Lima Charlie News Correspondent Don Martinez, a combat veteran, is about to embark on an adventure with his best friend and service dog, Geronimo.
My first service dog was named Charlie. She was a Yellow Lab that I rescued from the local shelter. She was awesome. She came with all her shots and such, even a voucher for one free visit to a local vet clinic.
Charlie’s favorite pastime was chasing squirrels in the backyard. That and carrying around our cat, DJ, by the neck. She died three months later. Liver failure was the cause, a test for which the voucher did not cover. It happens?
Coincidently, the night before I had to put Charlie down, the universe aligned and delivered me a little Chihuahua named Beast. Beast was a rescue as well and was there for me during this difficult transition.
The organization that was assisting me with training my service dog was immediately on the hunt for a new dog. They are a great outfit out of Texas called TADSAW. The key to my success is in their philosophy of giving the veteran and dog a chance to connect over time before going out into the world.
TADSAW’s Program Director, Bart Sherwood, personally handled the selection and delivery of a one year old German Shepard/Lab Mix that was named Geronimo. Bart made sure Geronimo was fixed and had the vet examine him and give him all of his shots before shipping Geronimo out from New Mexico, from where they had rescued him, up to Colorado.
My daughters and I picked up Geronimo and brought him home to his new pack of Beast and DJ. Beast was not fixed at the time, and like a typical Chihuahua, established dominance right from the start. It worked for the first few months, but over time, he backed down.
The first couple of months were adventurous to say the least. Geronimo destroyed some furniture, screen doors and escaped a few times in the beginning, nothing too serious. I think the toughest part during training was when he ran up the stairs, looked right at me, and proceeded to lift his leg and pee all over the balcony. I was so angry that I was ready to get rid of him …
But we hung in and made it through.
TADSAW’s program trains the veteran to be the dog trainer, as opposed to training a dog and giving them to someone who may or may not care. Their approach is much more humane, but more importantly, it creates a deeper lasting bond between the veteran and the dog.
TADSAW allows the veteran to rescue a shelter animal in their local community, to experience that heartfelt connection between the two and to fuse a bond. If the spark is not there, then the veteran continues to search until the connection is made. This is very important for all veterans to understand.
Once the veteran and the dog come home, TADSAW provides a written program to follow and a mentor nearby to help guide the two towards moving forward. The result – an unbreakable bond that allows the veteran to once again reenter their community.
Throughout the past two years, Geronimo and I have been training side-by-side to one day leave the house and travel. Because of his “Service Dog In Training” status, I can take him everywhere a fully trained service dog could go – but I must leave should he become disruptive. Being he’s such a good boy, I’m not too worried about this …
Our goal this summer is to hike up Pikes Peak, the highest summit of the southern Front Range of the Rocky Mountains that stands a bit over 14k feet. Geronimo has been doing such a great job that I had to upgrade all of his gear so we could be more mobile. Ray Allen Manufacturing, the World Leader in K-9 equipment, conveniently located in Colorado Springs, built a custom harness and provided his leash and patches.
We took a trip to Ray Allen so we could try on different models of harnesses and material. There they were able to take Geronimo’s vest to the manufacturing floor to make adjustments on site. He now has modular saddle bags so he can carry his own toys and water now. When they were all finished, they showed me how I can now take Geronimo rappelling, which to be honest, never once crossed my mind!
Geronimo and I are about to take our first airplane flight and go on an adventure for a few weeks for Lima Charlie News. We are headed to D.C. to cover the Veteran’s Rally (#VetsRallyDC).
I have full faith and trust in his ability to do his job. His presence allows me to reintegrate back into society so that I can continue to be a positive role model in my community.
As a productive member of society, it’s up to me to ensure I am always following the law. Unable to use certain “tools in my tool box” whenever I travel, it’s up to me to adjust. Service dogs allow veterans a chance to reintegrate back into their community, while at the same time, saving a local dog from a local shelter.
Donald E. Martinez, Lima Charlie News
Don Martinez is a retired Field Artillery officer living in Colorado Springs, CO. He is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom with two combat deployments to Iraq where he earned his Combat Action Badge. Don reports on national security, public policy, political management, homeland security, and veterans issues. Follow Don on Twitter @
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