love," it also renders disposable those who cannot or who refuse to "learn to love." Historically, the figure of the amputee whose visible wounds are imagined as prosthetizable "into a semblance of normalcy" has existed in stark contrast to the 'mentally ill' veteran, whose nebulous wounds are imagined as an invisibilized "persistent threat to normalcy and social reintegration" (Samuels 2017, 135). However, as Rachel Gorman (2017) insightfully argues, the contemporary call to destigmatize mental health (and make the invisible wound "knowable") is a project of reclaiming whiteness. Specifically, one way this is done is by "by moving madness into the semiotic system of emotions" (Gorman 2017, 312).
It makes sense that the service dog is key to this contemporary reclamation project—both in terms of its role literally rehabilitating the mentally ill veteran as well as rehabilitating the image of the mentally ill veteran. Annamari Vänskä (2016) writes that in the nineteenth century in Europe and the United States, the keeping of dogs as pets trickled down from the white, upper classes to the middle classes. The process, Vänskä (2016) contends, "thoroughly sentimentalized the dog," granting them a quasi-subjecthood as a sentient being deserving of care (79). The pet dog soon symbolized ideal family life. It was linked to a "new sensibility," one where love and kindness towards animals and pets was part and parcel of establishing "middle-class propriety" (Vänskä 2016, 79; Kete 1994). This transformed the dog into a "love machine," an important tool of domesticity that was a source and mediator of emotions like "love, loyalty, and care within the family," and, in some ways, transformed the dog into a commodity (Vänskä 2016, 79). Most importantly, pet dog keeping was conceptualized as a pedagogical tool to teach "compassion towards others and children" (Vänskä 2016, 79).
In the twenty-first century, the ideal subject of neoliberalism is expected to harness the ability to "love well" and is self-actualized through the constant performance of emotion in contradistinction to the "uncultivatable poor and racialized populations who are reduced to their base instincts and impulses" (Haritaworn 2015, 89). As such, if "becoming civilized" through learning how to "love well" is a precondition for inclusion for the "invisibly wounded" veteran, then it follows that the service dog's utility in this narrative is figured through their imagined capacity to teach the veteran how to properly harness feeling again (i.e., to properly affect and be affected).
This affective calculus insidiously governs and justifies the uneven distribution of life, death, and debilitation in war. Spectacularly sentimental stories about disabled veterans and their service dogs like Chopper and Maroshek's work to reposition veterans with mental and/or psychiatric disabilities as subjects available for rehabilitation and incorporation. This narrative papers over the sedimentation of a population (racialized, mad, terrorist Other) deemed unavailable for rehabilitation and thus disposable. As it will become clear in the next section, Chopper's status as a multi-purpose canine-cum-service dog generates a troubling linkage between the role of the service dog and a racialized U.S. biopolitics of war.
"Paws for the Cause:" Chopper as Multi-Purpose Canine
As the Today video makes clear, Chopper is conferred the status of a "good dog:" a patriotic, good canine citizen. This is not only because of his success as Maroshek's service dog, but also because of his active role in the literal and symbolic securitization of the nation-state post 9/11. Chopper circulates as a "cuddly face" of the 'war on terror,' rendering more palatable the collateral damage, or the literal debilitation and killing of the Other in the name of freedom and security. The United States has the largest "canine contingent" in the world, and as Diamond-Lenow (2020) argues, the figure of the military working dog has also become a "symbolic weapon of war" (8-9). Military working dogs have thus become central to contemporary articulations of a racialized nationalism in the United States. The claim that military working dogs, like Chopper, work in the service of a racialized U.S. biopolitics of war is not novel; however, this section illustrates the danger when discourses of nationalism and patriotism—those that shape the military working dog—are transposed to the service dog.
Chopper's body, as the Today hosts note in the video, was once instrumentalized as a weaponized "extension" of Maroshek. Their methodical synchronized movements in one scene, a mock military drill, gesture toward their former role as a militarized human/dog assemblage whose ultimate goal was to eliminate the enemy—the terrorist Other. During the drill scene, the camera zooms in on the duo's methodical foot work, and both Chopper and Maroshek appear to be scanning their surroundings, as they would if they were in combat. In a voice-over, Maroshek again recounts how on the battlefield, Chopper saved his life and the life of other service members, specifically by detecting improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and thwarting Taliban ambushes.
In a 2016 interview with the Orange County Register, Maroshek explains in more detail how Chopper thwarted the Taliban and saved the lives of service members and Afghan villagers. Maroshek recalls that January 2010, when he and Chopper were deployed in Afghanistan, "the Americans took a small town. They rounded up the villagers and put them in a building on the east end. They rounded up the Taliban fighters and put them in a building on the west end" (Sharon 2016). When they "got word that a Taliban attack was imminent," Maroshek, Chopper, and a couple of other Navy SEALs were sent out to "see if the threat was real" (Sharon 2016). Chopper became "agitated" when they passed by a motorcycle because he realized the "enemy was nearby" (Sharon 2016). "What happened next is as cinematic as it is heroic," the journalist interviewing Maroshek writes, "Chopper darted into the brush. Maroshek could hear his dog fighting and the screams of overwhelmed men" (Sharon 2016). A man "leaped out of the bushes with Chopper's jaw locked on his ribcage," and Maroshek then "shot the man in the head" and, once Chopper was safely away from the line of fire, Maroshek used an "automatic weapon to spray the brush. […] All of the Taliban fighters were eliminated" (Sharon 2016). When Maroshek checked the bodies, they all had dog bites. "They never had a chance" he said (Sharon 2016). Maroshek notes that they then realized one of the Taliban fighters had a detonator connected to a 600-pound cache of explosives, which was hooked up to where the "villagers were housed" on the east end of town. "Chopper had saved them all. […] He got a steak that night," Maroshek emphasizes (Sharon 2016).
As a multi-purpose canine, Chopper was trained to violently secure civilization, as defined through white supremacist discourses of freedom, liberty, and democracy. He participated in a process of animalization, wherein the racialized, terrorist Other was rendered expendable, ungreivable, and outside terms of subjectivity. As Maroshek explains, Chopper's role was to incapacitate the Taliban fighters so that Maroshek could then "eliminate" them with an automatic weapon. 12 The language of "eliminated" bespeaks the abject and animalized status of Taliban fighters. 13 One could also argue that the dog bites that Maroshek speaks of are also significant to this process of animalization. As Bénédicte Boisseron (2018) argues the bite not only "dehumanizes but also, and more importantly, commodifies the human victim by making [them] fit for consumption" (71). By way of Chopper's bite, then, the Other is produced as animal—as fit for consumption—, and Chopper is produced and made intelligible as an exceptional American canine citizen subject. Subjectified through discourses of white, militarized, hegemonic masculinity, Chopper is symbolically hailed as an arbiter of freedom and democracy, for he not only saved an entire village from immanent death, but from "terrorist" rule. Calling on Spivak (1988), this spectacular scene circulates as a story of a "white dog" saving brown women, men, and children from brown men. We see here that Chopper's role as a tool of debilitation is justified in the "name of civilization," as war "presupposes violence against the 'uncivilized'" (Tyler 2016, 869).
Despite, or rather I suggest because of, Chopper's training and success in his role as a multi-purpose canine, he is positioned within the Today video as the apotheosis of the service dog. We see a smooth transfiguration—from a technology of U.S. imperialist terror to a technology of rehabilitation—most clearly within the comment archive of the Today video. Many of the 92 comments refer to Chopper as a "hero," thank him for his service, and remark on how beautiful and well-trained he is. Sprinkled within the comment section are various emojis, including hearts, paw prints, hugs, prayer hands, and smiley faces. Some commenters only gesture toward Chopper's exceptionality in terms of his role as a multi-purpose canine, such as Mike Reed who writes, "To meet one of these Military Working dogs and thank them personally for what they do for our country has always been a dream of mine." Many other commenters, however, tacitly and explicitly shape Chopper's value in terms of his capacity for flexibility, or his ability to "serve" both on and off the battlefield.
For example, John Butler writes:
"dogs and animals have a long and proud history of service not only in times of peace but also in times of war. Dogs have really proven their worth since 9/11 and will continue to provide that 'paws for the cause' that soldiers everywhere value so highly. My own two bullies keep me going on days when nothing else will. Ya know?"
In providing "paws for the cause" dogs are marshalled as voluntary participants in the 'war on terror,' prized for their shared investment in the security and liberty of the nation-state, "ideologically committed to principles of 'American Freedom'" (Diamond-Lenow 2020, 15). Additionally, Butler's comment, specifically the analogy between his own two "bullies" and dogs who have "served," once again evokes the trope of the "good dog": the dog that has a natural proclivity for loving humans and who is willing to put it all on the line and sacrifice themselves for the protection of the family and empire. As a "good dog" Chopper's value is constituted through his boundless loyalty and service to the nation. His willingness to potentially "pay the ultimate price" on the battlefield, as Maroshek says later in the interview, is weighed equally as valuable as his capacity to, in the words of John Butler, keep Maroshek going "on days that nothing else will" off the battlefield.
What takes shape in the comment archive is a transposition of the qualities and affects traditionally attached to the multi-purpose canine onto the service dog. The comment upvoted to the top of the comment section with 58 likes, written by Barbie Williams, is a poignant example of this: "My service dogs saved me from a fire, they tore my back door off to get me out. I had no idea I was about to die. They are my heros [sic]." In Williams' comment, the service dog is positioned in terms of hyper-ability; they are strong, brave, fearless, self-sacrificing, and intuitive. This slippage between the valuable and desirable qualities in a multi-purpose canine and service dog may seem innocent enough; however, another comment, by a viewer whose username is BippityBap, alludes to what is at stake in this configuration. BippityBap writes, "Plus, it's a great feeling to know that you can count on him to rip out the throat of home invaders when fellas come to visit in the middle of the night." The figure of the multi-purpose canine-cum-service dog following BippityBap's logic is valued for their ability to protect the home. In the United States, ideas of the home and family have historically been "defined over and against people of color" (Reddy 1998, 356). Inaugurated through racial capitalism, the family unit "demarcates a white-normative space" within the private sphere (Weaver 2021, 137). In BippityBap's comment, the multi-purpose canine-cum-service dog is valued because of their militaristic ability to protect and secure the home from the specter of the "home invader," imagined as a nonwhite body out of place. Protecting the home via "ripping the throat" or literally debilitating the "home invader" reveals a troubling slippage between the racialized terrorist Other and the "home invader." Although operating at a different scale, both the "home invader" and terrorist Other are imagined as racialized threats to the (tacitly white) nation and family, and whose debilitation or "elimination" is justified on the grounds of protection. In this configuration, we see how certain bodies and populations are constructed as worthy of protection and care, and how other bodies and populations are constructed as expendable and in need of protection from (Diamond-Lenow 2020; Glenney Boggs 2013; Puar 2007).
Most poignantly, this figure, the multi-purpose canine-cum-service dog, through the generation of nationalist affects (and attendant pro-U.S. military sentiment) works to obscure the violent production of disability through war. As Nirmala Erevelles (2011) reminds us, "War is one of the largest producers of disability in a world still inhospitable to disabled people and their primarily female caregivers" (117). In this transnational economy of life and death, as Maroshek the "invisibly wounded" veteran is made legible as a valuable subject to be invested in and cared for, the specter of those bodyminds rendered collateral damage, "maimed" and debilitated by Chopper's bite, haunts the Today video (Puar 2017). The public veneration and celebration of Maroshek and Chopper's service dog/handler partnership, specifically, eclipses the conditions of imperialist violence that created their very partnership. As the faces of both the Navy SEAL dog program as well as the SDF (Maroshek's non-profit) Chopper and Maroshek are exceptionalized as both war heroes and healers, together forming a gordian knot of disability, war, and rehabilitation.
"What if Your Weapon Was Your Dog?": Ethics of Care Across Species Lines
The spectacular narrative that positions Chopper as the multi-purpose canine-cum-service dog "savior" of Maroshek is the one that circulates most visibly in the Today video, the video comment archive, and concomitant popular news articles. This hypervisible narrative, however, conceals a far more nuanced story about interdependency, reciprocity, and the ethics of caring across species lines, gestured toward in two anecdotes about Maroshek caring for Chopper. The first story is about how Chopper came to become Maroshek's service dog and the second story is about what happened when Chopper, himself, became disabled.
Prior to 2016, military working dogs were characterized as "surplus equipment" and were not required to be brought back to the US after they served. 14 When Maroshek retired, because there was no procedure to retire Chopper and bring him "home," Maroshek wrote letters to the Navy's Judge Advocate General and then the Commodore to the Navy advocating on Chopper's behalf. For 18 months, his request was repeatedly denied. Maroshek was told "the Navy didn't want a war dog released into a civilian neighborhood" (Sharon 2016, n.p.). As a last-ditch attempt to bring Chopper home, Maroshek updated his letters to explain that he needed Chopper as a service dog to help him "deal with his PTSD" (Sharon 2016, n.p.). He had doctors write letters on Chopper's behalf, and eventually the Commanding Officer of Naval Special Warfare Support Activity took up Maroshek's cause. He wrote in his letter of support,
"I support the adoption […] as a key partnership for a long and full life of MPC Chopper. Their matured friendship, devotion and dependence on each other is an invaluable bond that will enhance the lives of both service members" (Sharon 2016, n.p.).
This example, read alongside the Today video and popular news articles, reveals a "deep sense of togetherness" and an "enmeshment" of Chopper and Maroshek's identities and being, or what Weaver (2021) names, "becoming in kind" (101). Throughout their partnership, Maroshek and Chopper shaped who each other was and who each other could become. Military working dogs, although instrumentalized as violent weapons on behalf of the United States, are themselves "subjected to military and nationalist violence" (Diamond-Lenow 2020, 9). Chopper (like other military working dogs) was rendered disposable after his tenure with the Navy, and if not for Maroshek's advocating (and framing him as his service dog) would have been left behind overseas. Chopper's becoming a service dog appears to be facilitated through Maroshek, as an act of care and devotion. Likewise, as I have detailed, Maroshek's becoming a legible, rehabilitatable subject was largely facilitated through Chopper. Wrought out of the violence of U.S. militarism, or through "shared predicaments of exclusion and isolation," perhaps we can alternatively read Chopper and Maroshek's service dog/handler relationship as a counterinsurgent enactment of care otherwise (Mitchell and Snyder 2015, 47).
Chopper, himself, became disabled later in life. In honor of National K9 Veterans Day, Chopper and Maroshek were featured in a post on the Walkin' Pets Blog 15 page. The 2018 blog post details the evolution of Maroshek and Chopper's relationship, culminating in Chopper's disablement (hip dysplasia) and Maroshek's role as Chopper's caregiver. 16 Maroshek emphasizes in the post that he is committed to helping "Chopper live the rest of his life with dignity and in comfort" ("Navy SEAL Vet" 2018). The post links the two products that Maroshek has acquired to aid Chopper's mobility: the "Full Support/4-Wheel Walkin' Wheels Dog Wheelchair" to go on walks, and the "Walkin' Life Combo Harness" for shorter trips outside.
Disability and animal studies scholar/activist Sunaura Taylor (2017) writes about how the relationship dynamic shifted when her service dog, Bailey, became disabled. As Bailey's "service human," she coats his medication with peanut butter, helps him through episodes of anxiety and pain, and makes sure he does not go up or down stairs (Taylor 2017, 223). She remarks that there is something "beautiful" about "two vulnerable, interdependent beings of different species learning to understand what each other needs" (Taylor 2017, 223). This relationship—one built on shared vulnerability, care, and cross-species communication—is not the usual one that is reflected in popular representations of service dogs and their disabled handlers.
It is important here to emphasize that the lived experience of Chopper and Maroshek, like Taylor and Bailey, is complicated. It is "intra-active" in Price's (2017) words, "emergent" and "fluid." Although this article has presented a critique of the narratives and discourses that their spectacular story generates and circulates, I want to underscore the fact that my goal is not to critique the "actual" relationship that Maroshek and Chopper cultivated. If anything, the palpable reciprocity that is evidenced in the blog post speaks to a more capacious understanding of the terms of Maroshek and Chopper's relationship. Disabled animals, as Taylor (2017) reminds us, are "viewed as burdens too—impacted by ableist human conceptions of dependency" (210). We could read Maroshek's commitment to creating an accessible environment—honoring Chopper's "dignity and comfort"—as a model for a dynamic orientation toward care across the species line, blooming from a shared relationship to disability.
Chopper passed away at the age of twelve in 2018. One year later, a statue was erected in his honor in Veteran's Park in Imperial Beach, California. There are two parts to the statue. On one platform, a bronze Chopper sits serenely. On the other, a plaque reads in large, engraved letters, "Chopper, The Navy Seal Dog," and in smaller letters, "City of Imperial Beach Honors all military working dogs past, present, and future for their undying loyalty, devotion, and faithful service." In a San Diego Union-Tribune article documenting the statue unveiling, Maroshek explains that Chopper is a "symbol of the humility embodied in a 'silent professional,' one who quietly gets the job done" (Hernandez 2019). He also reflects on the loss of Chopper. "Without crying about it," he says, "it's like losing a child" (Hernandez 2019). Although "humbled by the statue," Maroshek notes that he thinks of himself "as just one small part in the lasting legacy of a spectacular dog" (Hernandez 2019).
Symbolized by the statue is Chopper's lasting legacy as a multi-purpose canine-cum-service dog: his loyalty and devotion to Maroshek and the nation carved in stone. The statue materializes and reverberates the nationalist affects that have shaped the representations of Chopper that I have detailed throughout this article. As a material object that harnesses the sentimentality of the sacrificing soldier, the statue itself positions Chopper as a grievable subject.
As I have illuminated throughout this article, the spectacular story of Chopper and Maroshek, culminating here with Chopper's memory carved in stone, insidiously papers over the violent production of disability through war. As hailed to participate in the project of ablenationalism, as a multi-purpose canine-cum-service dog, Chopper (and the veneration and celebration of him) covertly sutures a politics of disability to a racialized U.S. biopolitics of war. However, Chopper and Maroshek's spectacular story also provokes a deep consideration of what interspecies care and interdependency could look like. Chopper and Maroshek's relationship was both a mechanism of terror and survival; it was an ambivalent network of care born out of the violent operations of white supremacist imperialist nationalism.
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This interview is a promotion for SEAL Dog, a Smithsonian Channel documentary that tells the story of Chopper's role as a Navy SEAL dog and Maroshek's role developing the SEAL dog program. The made for TV documentary was released November 11, 2015.
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In various interviews, Maroshek explains that he was instrumental in helping establish the SEAL's first canine program. Chopper arrived in 2007 from the Czech Republic to be trained as a SEAL dog (Hernandez 2019).
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It is important to note here that Maroshek calls Chopper an "emotional therapy dog" in the video. In many articles that detail the relationship, Maroshek clarifies that Chopper is his service dog. However, he does also refer to him as his "emotional support dog" occasionally. There is a frequent conflation between service dogs and emotional therapy/support dogs within journalistic accounts of animals that assist disabled people. The Americans with Disabilities Act revised their definition of service animals in 2011, and they are now defined under titles II and III of the ADA as dogs who are individually trained to perform work or tasks for disabled people. The work and/or task must be related to the handler's disability. The ADA clarifies, "dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals." In this article, I will be referring to Chopper as a service dog for consistency, although I recognize the contentious and often slippery distinction between emotional work and task work.
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Other notable films and television series about service dogs: Through a Dog's Eyes (2010); Max (2015); The Buddy System (2016); Adele and Everything After (2017); Megan Leavy (2017); Rescue Dog to Super Dog (2017); Pick of the Litter (2018); To Be of Service (2019); The Greatest Bond (2020); A Dog's Service (2020).
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Speciesism can be defined as the belief in human superiority over other non-human animals. However, it is important to note that there are debates about the utility of "speciesism" as a category of analysis as it can easily erase ontological debates about racialized populations, white supremacy, and the status of human. Speciesism was coined by philosopher Peter Singer who is known as the "father of animal rights." Singer's work has garnered strong pushback in the disability community because he has leveraged ableism in his arguments. For example, he has claimed that disabled people have a lower quality of life and that severely disabled people lacking cognitive capacities are not full persons. According to Sunaura Taylor (2017), Singer's influence in the larger animal activist/animal rights world is one of the reasons why "animal rights and disability rights are nearly always seen as at odds" (124).
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I did not seek Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval for this study because it is not considered to be "human subjects research," as the comments that I analyze in the article are all publicly posted on YouTube. In order to protect the privacy of the commenters whose comments are under discussion, throughout the article I have provided commentary with YouTube username pseudonyms.
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Because this article oscillates between what has been variously characterized as mental and/or psychiatric disability or "mental illness" (PTSD, battle stress, anxiety) and "physical" disability, I use Margret Price's (2015) concept of bodymind when I feel it is appropriate to indicate the fundamental imbrication of the body and the mind (rather than just body or mind) when discussing disability. She specifically defines the bodymind as "a sociopolitically constituted and material entity that emerges through both structural (power- and violence-laden) contexts and also individual (specific) experience" (Price 2015, 271).
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In 1944, US congress approved a million-dollar bill to authorize the Veterans Administration to provide seeing-eye dogs for blind veterans (see: "Providing See-Eye Dogs for Blind Veterans," Senate Committee on Finance, Congress Session 78-2, April 12, 1944). In the report they state, "It is entirely consistent with the obligation to which the Nation owes to disabled veterans that every reasonable means of assisting blind veterans should be utilized."
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It is important to note that advances in combat and medical technology have facilitated the increased likelihood for survival of veterans who were severely debilitated in the 'war on terror'. "Surviving such severe injuries," Schalk (2020) notes, "has also meant an increase in PTSD often in conjunction with TBIs" (406). In the 2020 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report released by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, they write, "as is true of the U.S. population broadly, the Veteran population has experienced an increase in the number of deaths by suicide." Specifically, since 2008, the average number of Veteran suicide deaths per day has remained at 17 and 18 annually. They note that "from 2005 through 2018, the average number of U.S. adults who died by suicide each day rose steadily. In 2005, an average of 86.6 American adults, including Veterans, died by suicide each day. There were an average of 124.4 deaths each day in 2017 and an average of 127.4 in 2018" ("National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report" 2020). The suicide rate for veterans is 1.5 times the rate of the civilian population.
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Veterans have long been the source of national anxieties in the United States (Schalk 2020). Since the Civil War, veterans have been a "focal points of cultural concern as well as symbols of national pride and masculinity" (Schalk 2020, 406). However, after the Vietnam War, concerns about mental disability emerged alongside questions about the "righteousness" of the war, shifting the once idealized perspective on veterans. Disabled veterans also became perceived as "expensive, potentially dangerous liabilities in civilian life" (Schalk 2020, 406).
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Here I use financialization as a descriptor for a broad shift in contemporary society whereby financial markets, the financial sector, and finance capital have come to play a pivotal role in how subjects and subjectivities come to be considered valuable. For example, in their review of financialization literature, French et al. (2011) explain: "In particular, technologies such as the securitization of mortgages, the shift from defined benefit to defined contributions occupational pension schemes, and the rise of personal pensions have helped bring forth new, investor subjectivities and financially self-disciplined subjects" (804).
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Although outside of the scope of this article, it is important to note here how dogs, and specifically German Shepherds, have long been used to terrorize Black, brown, and Indigenous people in the form of the police dog. The legacy of the military working dog and police dog is intimately entangled, and a thorough exploration of debilitation, racialization, and the linkages between military and police dogs is fruitful for future research.
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Here it is important to note that historically, categories of 'human' and 'animal' have been configured "through categories of liberal subjectivity" which place white (and some would argue, nondisabled) people as fully human—and deserving of protection—while Black people, Indigenous people, people of color, and non-human animals are positioned in "an abject status of alterity, rendered expendable and ungrievable, outside of these terms of subjectivity" (Diamond-Lenow 2020, 9). Many scholars in discussing the intersection of race and animality note that the human has always figured as an exclusionary concept in race and species terms, and that it has historically operated to make sense of who does not belong (Kim 2015; Dayan 2011; Chen 2012; Wall 2016).
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With the passage of the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, retired military working dogs receive a ticket to return to the United States and their handlers get priority adoption.
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Walkin' Pets by HandicappedPets.com is an online retailer for aging, injured and disabled pets. The website is "filled with stories of hope and healing, as well as the products, services, and support that a caretaker of a disabled or aging pet needs."
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The blog post also explains that service and/or therapy dogs can aid veterans in a variety of ways. They specifically note that "Just petting a dog releases serotonin, an important chemical in the human body which can improve mood (low serotonin levels are linked with depression)" ("Navy SEAL Vet" 2018). After this the blog post jokingly asks, "did you know dogs can also serve as matchmakers?" and states that Maroshek met his wife because she asked to pet Chopper ("Navy SEAL Vet" 2018).
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