Veterans Class #288

The recent completion of service dog Class #288 came during a time of uncertainty in the world around us. But it also came with a reminder of hope. Three veterans, who represent the Army and the Marines, came to Southeastern Guide Dogs looking for hope. Hope for a new beginning.

It’s because of our incredible supporters that Nathan, Carlos, and Barry graduated from training and went home with hope by their sides—their new service dogs. We welcome these service dog teams to the Southeastern Guide Dogs family and stand by them as they move forward toward brighter futures.

Let’s meet the class!

Nathan Varnell and Service Dog Náno

In 2011 while deployed to Iraq, Nathan Varnell stood just 50 feet away from a mortar attack. After hearing the “all clear” and realizing that he was alive and miraculously uninjured, Nathan walked 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. Bobby Newman, the owner and a Southeastern Guide Dogs board member, sent him an entire complimentary box of the exact cigars together with an encouraging note.

At that point, Nathan’s post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms were escalating. “I had no social life at all,” he says. Now he’s met his perfect match in Náno, his new service dog. With help from his dog, ad Nathan looks forward to having the freedom to go out once again.

Carlos Oquendo and Service Dog Clemant

After his enlistment, former infantry Marine Carlos Oquendo joined the ranks of law enforcement. He served as a police officer for over 25 years before retiring, bringing with him the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from experiences in the Marines and law enforcement.

“I’ve seen a lot,” Carlos says quietly. And none of it is anything he wants to talk about with his wife of 38 years or his daughters. Instead, he joined a PTSD support group where his therapist mentioned that a service dog might help.

Now he shares life with his new service dog, Clemant, whose calming nature immediately helped Carlos. “Clemant seems to know when I’m anxious, and he responds,” Carlos shares.

With Clemant by his side, Carlos can now relax. “I’m just so grateful for everyone here who extends themselves to give us these dogs,” he says. “Clemant is exactly what I need.”

Barry Cover and Service Dog Christy

Marine veteran Barry Cover served as a radio operator deployed with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit on an amphibious ship, where he traveled to places and saw things that he doesn’t want to talk about. After he returned home, he faced another significant challenge: living with post-traumatic stress disorder. “I do have social anxiety,” Barry shares. “I can’t be around large crowds.”

A psychiatrist at the VA and a friend from the American Legion both encouraged him to get a service dog, which led him to a sweet dog named Christy.

As soon as they met, Barry knew Christy was just what he hoped for and wanted. “She definitely helps me deal with anxiety and panic attacks,” he says. When Barry feels anxious, Christy gets close to him and stares into his eyes while he pets her.

“She’s a good dog,” he says. “I’m glad that Southeastern Guide Dogs gave me the opportunity to get Christy.”

Congratulations on your hard work, Class 288, and thank you for your service to our country. Welcome to the Southeastern Guide Dogs family!

Posted on March 19, 2020 | Category: Blog