Every now and then we plan to include a veteran’s story and how a dog has made a difference in his or her life. This week we turn the lense on Lon Hodge and his service dog Gander. Hodge, a Vietnam Veteran, suffered from night terror and panic attacks for years as a result of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) until Gander came along. Gander is a Labradoodle, a 2014 AKC ACE (award for canine excellence) recipient for his work with Hodge. Together the twosome travel to hospitals and other groups and businesses to advocate for veterans and suicide prevention. Also, through their work they hope to advance understanding of service dogs.
The Genesis of Finding Gander
Hodge serviced in the Army (1973 to 1981), and after discharge, about 2 years later, he began to experience severe PTSD, including numerous daily panic attacks. As a result Hodge lost everything, suffered heart palpitations, and was battling suicidal thoughts. Hodge wanted help, and he desired treatment that wouldn’t leave him heavily drugged. And then on one particular day in 2012, Hodge happened upon a television show about service animals. Hodge had an epiphany.
QUOTE: “I had always liked animals and knew I was calmer when I was near them so I started researching service dogs,” Lon Hodge
The Early Years of Service Dog Ganger
Originally, Gander was a family pet, however ended up in a kill shelter as the family decided they could not care for him. Gander, just out of his puppy years, was on death row in a shelter. Fortunately, he was selected for a new program that matched prisoners with dogs for basic obedience training in order to increase the potential for adoption. Gander graduated with flying colors and was then referred to a service dog group. Once with Freedom Service Dogs in Denver, Colorado, Gander completed intensive training where he learned numerous tasks. He was also trained to work with people suffering from PTSD.
The Joining of Hodge and Gander
It took Hodge about 7 months before he got the ‘call’ that a service dog had been found. While that seems like a long time, it takes a great deal of training, effort, and resources to get a service dog ready to go solo. However, Hodge and his pooch were almost not united as Gander was initially placed with someone else. However, Gander’s original recipient developed an allergy to the dog. Today, Hodge and Gander have been together, 24/7, for roughly 7 years, and their interactions are almost intuitive. When they first started out though, things were a little less smooth. Hodge was nervous about getting it wrong, and Gander had spent his time traveling between a trainer, the maximum security prison, and in kennels during down time.
INSERT: Lon and Gander https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yVebftWc8lE
But, Having To Explain?
Hodge and Gander had a somewhat stressful beginning. Not just the usual ‘getting to know one another’ phase, their union made it obvious to others that “there’s something wrong with you,” Hodge offered. Because he showed no outward signs of a disability, Hodge found himself responding to people’s probing questions, and explaining to businesses that Gander wasn’t a pet but under the law considered medical equipment. Even through this, Gander had a calming effect on Hodge. His suicidal thoughts and anxiety were more controlled, and his resting heart rate slowly returned to acceptable range. Things began to return to normal, thanks to his pup. And Hodge began getting back into society as long as his service dog Gander was by his side.
Hodge and Gander Today
Gander helps Hodge get through stressful times. He’s trained to bring Hodge around if he shows signs of anxiety, raises his voice, etc. He’s also trained to help Hodge get up if his arthritis is flaring. Gander also will put himself between Hodge and others should noises or voices get to loud, and removes Hodge from rooms or buildings where the noise level gets too overwhelming. But it’s not all work all day long. No, Gander gets his ‘dog’ time everyday - he runs, plays, chases balls, and relaxes, just like any other dog.
Hodge and his service dog Gander are on a personal mission. The duo travels all over the United States, hitting almost every state, to promote PTSD awareness and education. They also bring attention to veteran suicide and individuals with (visible and invisible) disabilities. While traveling together, the twosome perform Planned Acts of Community Kindness (PACKS) and help to raise funds for those issues close to their hearts. PACKS can include everything from refreshing supplies for homeless veterans to reconnecting an ex-military dog with his veteran handler. No PACKS is too big or too small, and with Gander’s large social media following it’s relatively easy for Hodge to find people willing to help.
Spreading the Service Dog Word
Seeing a need to help organizations, including numerous fortune 500 companies, better understand service dogs, Hodge and Gander convened the country’s first service dog education conference. They have also given hundreds of presentations to schools and community organizations.
Gander’s Recognition and Awards
The amount of good that Gander has done to bring awareness to the service dog industry has not gone unnoticed. Gander has been recognized throughout the country and has won the following awards:
- Rotary Club Humanitarian Patriot Award
- 10th Congressional District Veterans Assistance Award
- The Chesty Puller Award
- Eagle Rare Award in the Survivor Category
- AHA Service Dog Hero of the Year
It truly is amazing what can happen with a well trained service dog… Especially when you’re service dog Gander!
Service Dog Hero Award https://youtu.be/M_gLY_syKz0
Veterans and Service Dogs Are Apart of Our Mission
After reading about Hodge and Gander, we’re pretty sure you understand our MogerDog mission! We manufacture the best rugged and yet fashionable dog collars, leashes, hats, and treats because we love dogs - and we love service dogs who help veterans flourish. This is why we donate 10% of our profit to this great cause. Because everybody deserves to live life to their fullest so that they can do great things!