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Smokey the Hero Dog Wins the Nicholas Sparks Love Story Contest

The rescue German Shepherd will appear in a Nicholas Sparks novel thanks to the calming influence he's had on his military family.

Heather Marcoux  |  Jun 2nd 2015


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Karen White has known for a long time that her rescue dog, Smokey, is an amazing pet, and now readers around the world know it, too, thanks to White’s favorite author, Nicholas Sparks, and PetSmart Charities.

“Smokey is such a special dog, and he deserves to put his paw print on history, just like he’s put his paw print on our hearts,” says White, who was one of nearly 1,000 people who submitted their rescue pet’s biographies to the Fall Into a Nicholas Sparks Love Story Contest in the hopes of seeing their dog in the author’s next novel.

Who wouldn't fall in love with that face? (All photos courtesy of Karen White)

Who wouldn’t fall in love with that face? (All photos courtesy of Karen White)

White’s winning entry detailed how Smokey, a German Shepherd mix, comforted White when her soldier husband was deployed to Afghanistan, and how he is now helping her husband adjust to civilian life, despite his own struggles with doggy anxiety.

Smokey became a member of the White family back in 2007, while the newlyweds were stationed at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. The couple already had a two-year-old Beagle named Benjamin when they met Smokey (who was still just a puppy) at an adoption event at a local PetSmart.

“I remember thinking I needed to save him,” says White. “He looked scared and alone, and so loving and sweet.”

Despite the constant upheaval and frequent moving associated with military service, the couple decided to make a commitment to Smokey, who White says became like their second child, and who made fast friends with Benjamin the Beagle.

Little Smokey with his buddies, White's husband and Benjamin the Beagle back in 2007.

Little Smokey with his buddies, White’s husband and Benjamin the Beagle back in 2007.

“Smokey added a layer to our lives, one that I can’t imagine life without,” White explains.

Although he was quite young when adopted, White believes Smokey likely suffered a traumatic event before meeting his forever family. She says Smokey has always been a fearful, anxious dog. He gets nervous riding in cars, and is afraid of loud noises and thunderstorms. White says she’ll never forget one stormy night when the family was staying in a beachside cabin and awoke to commotion.

When the lights came on, she found poor Smokey, terrified of the loud storm and shaking like a leaf on the bottom shelf of a nightstand.

Despite his anxious nature, Smokey has always been strong for his humans when they needed him most. He was just two years old in 2009 when White’s husband was deployed to Afghanistan. In her contest-winning story, White recalled coming home alone for the first time after dropping her husband off — and falling to the floor to sob. Smokey, along with Benjamin, came to comfort her, licking her and hovering over her until she could breathe again. With her family many miles away, White leaned on Smokey and Benjamin for emotional support while she waited for her husband to return.

White and her loyal rescue dog Smokey.

White and her loyal rescue dog Smokey.

Thankfully, White’s husband made it home from Afghanistan, and when his time in the Army came to an end, the couple moved home to New Hampshire. As the couple transitioned into a civilian life, White’s husband began suffering from PTSD symptoms, including anxiety. White says the former soldier took comfort in Smokey’s company.

“I often find myself just observing them, and smiling because of the happiness and comfort they bring each other,” White says now.

Smokey’s impact on the lives of White and her husband is certainly a love story, and as a long-time Nicholas Sparks fan, White was excited to see her entry posted on Sparks’ website. She is also looking forward to reading Sparks’ next novel, which will include a canine character based on Smokey. “I hope to pass the book, along with my story, on to my future children so that they may know who Smokey was to us at this time in our lives.”

When asked if there is any particular aspect of Smokey’s personality that she hopes Sparks includes in the character, White says she feels like words can’t express how special Smokey is. “I hope that Mr. Sparks will use his creative genius to help his readers fall in love with Smokey the way that we do every day.”

Sparks is currently working on the novel that will no doubt become White’s favorite. Of his previous books, White says The Lucky One tops her list, as it appeals to her as both a dog lover and the wife of a veteran. “Mostly because I can identify with loving a soldier back from war and his dog.”

Smokey takes a walk with his hero.

Smokey takes a walk with his hero.

Just as White can identify with the characters in The Lucky One, best-selling author Sparks can identify with her love for Smokey.

On his website, Sparks explains why Smokey’s story stood out in the sea of submissions he received during the contest. He notes his own soft spot for German Shepherds (his own German Shepherd, the late Rex, was the inspiration for Zeus, the dog character in The Lucky One) and his strong support for veterans.

In the introduction to Smokey’s story as it appears on his website, Sparks writes that the way in which Smokey brought love and support to a family dealing with PTSD stuck with him, and the famous author certainly isn’t alone in feeling that way.

Since White’s winning entry appeared online, she has been approached by multiple people who read about Smokey and want to share with her their own stories of how their dogs helped them through difficult times.

In her entry, White wrote about how difficult it is to describe the calming effect Smokey has on her husband, noting that the dog doesn’t do anything especially heroic. She says there’s something about him that fills a void in your soul — and maybe that’s exactly the quality that makes Smokey a hero.

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About the Author: Heather Marcoux is a freelance writer in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but the addition of a second cat, Specter, and the dog duo of GhostBuster and Marshmallow make her fur family complete. Sixteen paws is definitely enough. Heather is also a wife, a bad cook, and a former TV journalist. Some of her friends have hidden her feed because of an excess of cat pictures. If you don’t mind cat pictures, you can follow her on Twitter; she also posts pet GIFs on Google+.