By Crystal Burns
For a Trenton couple, Hottie is more than a pet.
She’s a protective older sister to their two-year-old son, a military hero, and what completes their family.
Chais Wallsmith and Leslie Young took Hottie to a veterinarian in Nashville last week where they learned the retired Marine Labrador is suffering from insulinomna or pancreatic cancer.
“We just want to give her the best quality of life possible,” Wallsmith said.
Wallsmith, a 2007 Peabody High School graduate, joined the Marines in 2008. He met Hottie before he was deployed to Afghanistan for the second time. It was her first deployment.
Wallsmith said an officer asked if anyone in the company would be willing to be a dog handler, and he raised his hand. He went to South Carolina where the dogs were being kept in a trailer kennel. Marines were instructed to pick a door in the trailer. Hottie was waiting behind the door Wallsmith selected.
She was one year and eight months old and had been trained to detect 11 scents of explosions. On tour in Afghanistan, Hottie stayed within 100 to 150 feet of Wallsmith. When she detected an Improvised Explosive Device (IED), she laid on it. Wallsmith said during their time together, Hottie had two confirmed IED detections and one unconfirmed.
She was popular among the troops for her heroics and playful nature. Wallsmith said even the toughest Marines would turn to mush in Hottie’s hands, generously petting her beautiful black coat and tossing a ball with her.
Hottie served another tour of duty after Wallsmith, discharged in 2012 with the rank of lance corporal, came home, but he knew he could put in to adopt her at her retirement because he was her first handler. The two were reunited in North Carolina three years ago. Young was five months pregnant at the time.
“It’s like she knew,” Young said. “She was very protective.”
When their son Cohen was born, the couple often found Hottie keeping guard beside the baby’s crib. He calls her “sissy.”
Doctors have given Hottie six months to live, but Young reminds her family that it’s only a number. They are hopeful that chemotherapy will help. She has already had one treatment with no adverse effects.
“The doctors say that dogs respond very well to chemotherapy,” Wallsmith said.
Trenton Animal Clinic gave Hottie a Bailey chair, which helps dogs unable to swallow correctly due to diseases such as megaesophagus, another challenge Hottie currently lives with.
Wallsmith’s friends at Big Bend Galvanizing in Trenton have created a GoFundMe account to help raise money for Hottie’s treatments.
“Hottie is more than just a dog,” Dawn Temple wrote in the account description. “She is a hero. She saved many lives; we have no choice but to save hers, and to give her the treatment and respect she deserves.” Young wrote, “Chais told the doctors we don’t care what we have to do, we are NOT giving up, we’re ready for war!”
Hottie retired with the rank of sergeant.
Big Bend is also selling T-shirts, which start at $12 for short sleeve and $17 for long sleeve, and barbecue to-go plates on August 25 to help Wallsmith cover Hottie’s medical bills. Young said the military does not offer benefits or financial support for retired service dogs, but the couple has connected with foundations that do provide assistance.
To order a shirt or barbecue, call Big Bend at 562-1260. To make a donation, visit gofundme.com/hottieretired-marine-ied-bomb-dog.
Hottie’s family is grateful for all the help they have received from their families and friends, the community, and Big Bend Galvanizing and to Bruce & Deven King for being instrumental in launching the campaign for Hottie from Glasgow, Mo.