Nathan Varnell and Service Dog Náno

In 2011 while deployed to Iraq, Army veteran Nathan Varnell stood just 50 feet from a mortar attack. After hearing the “all clear” and realizing that he was alive and miraculously uninjured, Nathan went to the PX and bought two Operation New Dawn cigars.

“I smoked one, and I held on to the other as a reminder of that day,” he says.

Last year he found that second cigar but accidentally broke its case. So, he sent an email to the J.C. Newman Cigar Company asking to buy a replacement. They sent him an entire box of the exact cigars, and tucked inside was an encouraging note from the company owner: Southeastern Guide Dogs board member, Bobby Newman.

At that point, Nathan’s post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms were escalating. “I had no social life at all,” he says. “Before PTSD, I was always out and about, and I used to love having people over.” Nathan became a stay-at-home dad to his four children, and with his wife’s support, he applied for a service dog.

Now he’s met his perfect match in Náno, his new service dog, and they share a strong and tender bond. “I love Náno’s hugs,” Nathan says. Now, instead of staying inside, Nathan looks forward to going out. “Maybe even more date nights with my wife,” he says. “I’m really happy to have Náno.”


Editor’s note: Nathan received Náno in March, 2020, as part of our service dog class held before closures and quarantine became the new normal. Today, we’re still training dogs so that we can resume our classes again as soon as we are able. You can help veterans like Nathan receive a service dog like Náno. Donate today and change a life for a veteran. We can’t let them down.

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Posted on April 8, 2020 | Category: Blog