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Navy Seal Foundation Helps Vets Get Companion Dogs

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Posted: Friday, November 29, 2019 2:29 pm | Updated: 2:46 pm, Mon Dec 2, 2019.

Man’s best friend took a whole new meaning for Trevor Maroshek when he chose what became his constant companion for the next 11 years. Chopper, a German Shepard accompanied Maroshek on two tours when he was a Navy SEAL.

When Maroshek left the Navy, Chopper became his companion and therapy dog. The bond between Maroshek and Chopper was even the subject of a Smithsonian Channel short film. Chopper went wherever Maroshek went and because of that people were always asking questions. Some of those people were vets who asked Maroshek where they could get a therapy dog.

Maroshek saw the huge need among veterans for a program that can provide therapy dogs and he created the Seal Dog Foundation, a not-for profit. From the beginning, the goal of the foundation was to provide veterans with a dog in a short amount of time. Maroshek has seen how some vets struggle coming back from combat with depression, opiate addiction and other problems and he knows first hand how a companion dog can help in those situations.

Maroshek, who is originally from Orange County and a pro surfer, joined the Navy at 23 years old and went through SEAL training when he was 25 years old. He was asked if he was interested in being part of a military dog pilot program. Maroshek said yes without realizing he would have to leave his platoon to do it. He first took the pilot course in Riverside with a few Green Berets then traveled all over the U.S. for more training and Chopper learned to sniff explosives, and warn him of ambushes. Together they were deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq.

When Maroshek first met the available dogs he had a choice and picked Chopper.

“He was the meanest looking dog,” he recalled. Maroshek was told not to sit the dog in the front seat next to him in the car because Chopper would bite him while he was driving. But Maroshek simply said he had a talk with Chopper in the car and they came to an agreement. Chopper was one-and-a-half years old and already a sports dog champion in Czechoslovakia.

Chopper became Maroshek’s lifesaver during combat not only saving Maroshek but other SEALs’ lives as well.

After 10 years of active duty in heavy combat zones which resulted in PTSD, traumatic brain injury and back injury, Maroshek left the Navy. “After the many injuries, including being in a coma, having head injuries, bulging discs and being shot at… When you get closer to your 40s your body starts breaking down. I wanted to preserve my body,” said Maroshek.

But of course Maroshek was not going to leave Chopper behind and did all he could to retire him. “I had to jump through all kinds of hoops… it opened flood gates for other guys to retire their dogs,” he explained.

“I never wanted to do it for 20 years. The SEAL team is amazing. I love it. It was time to move on. I wanted to go back to school to get a Master’s, have a family,” he explained.

Before leaving active duty, Maroshek went to the National Intrepid Center for Excellence (NICoE) in Bethesda, Maryland, a place where service members and their families learn to manage the traumatic brain injury and psychological health. Maroshek, of course, took Chopper and while at NICoE, he was taught how to deal with triggers as well as the assertiveness on how to deal with issues as they came up.

“Chopper had such an impact on the NICoE program that they started a dog program for the first time,” he explained.

As Maroshek adapted to civilian life and came back home to Imperial Beach where he has lived for a number of years, Chopper was his constant companion. Maroshek worked as contractor for the Navy and as he traveled to trade shows, other vets asked him about getting a companion dog. Maroshek knew a lot of breeders so he helped some vets get a dog. Although he didn’t have a business plan then, he realized there was a need for an organization to get vets a companion dog in short amount of time versus the average two-year waiting list at the VA. In the meantime he finished his MBA from USC and is now working on a Master’s in finance.

Maroshek has has worked as combat skills instructor and in manufacturing of military equipment.

With the help of a friend whose lawyer helped SEAL Dog Foundation become a non-profit by waiving his fees, Maroshek has been able to provide dogs and relieve suffering for many vets. This year alone he has provided 22 dogs to vets. Maroshek explained he is in contact with a number of breeders who often give puppies to the foundation for free because they know how important a companion dog is to a vet. Usually puppies are 12 to 13 weeks old when they are shipped to the vets. Maroshek then finds a trainer near the vet’s home to train the dog with basic obedience, the 10 point test, and public access test. The training is also geared to each vet depending on his or her needs.

“When the dog is big enough, he can help them get up, stabilize them. With PTSD the ‘get me out of here’ feel or airplane anxiety can be calmed down with auto touch response where the dog lies down on their lap,” he said.

He explained that therapy dogs also help with hyper alertness, nightmares and help vets sleep through the night, and give them the sense that their family is safe when they leave. “The business model has worked phenomenally,” said Maroshek.

“We’re changing lives left and right. We don’t have a waiting list. I’ll help anyone no matter what branch of the service,” he said.

The organization pays for the initial costs, shipping of the dog and the trainer. Sometimes when trainers find out who the dog is for they volunteer their services and don’t charge the foundation. Once the dog becomes certified, vets who have had a dog for a long period of time, get in touch with the new owners and create a network and provide mentorship. Sometimes vets do so well with their dogs that they can get back to work using the dog for search and rescue and sniffing explosives, explained Maroshek.

Seal Dog Foundation survives and is able to provide dogs and their training, thanks to donations. “I’m trying to get better at it, it’s a one man show,” he said.

Although the foundation has a board of directors Maroshek does all the work from contacting the breeders to the shipping and coordinating the trainers.

Maroshek has had a lot of media exposure but still the foundation operates on a shoe string budget.

When Maroshek attends public events, he is often approached by a vet who asks him how to get a dog. Just a few week ago at the unveiling of the military service dog statue at Veterans Park in Imperial Beach depicting Chopper, a vet approached Maroshek about a dog. Maroshek acted immediately and the vet already has a dog in just a few weeks.

Chopper passed away last year but his son Thor, 6, is now Maroshek’s companion dog. Thor was brought up with Chopper so he is very similar in mannerism. The way they play and do things is almost identical, explained Maroshek.

Losing Chopper was hard for Maroshek and describes losing him as losing a child. Maroshek did not give specifics on the medals and awards he received during combat because there are more important things that matter. “The important thing is that when I had Chopper nobody died when I was working with him. We accomplished the mission and got everybody home,” he said. “We were inseparable. He was my guardian angel.”

For more information on Seal Dog Foundation log on www.sealdogfoundation.org

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