There's healing power in the love of a good dog.
A special force: love
As a young, single Army officer home after two deployments to Kuwait and Iraq, Captain Emily Birck fell hard for Captain John Tinsley.
John and Emily shared a powerful legacy of service—one passed down for generations. Both graduated from college with Reserve Officer Training Corps scholarships and Army commissions. Their grandfathers served in World War II. John’s dad dedicated his career to the Coast Guard, and Emily’s brother proudly graduated from West Point.
As they dreamed of a shared future, John applied for the Special Forces program, and Emily knew the Green Beret would fit his person-ality and drive.
They became a family, adding baby Isabella and a German shepherd pup named Maggie. But just as this vibrant family settled into a new rhythm of life, John deployed overseas again. Emily left the Army, packed up one-year-old Isabella and Maggie, and traveled to Cincinnati to stay with her parents.
And that’s when war knocked on their door, the officers and chaplain delivering irrevocable, gut-wrenching news. The love of her life–barely a month in Afghanistan—had been taken from her by an insidious improvised explosive device.
Grief and a good, good girl
As Emily’s grief reached its darkest depths, Maggie’s unconditional love encircled her and Isabella with nurturing warmth. Their beloved dog brought reassurance and comfort that Emily could scarcely conceive of living without. Isabella only knew a world with Maggie in it, and Emily held on to her dog as an inseparable link to John. She would always be their dog, just like Isabella would always be their baby.
Trauma blurs time, but the little family sur-vived, eased along by the Special Operations community who stand with the living in honor of the dead. Isabella grew into a lovely teen who reminded her mom of John. Emily met and mar-ried another special operator, Sean Hoey. They started a life together, and the Army moved the family to Germany in 2019. Maggie—now too old to travel—stayed behind with Emily’s parents.
With an irresistable bound of joy, Elle burst into their lives and hearts with a calming, reassuring presence.
The pandemic halted trips back home, so Emily and Isabella would never again hold Maggie in their arms. When she passed away, she took 15 years of boundless love, listening ears, and compassionate loyalty to her final resting place, leaving a gaping new hole in their hearts.
After recently returning to Tampa, they still missed Maggie—yearned for the unconditional love she shared, love that only a dog can give. So, when a friend suggested a Gold Star Family Dog, Emily jumped at the opportunity.
With an irresistible bound of joy, Elle burst into their lives and hearts with a calming, reassuring presence; an ever-wagging tail that said “I’m here for you” in the most unmistakable way; and instant snuggles at just the right moments.
“Elle is the piece that makes our family whole again.”
“She’s so intuitive, like she knows,” Emily shares. “She reminds me of my Maggie with her soulful eyes. And Isabella is so excited. She’s thrilled, like, ‘Oh, it’s a dream come true! I have a dog that can snuggle me!’ Honestly, I’m blown away by how amazingly Elle fits into our family. She’s the piece that makes our family whole again.” Elle didn’t replace Maggie. She didn’t replace John. But her magical “Elle-ness” makes a miracle of a difference. She knows exactly what to do each day to bring love, light, and hope into the lives of her Gold Star family.