Giving Hope | Getting Hope
First, he raised future service dogs. Then, he needed his own.
Fortunately, Dave Caras can’t remember the moment his body connected with the car, smashing him into the windshield at 60 miles per hour then dragging him underneath for nearly 200 yards. Unfortunately, the accident and traumatic brain injury cost this Coast Guard veteran a leg and a whole lot more.
During a business trip to Hill Air Force Base near Salt Lake City, Utah, he’d been out training for his next Ironman Triathlon. Running cleared his mind, and he focused on the upcoming competition with its 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and 26.2-mile marathon. Then he woke up in a hospital bed, far from home and unable to move.
“I was lucky,” Dave says. “The first officer on scene was a Navy SEAL paramedic just back from Iraq the year before. They thought I was a goner. And there was a LifeFlight helicopter taking off from the University of Utah for a night training flight. They overheard the radio traffic about me getting hit and decided they would land in the parking lot next to the road—they flew me to the hospital.”
The night Dave got “lucky,” he was working as a contractor, consulting on C-130 aircraft maintenance and instruction. Previously, he retired from the Coast Guard after an adrenaline-pumping career of search and rescue, helicopter aviation, and Caribbean anti-narcotics operations.
After the Coast Guard, Dave missed the military. “I wanted to help veterans somehow,” he explains. “And I had lost a dog before that.” So, for several years, Dave volunteered to raise puppies for Southeastern Guide Dogs, giving hope to other veterans who need our dogs. He raised four puppies and served as an area coordinator, helping other puppy raisers succeed.
But while raising future service dogs, he never imagined that one day he’d find hope in a dog of his own.
“People ask, ‘What are you proving—who are you proving it to?” I’m proving it to me that I can be as close to the way I was before this injury—regardless of these ‘things,’ these prosthetics.”
After the accident, Dave’s athleticism and sheer force of will helped carry him through his recovery. Today, he runs, bikes, swims, skis, sails, climbs mountains, competes, and wins—even against people without disabilities. And he does it all with help from Bobb, his strong and ever-ready service dog, specially trained for mobility assistance.
Bobb helped him move past the anger and grief surrounding the accident and loss of mobility. His dog is there when Dave switches out his prosthetic legs—he has several, depending on the sport. Bobb helps Dave climb stairs—or mountains. “Stepping between large rocks with a fake foot is tricky,” Dave says about their trek up a 15,000-foot mountain. “I was able to put a hand on him for balance.” Bobb waits patiently until Dave reaches the end of the lap pool. And when he falls, this remarkable dog helps Dave get back up again.
“People ask, ‘What are you proving—who are you proving it to?’” Dave explains, then answers his own question. “I’m proving it to me—that I can be as close to the way I was before this injury—regardless of these ‘things,’ these prosthetics.”
This courageous team conquered Manhattan, Brooklyn, Jersey City, Miami, San Diego, Charleston, Newport, Colorado, Texas, and more. “He’s amazing,” Dave says. Since the injury, Dave placed first in the international St. Anthony’s Triathlon, explored cliffs and glaciers in remote Alaska, came in first in an underwater navigation course, sailed with the USA sailing team, and completed an 8K Navy SEAL-designed obstacle course.
And Bobb rarely leaves his side.
“Bobb is fearless,” Dave says. “He’s steady. He’s very intelligent and impressive. But then he can have a little bit of attitude, where if I give him a set cue, he does it because he wants to. I’m lucky I got a dog as smart as him, and he’s my favorite type—the one with a little bit of attitude. I guess I have attitude too. We’re a good match.”
This feature first appeared in the Fall 2022 issue of Life Unleashed. Read more articles from the issue here.