Diesel, once a throw-away dog, finds new life serving a veteran

By SUSAN DUNLAP | Silver City Sun-News, N.M. | Published: October 28, 2014

SILVER CITY — Laurie West, owner of the nonprofit no-kill shelter Puppy Dog Ranch, found a young and neglected pit bull tied up to the gate of her ranch in December 2011. The dog that somebody threw away now has a home with Sgt. Darrell Malone in Las Cruces. A U.S. Army veteran of several combat missions in both Iraq and Afghanistan, Malone suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The dog, now named Diesel, has been trained to work as Malone's service dog.

"We like using mastiffs and pit bulls for our PTSD vets," Jared Latham, lead trainer and facility manager at American Service Dogs said. "Our veterans want more of a masculine dog. There's a stigma attached to these breeds. It causes people to stay away, and that's what the vet wants. Deisel is the sweetest dog in the world, but just because he's a pit bull, people give him a wide berth."

American Service Dogs is the organization in Las Cruces that connected Malone with Diesel.

Latham knows first hand the good a specially trained dog can do for veterans suffering from PTSD. He, too, is a combat veteran. Latham got his start working with dogs professionally while he served working with mine detection dogs during his years in the military. Latham also suffers from PTSD and has a service dog himself. He calls his work his passion.

"We're big, macho guys," Latham said. "We don't like admitting our problems. We want that battle buddy there."

Malone said he's very happy with his "battle buddy," Diesel. Malone, who now works as a promoter, DJ and photographer in Las Cruces, says he hasn't had to take medicine for depression or anxiety since he got Diesel. He said he sleeps better and is calmer. He said his kids love Diesel, too.

"My kids put their hand in his mouth and he never bites them. He never barks in my house," Malone said.

Latham said having a dog with a stigma attached does not isolate the veteran.

"If you do walk up and approach, ask to pet the dog, the dog is going to be a nice, furry friend. It's not going to make the veteran stand-offish," Latham said.

Latham added that veterans suffering from PTSD have a heightened sense of awareness in unfamiliar places and a heightened sense of anxiety. Latham said his own service dog picks up on his nightmares.

West said she was so honored to be able to provide dogs to American Service Dogs.

"These dogs are throw aways," West said.

She added that members of her family have served the military. So she is grateful not only to be able to give her dogs a new life, but to also "give back" to veterans. American Service Dogs also provides service dogs to children with emotional or physical disabilities.

Two other Puppy Dog Ranch dogs, Presley and Asia, are also in service-dog training and West says the relationship will continue between Puppy Dog Ranch and American Service Dogs.

"It's a chance to give back, and (the dogs) can now have a purpose in life to not only give love but to receive so much," West said.

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