Every Tuesday morning, I drive 15 minutes from my home in Swannanoa to Asheville to volunteer with Warrior Canine Connection, a nonprofit that breeds, trains and places highly skilled service dogs with veterans with visible and invisible wounds.
As a U.S. Army veteran, I have become intimately familiar with the important role service dogs can play in a veteran’s life. In fact, I learned about WCC after applying for a service dog of my own through a different organization. While I never got a service dog through the other group, I did start volunteering at WCC about a year ago.
I served as a combat engineer during the Vietnam War and years later was diagnosed with cancer due to exposure to Agent Orange. I’ve battled several different forms of cancer since 2005, and in 2018 was diagnosed with stage 4 liver cancer.
I am currently undergoing chemotherapy treatment, and my other form of treatment comes in the form of a wet nose and wagging tail. Each Tuesday morning, while I’m there to help as a volunteer, I greatly benefit from each session myself. I go there to help others but walk away feeling better both physically and emotionally.
WCC’s program is special in that it utilizes area veterans to help train service dogs for their fellow warriors. People like me get to learn about training a dog and, at the same time, learn so much about themselves during the process — things like patience, communication skills, accountability — just to name a few. And the cherry on top is that each dog, at the end of its rigorous training, which takes about two years, is ultimately placed with another veteran in need of support.
It’s a win-win, knowing I’m helping others but also getting to spend time with my fellow brothers and sisters in the military. Battling an illness isn’t for the faint of heart, but I stay positive thanks to my deep faith, family and friends, and by spending my time helping others. I’m so grateful to give back.
— Johnny Martinez, Swannanoa,
with Beth Bourgeois, Warrior Canine Connection
Johnny Martinez has lived in North Carolina since 2003. He is a Vietnam War veteran and avid supporter of the veteran community. If you’re a service member, veteran or member of a military family and are interested in getting involved with WCC, you can learn more at warriorcanineconnection.org.