Meet the Class – Service Dog Class #302
Join us in welcoming Service Dog Class 302 to the Southeastern Guide Dogs family! These veterans pushed past obstacles and arrived on our Palmetto, Florida campus to train in the heat of summer. Their new dogs make it all worthwhile!
Meet the class here, and read more about them in our Commencement Program below. Class 302, we’re glad you’re with us. Enjoy your dogs, and enjoy the freedom, confidence, and hope they give.
Meet the Class
From the moment Army veteran Geoff Hopkins laid eyes on his service dog, Pella, he felt a bond. “It was overwhelming, almost to the point where you want to start crying; you’re so full of joy,” Geoff recalls. “Pella is going to make my life better, both for my anxiety and for retrieving things for me, and just being there as a companion.” 32 years ago, Geoff lost control of his motorcycle and woke up in a hospital bed, paralyzed. This year, Tampa Bay Buccaneers center Ryan Jensen and his family donated a scholarship to fund Geoff’s on-campus training for a service dog, surprising him with a phone call. “I was so happy,” Geoff says.
For Vietnam veteran Jim Lowe, his new service dog, RJ, represents freedom. “My service dog is my partner,” he says. “It’s like my American Express card; I don’t leave home without that!” RJ is Jim’s fourth service dog and his second from Southeastern Guide Dogs. Living with PTSD, Jim is grateful for RJ, who he describes as caring and attentive. “I could never say thank you enough to the people who make it meaningful,” he says. “I’m not sure I would be here without my service dogs.”
Family means everything to Army veteran Dennis Blackwell, and his new service dog, Sage, is already a meaningful member of his family. “Sage is a star in my life right now,” Dennis says. “He never takes his eyes off me. I say his name, and he’s right there. He focuses with me.” As Sage loves to play and loves to be hugged, these two are clearly made for each other. When anxiety starts to take hold, Sage is right by his side. “I’d just like to say thank you for everything,” he says. “With Sage, I’m going to enjoy life.”
What do you get when you pair together a retired Marine ordinance maintenance officer and a fun-loving service dog named Lucy? A perfect match, that’s what. Lucy is Patrick Marshall’s second service dog, and she now carries on the legacy of bringing him peace. “With Lucy, she is really what I need,” Patrick explains. “Because I’m a very closed-off person, I really don’t like to go out in public; I don’t like to interact with a lot of people. And she just pulls me into that scenario where I can’t help but smile and laugh.”
During Leo Garza’s time in the Army, he served multiple tours in Iraq and traveled the region in a two-person team, unattached to a platoon or unit. “There were only two of us; we were our own security. We were what they would call ‘soft targets,’” he says. Now, Leo is part of a new team of two with his service dog, Neaves. This attentive, calm dog notices when Leo starts to become anxious. “Any time I would put my head down to isolate myself, he would put his head between my head and my lap saying, ‘Don’t go down. Look at me. It’s going to be okay,’” Leo explains. “I have a partner, and I take care of him, and he takes care of me.”
Vince Hogan, a Navy veteran who served as a surgical technician, knows his way around the topic of science. So, when his physician recommended Southeastern Guide Dogs, Vince listened. Working at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego in the morgue exposed Vince to high levels of stress, and the memories of that stress can be challenging when transitioning to civilian life. These challenges are why Bruno, Vince’s new service dog, is such a valuable partner. “I think Bruno will enable me to be a better person than what I am right now,” Vince said. “And I couldn’t imagine my life without him.”
Patrick Whitley served in the Marines for four years as a rifleman until injuries forced him to leave the military. Anxiety, fears, panic attacks, and crying spells crowded out the good things in life and kept him from feeling safe. Now, Patrick has bonded with an emotional support dog named Raven who is always by his side. “Raven has brought me harmony and calmness, and I feel safe for the first time in a long time,” Patrick says. “She’s already improved my quality of life and I have hope for a better future!”
When Amanda Cecil comes home after a bad day, she is greeted by her emotional support dog, Nellie, and instantly feels better. “She’s the sweetest dog I think I’ve ever met,” the Army National Guard veteran says. After deploying to Iraq as the only female in her unit, Amanda still carries the memories. Now, Nellie shares her love and support when Amanda has nightmares and cannot sleep. This empathetic pup also senses when it’s time to put her chin on Amanda’s leg or give her a hug. Amanda says, “She just brings me so much joy!”
Andrea Phipps loves this gentle yellow Lab named Terry, her Gold Star Family dog. The moment he came into her life, she felt as though they were meant to be together. Andrea’s late husband, Michael, a Naval Lieutenant Commander and spinal trained orthopedic surgeon, passed away in 2004. “Terry’s exactly what I need in my life,” she says. “He brings me calmness…there’s a part of my soul that needed this big boy.”
Read more about the veterans of Class 302 right here. Congratulations, new alumni!
Click here for accessible PDF for the visually impaired