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Valor the black Lab’s special mission

He failed out of drug sniffing school, he’s easily distracted when faced with a choice of what to chase at the dog park – Frisbee, ball, Frisbee, ball…CHIHUAHUA! – but Valor the Black Lab is bound to be good at being someone’s pal.

“He was a shelter dog and they assessed him for scent work to see if he could do drug detection and he didn’t pass the test,” said dog trainer Ali Fleming with Off Leash K9 Training of East Tennessee. “He actually has pretty good drive but he was just more interested in being a companion rather than a working dog.”

AliFBRebecca Pepin | Fetching Apparel

And Ali has picked out the perfect pal for Valor – a Vietnam veteran who struggles with PTSD.

IMG_4754Rebecca Pepin | Fetching Apparel

Ali’s mom met veteran Gary Boswell online a few years ago while helping Ali’s grandfather track down some Navy buddies.

It turned out that Gary served on the same ship as Ali’s grandfather – the USS Newport News. While they weren’t on the Heavy Cruiser CA148 at the same time, Gary was able to help the family get in touch with the former shipmates they were seeking.

Ali’s family has remained friends with Gary. They learned that he had been having a tough time ever since losing 20 of his shipmates off the coast of Vietnam on October 1, 1972. The #2, 8″ gun turret malfunctioned, causing a deadly explosion.

“I think about it all the time,” said Gary, who was on damage control that night and tasked with putting his comrades in body bags.

He tried counseling, but he says the only therapy that worked for him was the company of his dog Gypsy.

IMG_1152 (1)Rebecca Pepin | Fetching Apparel

“The last time I had a good night’s sleep is when I had Gypsy,” said Gary. “She always calmed me down, better than any doctor or medication could.”

Sadly, Gary lost Gypsy to cancer 12 years ago.

Ali believes another caring companion could once again benefit her new friend. She has taken in Valor, along with the 18 other fosters she currently has at her home, and is training him to become a therapy dog for Gary. Once Valor gets his certification, Ali will fly him from Tri-Cities, Tennessee to Gary’s town of Soldotna, Alaska.

But she has her work cut out for her! In order to graduate from the therapy dog training, discipline is required.

“He’ll have to do food refusal, which is a pretty big deal for a lab, they love food!” she laughed. “And he’ll have to be able to be around wheelchairs, walkers, crutches and things like that and not be scared.”

Other items on the test include:

  • Sit and stay as ordered
  • Demonstrate impeccable manners
  • React well to the unexpected, like loud noises

For a complete list of therapy dog certification requirements, you can go to the Therapy Dogs International website.

Gary is looking forward to meeting Valor. In the meantime, he’s stunned that a young woman from Northeast Tennessee would be willing to go to so much effort to make a difference in his life.

“It’s just hard to believe,” Gary said, “Beyond words. People just don’t do that. She’s a very special young lady. Why she would do it, I’m not sure.”

“It’s the least I can do,” responded Ali. “Absolutely the least I can do. I’m very proud to do it.”

Gary says he is not the only veteran who could benefit from a canine companion. He would like to see the younger veterans suffering from PTSD have the same support he is getting from Ali.

“With a dog, you’re more at ease, you feel like you’re more protected,” said Gary. “It’s like a guardian angel.”

Gary plans to visit the VA hospital in his area with his new therapy dog, once they get acquainted, hoping to help the younger veterans heal with Valor leading the way.

Click here to learn more about a fundraising campaign to help pay for Valor’s journey to Alaska.

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