Locals push to provide service dogs for vets

By Jennifer Eisenbart

Staff writer

Sgt. Robert Johnson knew he was bound for military service before he even finished high school.

“I just felt it was something I should do,” said Johnson, now 24 and a veteran with tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. “I thought it was something I owed my country, since I lived here for free for 18 years.”

With grandparents who served in the Marines and the U.S. Navy, Johnson made the decision to go into the Army, – which he said allowed him to pick what he wanted to do.

But while Johnson is a proud member of the U.S. Armed Forces, he thinks more needs to be done to support veterans.

U.S. Army Sergeant Robert Johnson poses with Rain (left) and Cash (right) – two service dogs. (Photo by Jennifer Eisenbart)

Those thoughts – and a cousin who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder from the war in Iraq – have led Johnson to lend his support to Committed Canine Inc. – a group that works to get service dogs to people who need them.

Whisker Works in Burlington will be doing a “Paws for A Cause” fundraiser Oct. 15 from 8 a.m. to noon. Dogs will be offered a free nail clipping in return for a donation to Committed Canine (if the owner is able). One hundred percent of the donations will go to the group, and those who donate will be eligible to win prizes from Curbie’s Cleaning, Reineman’s True Value, Darnfar Ranch Dog Training, Stateline Equine, Dust Be Gone Cleaning and Myotherapy Massage.

Committed Canine is a non-profit group operating out of Brownstown, Ill.

While the group works with just about anyone who needs a service dog (with the exception of the blind and deaf, where dogs are trained elsewhere), there is a special emphasis on providing dogs for wounded veterans.

That emphasis got Johnson involved, as well as local residents Marty Block and Laura Lois.

Johnson survived tours in both Afghanistan and Iraq without serious injury, but his cousin, Brian, was another matter. On a routine patrol, Brian stepped on a pressure plate and shattered his leg from the ankle down.

While the ankle was reconstructed, it has left Brian a disabled vet – one who is also suffering from PTSD.

Johnson has seen his cousin go through many problems – depression and alcohol issues among others. But perhaps the biggest problem for his cousin, he said, was seeing his best friend take his place on patrol, and then lose his leg.

As a result, Johnson has become an advocate for service dogs for veterans.

“If they truly need them, it’s something they deserve,” Johnson said. “It’s the least we owe them.”

Johnson also pointed out that military personnel don’t pick the wars they fight, or the injuries that hit them.

“If you join the military, there’s always a chance that something bad will happen,” said Johnson, who has also observed an apathy from everyday citizens – even on the 10th anniversary of 9-11 when he was out to dinner with a friend.

“I wasn’t expecting them to say anything, but I was in uniform,” Johnson said. “Even if it’s not a popular war, you don’t choose who you go to war with.

“People purposely did not look in my direction.”

That passion for serving his country – and honoring the people who do so – is shared by Block and Lois. Block currently has one service dog for a medical condition – a border collie named Rain – and another in training, a Doberman named Cash.

“He’s with me everywhere,” Block said. “It’s important, because it makes it possible to be normal, or as normal as possible.”

Because the costs of purchasing a service dog can be prohibitive – Johnson estimated that the dogs the veterans are supplied with could cost between $20,000 and $25,000 – Committed Canine gets the dogs to veterans at a reduced price ($3,000).

That price is then covered by the organization through its fundraising efforts.

“It’s a great cause, and something I can help with,” Lois said. “These veterans that don’t have anything, they can get a dog for free.

“A dog they desperately need.”

            For more information on Committed Canine, Inc., please visit the group’s website at www.CommittedCanine.org.

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