Heroes come in all shapes and sizes. Some even come with fur and four legs.
Joe was a US Navy medic attached to a Marine unit deployed to Iraq in 2004, when the first vehicle in his medical convoy hit an IED. As Joe left his vehicle to help his fellow servicemen, Joe was also hit by an IED. Joe was medevaced to Germany, where he was stabilized before being returned to the United States for treatment.
As a result of his injuries, Joe lost his left leg above the knee, and was later fitted with a prosthetic leg. He also suffered severe damage to his right leg and ankle.
While recovering at Walter Reed Medical Center, Joe heard about America’s VetDogs and the programs they offer to military veterans and their families. The organization’s mission is “to help those who have served our country honorably live with dignity and independence.” To do that, VetDogs trains and places service dogs with veterans facing a host of post-war challenges, from blindness to PTSD and other physical disabilities. And they do it all at no charge.
When Joe was released from rehab at Walter Reed, he and his family tried to return to life as usual in Georgia. But it was hardly a return to normal.
“You’re going from who you’ve been for 24 years—the person who has always helped others—into this new person who needed help,” says Joe. “It was very difficult for me to learn to accept help.”
Perhaps the fact that he would be receiving support from a well-trained, furry, four-legged friend made it a bit easier. Because, when Joe was invited to attend a service dog class, he accepted the help.
In 2008, VetDogs teamed Joe with a Golden Retriever named Benjamin. Joe and Benjamin trained together in the first on-campus service dog class at America’s VetDogs HQ in Smithtown, NY. Benjamin was specifically trained to help Joe with balance, stability and retrieval, and the two headed back home to Georgia.
As Joe reflected on those first days with Benjamin, he said, “I was really surprised. I knew there would be changes but one of the biggest things that helped me out was the workload that he pulled off my family.”
But while Benjamin took some of the work from Joe’s family, he also motivated Joe to work harder on recovery. No more could he remain inactive. Benjamin forced him to keep a schedule and to move beyond his comfort zone. Working with a new prosthetist, Joe learned how to really walk again with a different prosthetic leg. Benjamin was there to provide Joe with the balance and stability when he needed.
Joe and Benjamin quickly became two of the most popular representatives for America’s VetDogs, and in 2015, Joe joined the VetDogs staff as the veterans relations liaison.
Putting a new paw forward.
This year, Joe made the decision to retire Benjamin. It was a difficult choice, he said, but he noticed Benjamin tiring earlier and earlier as he helped Joe. “He would have worked himself to the grave for me,” said Joe,” and I didn’t want to do that to him.”
Instead, Benjamin will take a revered place as the family pet in the Worley home. In April, Joe was teamed with a new service dog from America’s VetDogs—Galaxie, a yellow Lab. Galaxie will continue the work that Benjamin started, retrieving dropped items for Joe, opening doors and even pulling Joe’s wheelchair if necessary.
To honor Joe’s service in the Navy and all the work both he and Benjamin have done on behalf of America’s VetDogs, Bil-Jac is proud to announce that our new America’s VetDogs Treats package will feature two American heroes: Navy veteran Joe Worley and his service dog Benjamin.
Made with real chicken, America’s VetDogs tasty treats are specially formulated to help keep your dog’s skin and coat soft and shiny. Every purchase supports America’s VetDogs to train and provide assistance dogs to veterans and active duty personnel with disabilities at no charge.
Thank you to all Bil-Jac Friends who have purchased America’s VetDogs Treats and have helped to make a real difference in the lives of veterans like Joe. America’s VetDogs Treats are available at Petco and other pet food retailers. We would also like to recognize Petco, who has been a partner since the introduction of this treat, almost 7 years ago. You can learn more about America’s VetDogs at www.VetDogs.org.
Thanks to his service dogs, Joe says: “I’m doing things I never thought possible.”
VetDogs® is a Registered Trademark used under License from America’s VetDogs® – the Veteran’s K-9 Corps®, Inc.