Kaya was a service dog who had flown more than 250 times to help unite veterans with service dogs was honored during her last flight before her retirement.
She was specifically trained to help veterans cope with mental health issues and has been with her handler, Cole Lyle, a Marine Corps veteran, since 2014. As you'll see in one of the videos below. Cole came home with PTSD and eventually spent his own money to get a service dog, Kaya.
Kaya was also the main inspiration for the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers (PAWS) Act.
The act, which allows veterans to be united with service dogs for free, was signed into law in 2021.
Kaya has flown over 320 times with Cole. Out of that number, 250 of those Southwest flights were made to lobby for the PAWS Act. But Kaya was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer, so Cole (thanks to Southwest Airlines) boarded the plane to get her back to where she was born, Dallas. By this point Kaya could not walk but as you'll see every effort was made to keep her comfortable on and after the trip. A few days later, Kaya passed. The plane’s pilot said it was their “solemn honor” to take Kaya to her home to rest. Kaya was met with cheers and applause as people honored her on the plane and greeted her at the airport.
The story gained a wider audience after David Muir shared it on World News Now.
After Kaya's passing, Cole wrote this on Facebook:
A few days ago I was depressed and could hardly get out of bed an hour or so after waking up. But then I heard Kaya’s collar jangle in the other room and legitimately felt like I was going crazy. “She’s gone,” I thought, “and her collar is sitting at the back of a shelf in the other room. No WAY I just heard that.”
To prove my sanity I investigated. Lo and behold, the collar had fallen to the floor without any tectonic activity or strong gusts of wind. I couldn’t help but laugh.
“You did it again Kaya…I’m up!”
Yesterday would’ve been her 9th birthday. I cried a lot.
But I’m here…and I’m up.
As any of us pet owners who have had to go through this knows, we sometimes wonder if we made the right decision in putting our loved pets to sleep. Cole addressed that here because he went through it too:
Got the results of Kaya’s autopsy today and it confirms two things: 1) I made the right decision & 2) that girl was a freaking warrior.
Strap yourself in, this is gonna make you cry.
At the time of her passing, Kaya had cancerous lumps in 65% of her lungs, most of her heart, kidneys, bladder, spinal cord, and digestive system.
But knowing that other than being bothered by the lump on her leg before surgery, she was playing, eating, and generally acting normal I asked why she would have so rapidly declined post-surgery.
The vet said, “I honestly have no idea how she managed so well, for so long.” The sarcoma had been in her body for years. But since she never seemed to be bothered and her checkups were always good, she never got scans to check for it.
She had just learned to deal with it. The diminished lung capacity, blood flow, etc. As her owner, I never noticed (and believe me I paid close attention) any incapacitation or diminishment of her mental or physical capabilities. She was always just as active and alert as she was when she was a puppy, right up to the surgery.
So what’s the explanation? Vet said that putting her under anesthesia was likely the tipping point. Her heart, lungs, and nervous system just couldn’t continue putting up a fight with cancer while simultaneously trying to recover from major surgery.
Having been the one who made the decision for her to undergo the surgery, I somewhat blame myself. But hindsight is 20/20. She was clearly in pain from the cancerous growth, and was showing no other signs of discomfort.
If I hadn’t removed the growth, the outcome would’ve been the same. Maybe I’d have had a month or so more. But it was clear the cancer spread too rapidly to be effectively treated, even post-surgery prior to the autopsy.
In short, Kaya was a warrior. She suffered in silence. Maybe she, like so many of the veterans she helped, thought her condition was normal and just learned to live with it.
But I’d like to think she knew the work she did for me was important and just didn’t want to give up; she pushed forward despite her pain because she loved me, and all of those around her, so completely.
Thank you, Kaya. I miss you fiercely. Until we meet again, sweet girl.