by Diana Bocco
Luis Carlos Montalván was a hero in more ways than one. A highly decorated veteran of the U.S. Army, Montalván was also an active spokesperson for those who suffer—just like he did—from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He became a household name in 2011, when his memoir UNTIL TUESDAY: A Wounded Warrior and the Golden Retriever Who Saved Him hit The New York Times bestseller list. Since then, Montalván has been an advocate for veterans with PTSD, appearing on television shows and traveling the country lecturing about his experience. Alongside his dog Tuesday, he worked tirelessly to promote the importance of service dogs to help veterans recover from both physical and emotional wounds.
But in December 2016, just months before the sequel to his bestselling book was due to be published, Montalván checked into a hotel and took his own life. He was only 43 years old. TUESDAY’S PROMISE: One Veteran, One Dog, and Their Bold Quest to Change Lives publishes in May 2017—and Montalván’s death is a clear reminder of the struggles of PTSD and the need to work even harder to help those who live with it.
A Soldier’s Story
Montalván completed several tours in Iraq before his unit was ambushed in 2003 while patrolling a compound. He suffered a concussion that resulted in a traumatic brain injury and three cracked vertebrae. Instead of retiring, Montalván hid his nightmares, stress, and chronic pain. He chose to stay in the Army and return to Iraq, completing his last tour in 2006.
By then, Montalván was suffering from debilitating headaches and worsening symptoms of PTSD. Once out of the military and back in New York City, Montalván spent the next two years fighting anxiety and barely leaving his apartment. It wasn’t until he received an email in 2008 about a program pairing veterans suffering from PTSD with service dogs that his life started to change.
Fighting the Demons of War
Until Tuesday is a book about a soldier meeting a sweet Golden Retriever who changes his life. In Tuesday’s Promise, Luis and Tuesday bring hope to troubled veterans around the country while Montalván battles chronic pain and faces a choice that will ultimately leave him without one of his legs. “It was tough,” says Ellis Henican, the book’s co-writer and the author of four New York Times bestsellers. “He was in pain. The rehab was slower than he wanted. But Luis was fearless in that way. He really was a soldier.”
Still, with Tuesday by his side, Montalván continued to work tirelessly to inspire and help others with PTSD—and much of the work he did had a double purpose: by helping others, he helped himself cope and understand his own struggles. “I think that was a big part of it, helping others to help yourself,” says Henican. “Mission brings focus and purpose, Luis was all about that.”
And Montalván certainly had a mission. “Luis, with Tuesday’s help, was the most focused person I have ever met,” Henican says. “He believed deeply in the power of animals to help people in need—not just veterans, not just people with disabilities. Anyone who was struggling.”
Henican remembers him as “intense,” a man dedicated to what he believed in, driven to share his message and get others to understand and support those who needed it desperately. “He had high standards for himself and for others, insisting that everything be done just right,” says Henican. “He sometimes drove me crazy because he never rested.”
It was that intensity and non-stop motion that Henican believes made it hard for Montalván to have what other people think of as a normal life. “But he believed he was here for a purpose, and he gave it everything he had,” Henican says.
The Final Message
You might think that Montalván’s suicide changes the message he and Tuesday so eagerly shared with the world, but that’s far from the truth. If anything, it sheds even more light on the disabling reality of those living with PTSD. Henican, who worked tirelessly with Montalván to share that message, says Montalván was passionate about it and that he would not have wanted people to lose hope, no matter what. “I have tried to come to grips with that myself. I am still very sad about his death,” says Henican. “I guess the only explanation is that these invisible wounds are very tough, tougher than most of us ever imagine. When you think you are cured, sometimes you are not. It reminds us to stay vigilant for the people we know who are struggling. Overcoming trauma is almost never a straight, upward line. What can the rest of us do? We can carry on. We can promote these important messages. We can be there for the people who need us. We can share the techniques that help. Tuesday is still doing that.”
In fact, Tuesday will continue to spread that message through ECAD (Educated Canines Assisting with Disabilities), the organization that Montalván loved and supported. Tuesday continues to thrive and receives lots of attention and love from Lu Picard (co-founder and director of programs at ECAD) and her family. “I was worried, after Luis’s death, that Tuesday would be confused on depressed or lonely,” says Henican. “But Lu, who should know, tells me that dogs don’t react that way to loss. They are much more in the now than humans are. She said Tuesday seemed a little off at first, but he quickly got into the routine of whatever was happening at the time.”
Henican says Tuesday’s reaction to the loss reminds him of something Montalván told him. Henican had asked, “What’s Tuesday’s favorite place to go?”
Montalván said that question was an easy one to answer. “Tuesday’s favorite place is wherever we are going next,” Montalván replied. “That’s how he experiences life. To him, it’s all about the present and the very immediate future.”
Montalván’s message is still as pure and strong as ever. Tuesday’s Promise is a testament to the love between a man and a dog who, together, changed many lives. “This book is what he has left behind, It’s his love letter to Tuesday,” says Henican. “It’s his advice to the rest of us. It’s the sum of everything that came before it.”
Click here for more information about how dogs assist veterans with PTSD, and try this link for other supportive resources.
All photos courtesy of Luis Carlos Montalván.