Two American veterans, taking care of each other
By Josher Lumpkin
Photo: David Honea and his service dog, Harley
“As I tell everyone, I would do it all over again,” Honea said. “If you’re lucky enough to do something you really enjoy, that’s the most you can ask out of life, you know what I mean?”
David’s positive attitude regarding his military experience is impressive, especially considering during his career he was shot a total of 14 times.
“The worst ones were in my back,” Honea told me when I went to talk to him at Heartland of Eaton, the long-term care facility where he is currently awaiting his second shoulder replacement. “My levels of spinal injury are T3 and c4. That’s where they hit the worst, and the bullets were lodged in my brainstem.”
The injury left David without the use of his legs. With high blood pressure, heart issues and other health problems, if he wanted to live alone he would need help.
That’s where Harley, David’s 5-year old service dog, comes in.
“Harley is a medical alert animal, and what he does is, if something happens to me, he actually can tell what’s going on,” Honea said. “Like my blood pressure going up, and he knows if I’m having a stroke or a heart attack. It’s something that has to do with my sweat, because he’ll lick me constantly.”
Prior to Harley’s service to David as an alert animal, he was in training as a bomb-sniffing dog for the military.
“He wasn’t finished with his training, but he was good though,” Honea said. “He has actually done it; he’s actually sniffed out a bomb. Then they retrained him as a service animal.”
Harley is a miniature pinscher, an extremely intelligent breed originating from Germany. This small, lightweight animal was perfect for watching over David.
“My exact words were, ‘Do you have anything that if it jumped on my lap it wouldn’t break my legs,’” David laughed.
So what, exactly, does Harley do for David?
“Your body emits enzymes that they can smell and sense,” Honea explained. “So, if they smell it, they’ll lick you immediately. In your neck is your carotid artery, and that’s where they’ll lick if they sense your blood pressure going up. If you’re having a stroke, they’ll lick around your wrists and hands. If they lick the inside of your arm, you know it has something to do with the heart. I think all other dogs have the same instinct, but Harley’s is just over-sensitive, and I’m sure that’s from his bomb-detecting training. His nose is constantly going.
“And of course when I pass out, Harley tries to wake me up,” Honea continued. “He’ll lick me or nip at me constantly until I wake up. Not bite me, but nip at me, around my neck and around my face, and just try to wake me up. And if he can’t wake me up, I have a little ball that plugs into my phone, and he’s trained to bite that ball, and that calls 911.”
It’s an amazing feat that has already been performed once by David’s fuzzy little guardian angel.
“He’s actually done it one time, last year,” David recalled. “I had a massive heart attack, and Harley bit that ball just like he was trained. The firemen know where that call is coming from, and they have a key above my door they use to let themselves in. They said he was barking and whining at the door when they got there, and he led them straight to me, and sat on my chest.
“The paramedic wants to keep him for himself,” Honea said.
Harley has veteran status, and receives all of his veterinary care free of charge at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
“When I call over there, they ask if he’s retired or active duty,” Honea chuckled.
At my visit to Heartland of Eaton (the president of which has declared Harley official mascot), I was amazed by how well-behaved and well-trained the service animal was. He mostly sits on Honea’s lap as David roams the floor in his motorized wheelchair.
“He doesn’t do anything without permission,” Honea explained.
Honea took me outside to show me firsthand how effective Harley’s keen senses of detection can be.
“Harley, where are the squirrels?” Honea asked.
Harley jumped down off of Honea’s lap and began to growl and bark at a cluster of trees next to the building.
“That’s him saying, ‘there’s squirrel’s up there!’” Honea said with pride.
Harley is an extraordinary animal who has been tasked with protecting a similarly extraordinary man, and has proven effective several times in his seemingly impossible charge. After 27 years of protecting us, it is now David Honea’s turn to be watched over.
Reach DCP freelance writer Josher Lumpkin at josherlumpkin@DaytonCityPaper.com.