OGDEN — Reggie Mendoza says his life has forever changed — for the better — thanks to a four-legged friend he calls Dozer.
Mendoza, a disabled veteran who served with the Military Police Corps, was united with the Weimaraner-Lab mix through a new organization in Ogden that is changing lives of local dogs and veterans by pairing them with each other.
Diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, the Clinton resident said before he was introduced to Dozer, simple tasks like going to the store or even just going for a walk often felt impossible.
“Because of my PTSD, I’m just hyper-aware pretty much all the time,” Mendoza said. “Before I got Dozer, I couldn’t go on a walk without thinking, ’Oh man, what if there is a bad guy around the corner.’ But that’s changed now. Now I focus on what he’s doing and how we’re working together. I’m a lot more calm.”
Mendoza says he’s indebted to Ogden couple James and Monica Mann for helping him find his new best friend.
With the help of a group of volunteers, the couple recently started an Ogden branch of 4 Paws 4 Patriots, a nonprofit organization that works to provide service dogs and the associated training to disabled veterans, free of charge.
James is a medically retired Army veteran and Monica works with the Utah Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. Together, they work to find dogs, mostly from local shelters, to pair with disabled veterans in need. The Manns work with Don’s Pet Care owners Don and Dona Sellers and their daughter Lindsey Ellis to train the dogs and certify them as Working Dogs.
Don’s Pet Care, 1481 Gibson Ave., includes a large training facility that the Sellers allow the group to use for free. A few other volunteer trainers also work with the group.
According to the 4 Paws 4 Patriots website, www.4paws4patriots.org, there are just a handful of other branches across the United States, mostly located in Southern California.
Mann said when he heard of the organization and found out what they were all about, he contacted founder Tim Dee, in Temecula, Calif., to see if he could start an Ogden affiliate.
“Most veterans, whether they are retired or not, want to find ways they can serve,” Mann said. “I wanted to do something to help local vets who might really be struggling. I looked into (4 Paws 4 Pets) and we just got going.”
So far there have been about 13 veterans who have participated in the program and found dogs, Mann said. In December, the first class of trained dogs and veterans will graduate from the program.
Time frames for completion of training vary from dog to dog and veteran to veteran, Mann said.
“I know it sounds bad to say, but a lot of times the dogs are easier to train than the veterans,” he said. “If a veteran really has some serious issues, the training typically takes longer.”
Dogs in the program are given basic manner training along with training for the individual veteran’s needs.
“(The training) would obviously be different for a PTSD dog than for a dog that’s there to help with mobility,” said Mann, who has his own service dog, a French mastiff named Bell. “But once you lay the foundation, really any other training comes naturally.”
Mann gets most of his dogs from local shelters, but his group also offers training for dogs already owned by veterans. All dogs must go through a screening process to determine the dog’s aptitude for aggression toward humans or other dogs.
Keith Hale, a retired member of the Air Force and Gulf War veteran, says his dog, Buddy, was originally planned for temporary assistance.
“Once we got him though, we just had to keep him,” Hale said. “These dogs obviously provide a service, but they become family, too.”
Mann says those kinds of bonds are the foundation of the program.
“I’ve found this to be true time and time again,” he said. “If you take care of a dog, they will take care of you.”
For more information about the program, including how to donate to it, visit the www.4paws4patriots.org.