Richard Heath and Wendy
Patriot PAWS service dogs are trained to do many things to assist disabled veterans and are even trained to perform certain potentially life-saving tasks when needed; however, sometimes they go above and beyond their training and end up saving lives.
Richard Heath of Rowlett, TX, served in both the Navy and the Army and received his service dog, Wendy, a black Labradoodle, from Patriot PAWS in December, 2009. In July, 2011, Richard had a stroke while home alone with Wendy. He was sitting at his computer one moment and found himself on the floor and unable to move the next. Richard isn’t totally clear about what happened over the next few minutes, but somehow, Wendy was able to drag Richard to his chair in the next room so he could crawl up onto it and get himself off the floor. Wendy also brought him his phone without being told, offering it to his right hand as usual. When Wendy realized that Richard’s right hand wasn’t working, she offered it to his left hand instead, something she had not been trained to do. Richard managed to call his wife, Elaine, who was at work, and as soon as Elaine heard Richard’s garbled speech, she knew he was in trouble.
Richard has since mostly recovered from the effects of his stroke and credits Wendy with saving his life. The fact that Wendy relocated Richard to help him get off the floor, brought him his phone on her own and had the intuition to see if he could dial the phone with his left hand when she saw that he couldn’t with his right is a prime example of how a service dog’s connection to her person goes way beyond her training. Dog and person think and act as one, and fortunately for Richard, Wendy was able to think and act for both of them.
Charles Trask and Summit
Navy veteran Charles Trask and his service dog Summit, have their own amazing story to tell. One chilly afternoon in December, 2011, Charles and Summit were at their community dog park in Ocala, FL, when Summit ran to the fence and began barking. Charles thought this unusual as Summit doesn’t bark much, so he walked over to the fence to see what she was barking at.
In the distance, Charles could see a person lying in the gutter. When Charles and Summit went to investigate, they found a 92-year-old lady who had fallen backwards and hit her head on the pavement while trying to pull weeds. Summit stopped barking as soon as they reached the lady. Charles immediately called 9-1-1 and then covered the lady with his coat until the ambulance arrived. The lady was hospitalized briefly and then transferred to rehab, but she owes her life to Charles’ black Lab, Summit. As Charles’ service dog, Summit was trained to take care of him and possibly save his life, but the fact that Summit alerted Charles to a stranger in trouble can only be attributed to Summit’s outstanding sense of responsibility and innate desire to serve as well as her deep bond with Charles that, in this case, enabled them to work together to save another person’s life.
Juan Amaris and Maverick
In 2006, Army Staff Sergeant Juan Amaris was only one month away from completing his second tour in Iraq when an event occurred that would forever change his life. Upon investigating suspicious actions by a group of Iraqis, the truck he was approaching exploded into a ball of fire and he sustained third degree burns over 73% of his body.
Four days later, Juan awoke in Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. One hand had to be amputated, and he has since lost the other hand as well. His chest and neck were so badly burned that he can no longer bend his neck. Juan has learned to use his two prosthetic hands, one of them mechanical, but there are many things that are still difficult or even impossible for him to do. He needs help with dressing, picking up things and doing many everyday tasks that most of us take for granted. Wishing to regain his independence and lacking the confidence to go out in public alone, Juan asked Patriot PAWS for a service dog, and in March, 2011, he received a yellow Labrador named Maverick.
Although Maverick was still in training and not ready to be placed yet, he instantly gravitated to Juan. The immediate bond between man and dog surprised everyone and Maverick displayed behaviors that had not yet been taught to him. Maverick's patience and devotion to his hero was unwavering. His maturity and knowledge at such a young age surprised even Patriot PAWS founder and trainer, Lori Stevens. Maverick has helped Juan to reclaim his life and independence that he thought he had lost forever.
Connie Rendon and Blaze
Connie Rendon was on duty with her Army Reserve transport unit, sixty miles north of Bagdad in the Sunni Triangle during Operation Iraqi Freedom when she relieved a tired young soldier who was driving their vehicle. Moments later they drove over one of six IEDs (improvised explosive devices) buried in the road. Their vehicle was blown into a field killing the young soldier, but Connie’s life was spared as his body shielded her.
Connie suffered multiple life threatening injuries including her right hand that was hanging by a tendon, a left hand that was severely broken and shrapnel embedded in her shoulder. In spite of her injuries and in shock, Connie began walking back toward the road mindful of any other hidden IEDs that might be in her path. It wasn’t until a medic arrived that she realized she also had serious facial injuries.
Connie awoke seven days later at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC with no memory of anything since the accident. She was unable to speak and could only communicate with her eyes to her husband and father. Doctors were able to save her right hand, but she can only move her index finger. Repairs to her left hand required a metal plate. Connie’s facial injuries, including a fractured jaw and bones on the right side of her face were quite severe. Ultimately, Connie required more than forty surgeries to repair the damage caused by the IED. And it was a long time before she could look at herself in the mirror.
As so often happens, many of Connie’s injuries are invisible. She suffers from nerve damage, sleep disorders, Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS), back pain and headaches. As a wife and mother of two, these injuries totally disrupted her life. Her husband worked nights and Connie was unable to do many of the things she had done before her injuries. Connie turned to Patriot PAWS Service Dogs for help. In March 2011, she received Blaze, a black Standard Poodle who helped her to be more confident and independent.
Blaze has helped Connie to work towards a new life for herself and is her constant companion, helping her with the day to day activities that she finds challenging such as opening doors and helping her to feel more confident around people again. Service dogs like Blaze help to bridge the gap between what was and what can be. Blaze has helped to change the public perception of heroes like Connie to be seen not as disabled, but as enabled with the help of a loving companion.