A Southwest Airlines flight in Texas had a very special guest this week: Kaya, a service dog who was taking her final flight.
Kaya — a German shepherd who was recently diagnosed with an untreatable form of cancer — took the flight with her handler, Cole Lyle. Trained to help veterans with their mental health, 9-year-old Kaya inspired the PAWS Act, which led to the creation of a program that provides canine training for veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
In a video Southwest Airlines posted on Instagram, the pilot announced Kaya’s last flight to passengers on board. “We have the solemn honor of taking her on what will be her last flight,” he said. “As she goes home to rest where she was born and first met Cole.”
Lyle also posted the video to his Twitter account with the note: “When the flight landed, they loaded Kaya onto a cart to take her out, and when we got to the top of the ramp…the entire terminal cheered and clapped for her. If you were one of them: thank you.”
On Kaya’s trip home, the pilots made special mention of her before we took off – see below.
When we landed, we loaded Kaya onto a cart to take her out, and when we got to the top of the ramp…the entire terminal cheered and clapped for her. If you were one of them: thank you. pic.twitter.com/l11sFtDIUN
— Cole T. Lyle (@ctlyle1) February 3, 2023
Southwest said Kaya traveled by plane with Lyle, a Marine Corps veteran, more than 250 times throughout her life.
The airline posted photos from the flight on Twitter, noting that it was honored to fly her home to rest after her “lifetime of hard work.”
We were honored to fly our loyal friend and hero, Kaya, home to rest after a lifetime of hard work. Throughout her career, Kaya flew with us over 250 times to help establish the PAWS Act which united Veterans with service dogs. pic.twitter.com/gg3zK4z4EQ
— Southwest Airlines (@SouthwestAir) February 7, 2023
A few days after the flight, Lyle took to Twitter to announce Kaya’s passing.
“My heart is broken and I’m numb without you,” he wrote. “But it’s gladdened because you’re no longer in pain. Thank you for epitomizing ‘Semper Fidelis.'”
Rest in Peace, Kaya. Cheers to a life well-lived and loved.
Miss you already, babygirl. My heart is broken and I’m numb without you. But it’s gladdened because you’re no longer in pain. Thank you for epitomizing “Semper Fidelis.” pic.twitter.com/uG98dKEj4d
— Cole T. Lyle (@ctlyle1) February 4, 2023
In an interview with Dallas’ WFAA, Cole credited Kaya with saving his life after he returned home with PTSD following six years in the Marine Corps with a tour in Afghanistan.
Lyle invested $10,000 of his own funds on Kaya, who was trained to help him wake up from nightmares and stop anxiety attacks. Following his graduation from Texas A&M University, the pair moved to Washington, D.C., where Cole is an advisor to the U.S. Senate on veterans’ policies. They worked together to pass the PAWS Act and Kaya became well known and loved by politicians.
Lyle said Kaya also saved him from suicide.
“A dog can be a powerful thing to keep you around,” Cole told WFAA. “If you get to that point, you look down at the dog and say, ‘well, I can’t leave the dog. The dog would miss me.’”