Service dog helps shepherd major into new life
By HEATHER ALEXANDER | Houston Chronicle | Published: August 3, 2014
An Army major who lost his legs to an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan is settling into life in The Woodlands, Texas, with his new service dog.
Maj. Will Lyles, then 30, stepped on a homemade bomb in 2010 while running to radio for air support under heavy gunfire. Members of his 12-person special forces team administered first aid and called for help to get him to safety.
"It was pretty tough to deal with," Lyles said. "I'm just very grateful to be given a second chance."
Lyles has since mastered his state-of-the-art prosthetic limbs, and the addition of his new German shepherd, Spartan, was the next step in his life as a civilian.
"He provides a great deal of comfort," Lyles said.
The dog was trained by K9 Soldiers Inc. in New Jersey, an outfit that supplies military dogs both as service animals and active-duty dogs. Spartan's job is to pick up items the major might drop on the floor, as well as bracing Lyles if he loses his balance. The imposing German shepherd is also trained to block people if they get too close to his new best friend.
Lyles traveled to New Jersey two weeks ago to train with Spartan. The pair took trips to grocery stores, restaurants, shopping malls, even a Mets game at Citi Field.
"They took to each other immediately and they very quickly formed a partnership," said dog trainer J.T. Gabriel. "We are always concerned that it takes a while for a dog to figure out who their partner is ... but it did not take Spartan but 24 hours to realize that his allegiance was now to Maj. Lyles."
Training and travel expenses ran $15,000, which were paid for by the charity. The pair arrived back in Houston on Tuesday ready for a new life that includes Lyles' four children, his fiancée, a cat and a dog.
Lyles will officially retire from the Army Aug. 26 and is planning to go to medical school.
"I'm sad to hang up my boots, but I'm looking forward to the future," Lyles said.