Fifteen years ago, McKinney, Texas-based Jason Morgan, a former Air Force pilot and meteorologist, was serving with the Army Special Forces (Green Berets) combating illegal drug farmers in South America. Then, one day, while driving down a craggy road, his life changed in an instant. “During a mission, our vehicle went off a cliff,” says Morgan, 44. “I fell out as it was flipping over.”
Morgan sustained a broken back and other life-threatening injuries. But the most challenging time of his life came during the months and years that followed. “The hardest thing was asking for help,” says Morgan, who had spent years parachuting out of planes and now faced life as a paraplegic in a wheelchair.
After years of enduring numerous surgeries, incredible pain and enormous frustration, help finally came Morgan’s way courtesy of Napal, a black female Labrador retriever mix.
“It’s amazing how much she changed my life,” says Morgan, who in 2009 was paired with the highly trained service dog by Canine Companions for Independence, (CCI), a Santa Rosa, Calif.-based non-profit group established in 1975 to provide assistance dogs and ongoing support to disabled people.
“She opened up many doors for me, both physically and mentally,” Morgan says.
For five years, Morgan and Napal were inseparable as Napal performed a host of duties from picking up objects to pulling Morgan in his wheelchair.
Then, in the spring of 2014, the unthinkable happened: Napal died. “I was completely lost,” says Morgan. But once again, CCI, which recently partnered with PetSmart for a major fundraising and outreach campaign to benefit disabled veterans, PetSmart for Patriots, stepped in and found Morgan another dog. “He’s a black male Lab named Rue,” says Morgan. “He never leaves my side.”
According to Katie Malatino, CCI’s public relations coordinator, Southwest region, veterans make excellent candidates for service dogs.
“Vets are very disciplined,” she says. “They take to dog handling very easily. It’s a wonderful thing to see.” Luckily for Morgan, who completed the Marine Corp Marathon in his specially made racing wheelchair in 2012 and plans to compete in the
Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon this November, Rue is not only disciplined, loyal, and highly trained (with some 50 commands in his arsenal), he’s super-energetic as well. “I’m a lot more active than I was when I first got Napal,” Morgan says. “So Rue has to be, too. He’s my battle buddy.”
Canine Companions for Independence
CCI, which operates out of five regional training centers, and two satellite offices, has paired over 4,300 disabled people with service dogs since 1975 and is supported by some 3,000 volunteertrainers, breeders, caretakers and puppy-raisers nationwide. For more information, contact cci.org.