Vista veteran and service dog kick off casino's new six-legged security force
By PAM KRAGEN | The San Diego Union-Tribune (TNS) | Published: August 12, 2018
After struggling for years with post-traumatic stress disorder, 22-year Marine veteran John Tipton decided three years ago to get a trained service dog. The Vista man calls the day he took Daisy home in May 2015 both the best day and the worst day of his life.
Because although the 4-year-old black Lab/terrier mix helped heal the crippling anxiety that had turned Tipton into a housebound "grumpy grandpa," he couldn't find anyone willing to hire a man with a full-time service dog.
"It was a pretty rough couple of years," said Tipton, 62. "I'd walk into job interviews and they'd take one look at me and then look at the dog ... You could see it in their eyes and hear it in the tone of their voice. They wondered what was wrong with me."
But those years of isolation ended in mid-June, when Tipton and Daisy became the first six-legged safety patrol team at Pechanga Resort & Casino in Temecula. Over the next year, Pechanga plans to hire a total of 10 veteran-service dog teams.
The idea was conceived by Robert Krauss, vice president of public safety at Pechanga. Before joining Pechanga's security team 21 years ago, Krauss spent four years in the Marine Corps. He said military veterans make up a substantial portion of his department's 300-strong staff because their leadership qualities make them great workers.
Over the past 10 years, Krauss said he's encountered numerous veterans with disabilities, depression and PTSD who've given up on the job market because they feel unwanted and unemployable.
Krauss said the new program will not only offer full-time jobs to veterans with service dogs, it will also work with these veterans to accommodate any special needs.
"What we want to do is work with them in whatever ways they need to help them get back into the workforce," Krauss said.
An all-around hit
During their morning rounds on a recent Thursday at Pechanga, Tipton and Daisy attracted smiles, crowds of excited children and vacationers taking photographs of the pair. Krauss said the duo's presence has been an all-around hit with guests and staff.
For 10 hours a day, four days a week, they repeatedly walk through the hotel lobby and hallways, around the cacaphonous casino floor and through the pool area. Each morning, they also motor through the golf course and parking garages in an electric golf cart.
Tipton said his job is to look for things that are out of place, like an open security gate or a person acting strangely or in an unauthorized area. He doesn't carry a gun, only a radio. For Daisy -- who walks behind Tipton on a leash tethered to his belt -- he carries a collapsible water bowl, a bag of beef jerky treats and a set of heat-resistant booties to protect her feet on extra-hot days.
Daisy wears a vest identifying her as a service dog with the warning that she's not to be touched. But Tipton is gracious to a trio of young boys who rush up and ask if they can pet her. Later, he jokes with two young women in the hotel lobby who seem amused by Daisy's slow gait.
Four years ago, Tipton said he wouldn't have been able to strike up a conversation with strangers and even found himself incapable of cracking a smile. Tipton said having Daisy and the self-esteem of a holding a job "have made me human again."
'10 feet tall and bullet proof'
Tipton served as a gunnery sergeant in the Marine Corps from 1975 to 1997. He spent 10 years at Camp Pendleton and served overseas in Nigeria, Chile, Brazil, Beirut, Grenada, Okinawa and in the first Gulf War.
After he retired to Vista in the late 1990s, he worked security at several local casinos but the noise and crowds triggered unhappy memories of patrolling war zones in a hyper-vigilant state to avoid an ambush.
To cope with his growing anxieties and depression, he drank excessively and practiced what he called the "100 feet tall and bullet-proof syndrome."
"I drank a lot, drove too fast, got a motorcycle and did risky things that made me feel more in control of myself," he said.
His anxieties grew to the point that he didn't feel comfortable leaving the house, couldn't stand to be around his energetic grandchildren and was in such a depressed state that Janet, his wife of 27 years, was afraid to leave him alone.
Then, in December 2014, Tipton was visiting his niece at a local campground and her dog, Snoopy, walked over and laid his head on Tipton's thigh.
"The comfort and pressure of his head being there helped," he said. "I thought, 'I need to get me some of that.'"
A month later, he applied to Next Step Service Dogs in Escondido and they matched him with Daisy, a gentle-natured dog rescued from a shelter in Barstow. They worked and trained together four days a week for five months before graduating as a team in May 2015.
Tipton said Daisy's presence helps him better deal with his anxiety because in public situations he can focus on her needs and reactions "and that pulls me outside of myself."
When he was ready to go back to work, Tipton said he lost count of the places he and Daisy went for a job interview and never heard back, no matter how menial the work or how overqualified he was for the position.
Fortunately, Tipton had worked years before at Pechanga. Krauss knew him as a good worker and understood that anxiety had forced him to quit. Krauss could also see how Daisy's presence had transformed Tipton's personality.
"I noticed he was smiling a lot more than he used to," Krauss said.
Not all dogs are temperamentally fit for the environment at Pechanga. But when Daisy was tested around the casino's noisy slot machines, flashing lights, loud music and huge crowds, she proved unflappable.
Krauss said having the canine team around the resort has had some unexpected benefits. Many passers-by quietly assume that Daisy is a drug-sniffing dog, which is a positive deterrent. And trained service dogs like Daisy are also perceptive at hearing remote sounds and spotting unusual human behavior.
But the best benefit so far has been the many veterans who have approached Tipton asking how to join the program.
"A lot of these guys have wanted to get their own service dog, but they haven't because they didn't think they could get a job," Krauss said. "We want them to know we want them and we'll work with them. And we hope this catches on with other employers."
For information on the program visit pechanga.com/careers/ or call the Pechanga career center at (951) 770-8392.
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