VADogs of Texas presents new service dog

Johnny, a service dog trained by VADogs of Texas, right, is brightening up the personal and family life of Army veteran Michael Flores. Johnny is two years old and was rescued from an animal shelter by VADogs of Texas to be trained for this new “job.”

A dog rescued from an animal shelter now is a trained companion to a military veteran in Center Point, courtesy of  VADogs of Texas.

Last Thursday, they gathered at McCoy’s Building Supplies for several purposes, first to acknowledge McCoy’s, the Petco Foundation and the Hal and Charlie Peterson Foundation.

“Through their sponsorship and contributions, they have helped provide the funding necessary for us to train and award 12 service dogs last year, including this dog, Johnny, which now belongs to Michael Flores,” said Clayton Lambert of VADogs. “George Ramirez is the assistant manager at McCoy’s here in Kerrville. McCoy’s gives back to the community in the many towns they are established in.”

Ramirez said when veterans shop at his store, they get 10 percent discounts off their entire purchases, whether their items are discounted, on sale, or not.

“VADogs and all the veterans you help thank you,” Lambert told Ramirez.

Lambert then introduced Flores, who was closely accompanied by his new service dog Johnny, two years old  – who mostly sat or laid by, or on, Flores’ feet.

Flores is a U.S. Army veteran who served as an infantryman for nine years; and whose first tour of Iraq began in 2004. He currently lives with his fiancé in Center Point, and enough children and young people to give the dog playmates when he’s “off-duty.”

Flores said, “Johnny acts like any normal family dog then.”

“I stayed inside and didn’t used to go out of the house much, before I got him. But now, I have to take him out; and I throw balls and chase him around the yard, and he brings the balls back to me. He’s got more energy than I do.”

Flores said his fiancé actually applied to VADogs on his behalf, after Flores was already treated with counseling and medications, to see if the program would select him to be given a dog.

“My family says I’m happier now,” Flores said. “And he gives me more company. Johnny’s an extension to my family; and he improves my family and me. I love everything about him.”

Lambert and Flores agreed Johnny is probably a Sharpei/German Shepherd mixed breed.

Lambert said VADogs standard training takes about two years, followed by specific training with the dog’s specific veteran in Pipe Creek.

The dog has a purpose and enhances the veteran’s life.

Lambert said, “Over our years, we have often found that it is the veteran who needs just as much or more training than the dog. This was not the case with Michael. Thank you, Michael, for your service and just being the gentleman you are.”

About Flores’ dog Johnny, Lambert said he’s a “a sweet, charismatic service dog who is trained in basic tasks, as well as complex tasks such as ‘the brace,’” where the dog is trained to become rigid while on all fours in order to help the veteran raise himself or herself up from a kneeling position. He said this is primarily for those vets with back or knee ailments.

Johnny was the star of a live show back in July with “Grunt Style,” a popular veterans’ clothing line, Lambert said.

“Johnny is just another example of dogs that would have lost their lives if we would not have rescued them and given them a purpose in life, and the ability to enhance the life of a veteran,” he said.

Currently the VADogs trainers have 21-23 dogs in training, or waiting to go to their new homes. Over their seven years of work since 2013, they have provided about 27 trained dogs to veterans across the Hill Country and beyond Texas.

“We have about 50 veteran applicants at any time,” Lambert said.

Due to COVID issues, they were a little late in formally announcing the pairing of Michael with Johnny in a setting such as McCoy’s, they said this has allowed Michael to experience life with Johnny since December.

“Although we are based in Kerrville, we provide fully certified Service Dogs to worthy veterans throughout Texas,” said Lambert. “Our mission is to find rescue dogs, train them to be highly qualified, certified service dogs, and provide them to worthy disabled veterans at no cost.”

Donations sought for Veterans Assistance Dogs of Texas

For almost eight years, Veterans Assistance Dogs of Texas has been performing their mission in Kerrville of “training service dogs and providing them at no cost to disabled Veterans.”

Last year, VA Dogs enhanced the lives of 13 Texas veterans by issuing them service dogs, which were professionally trained at a cost of approximately $23,000 each.

The public can consider showing their appreciation to veterans who served, by making an affordable contribution to this local nonprofit, so they may continue to serve veterans from the Hill Country to the Texas border.

Area residents can donate to VA Dogs of Texas using the following avenues:

•    Visit their website at www.vadogs.org;

•    vadogs.org/donate;

•    Watch their interview at www.kerrvilletx.gov/CivicAlerts.aspx?AID=1416.

For more information, contact the Kerrville Area Chamber of Commerce.

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