Rescue dogs-turned-service animals rock-solid presence in veterans’ lives

STAFF WRITER JENNIFER FIERRO

Rocky the rescue dog trained to become Rocky the service dog at Operation K9 in Spring Branch near New Braunfels. He now lives with his veteran, Bobby Galyon, in Kingsland. Photo by Ryan Schmidt/Ryan Schmidt Photography

Rocky the rescue dog trained to become Rocky the service dog at Operation K9 in Spring Branch near New Braunfels. He now lives with his veteran, Bobby Galyon, in Kingsland. Photo by Ryan Schmidt/Ryan Schmidt Photography

Service dogs rescue people. In the case of veteran Bobby Galyon, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, and his service dog, Rocky, the rescuing goes both ways. A Belgian Malinois, Rocky had been abused as a puppy. He was kept in a garage until he became part of Operation K9, which trained him as a military service dog.

“I want him,” Bobby told the Operation K9 volunteers when he first met Rocky.

“They were a perfect fit,” said Joan Moss, founder of Operation K9, a nonprofit organization in Spring Branch near New Braunfels.

Unfortunately, Rocky was about to be shipped to a military chaplain in Afghanistan to work with soldiers in the field. When those orders fell through, however, Rocky was reassigned to Bobby Galyon’s home in Kingsland.

“Rocky is trained for his job,” said Sandra Galyon, Bobby’s wife. “He picks up when Bobby is super anxious, has fits of anger, or shuts down completely. These dogs have an innate ability.”

Not just any dog can be a service dog, said Moss, who has placed 25 dogs with veterans so far. Evaluating and training at the facility is ongoing and constant. They work with the dogs seven days a week, no matter the weather.

“We look for dogs with clear heads, a good drive — dogs who can take direction and retain their training,” Moss explained. “We spend a lot of time in the evaluation process.”

Most of the animals at Operation K9 are rescue dogs. Some come from breeders who donate puppies or from Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, which trains dogs in bomb and drug detection.

“If they don’t pass their testing for nose work, we get a chance at them,” said Moss, who started her career about 40 years ago training dogs to sniff out bombs and drugs for law enforcement and government agencies.

Moss, whose husband is a longtime service member currently on deployment, volunteers full time for the organization she founded in 2012, a project to which she felt drawn after working with injured veterans in a San Antonio hospital.

“I just saw the need,” she said. “I knew how to train dogs, and I said, ‘Let’s take that knowledge, and with God’s help and support, let’s get this going.’”

No one involved in the organization is paid, and everyone, from the volunteers to board the members, are connected to the military. 

All dogs are free to the vets, including their crates, dog beds, and service vests. The cost of preparing each dog for a veteran ranges between $15,000-$18,000. Every cent is donated, and every donated cent is spent on the dogs, Moss said.

Training takes about a year for each animal, which has to fit perfectly with the intended owner.

“It’s like a puzzle piece,” Moss continued. “The dog has to fit in the family, it has to be able to do the specific task the dog is trained to do with that particular injured veteran.”

Once a veteran has a dog, they are all part of the Operation K9 family. If the dog becomes ill or has problems with its job, the organization helps. If the dog dies or becomes too ill to serve any longer, another service animal is found for that veteran.

In turn, dogs who don’t work out as service animals still serve a need. Operation K9 finds them a home with military veterans who need a buddy rather than a service dog.

“They don’t go back in the system,” Moss said. “Our purpose is to find them a job. As long as we have men and women volunteering in our military and going into war zones, there will be a need for dogs to help them.”

The Galyons are living proof of what a service dog can mean to a veteran. Sandra puts it simply.

“Rocky saved Bobby’s life,” she said. “If it hadn’t been for Rocky, Bobby wouldn’t be here with us.”

If Rocky could talk, he would probably say the same of the Galyons and Operation K9.

jfierro@thepicayune.com

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