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Service dogs bring smiles, comfort to veterans at Foothill College center


Photos by Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Charles Viajar, student and U.S. Navy veteran, brings his four-legged companion Bruno to the Veterans Resource Center at Foothill College. Bruno, a 2-year-old Imperial Shih Tzu, is trained to assist Viajar with mobility problems related to his foot injury.

Every day when David Granfard wakes up, he salutes his dog.

“Good morning, ma’am,” he’ll say to Sasha, his 2-year-old Doberman.

Nowadays, the greeting is delivered with a smile, but there was a point when the formality was required of the Foothill College student – Sasha served alongside Gen. David Petraeus in Afghanistan and shares the rank of four-star general.

Sasha is the most-decorated dog, but not the only one who visits Foothill College’s Veterans Resource Center.

In addition to providing student veterans, active-duty personnel and reservists with specialized programs and services, the center helps them connect with canine companion organizations that pair service dogs with individuals living with physical and/or mental disabilities.

Canine companions

On a typical school day, the center hosts as many as five dogs, the companions of center employees like Granfard and students stopping by to seek assistance.

Whether actively comforting or simply lounging around, the dogs make a discernible difference in the lives of veterans stressed out from school or work, according to Arvin Salomon, Veterans Resource Center liaison.

“They bring smiles to the center, really,” Salomon said.

Foothill student and U.S. Army veteran Daniel Muse connected with his pooch, Princess, a Border collie-Labrador mix, through Operation Freedom Paws, a San Martin-based organization that offers free dog pairing and training for veterans.

“You don’t really train the dog,” said Muse, 32. “The dog is already trained. You get trained. That’s basically how it is. You learn how to come out of your shell and take care of this dog, which is almost as hard – if not harder – than going to school here.”

Like Granfard, U.S. Navy veteran and student Charles Viajar, 27, brings his four-legged companion to work at the Veterans Resource Center. Bruno is a 2-year-old Imperial Shih Tzu Viajar trained to assist with mobility issues related to his foot injury. Bruno opens doors, picks up dropped items and even carries painkillers for Viajar. The pup provides emotional support, too; when violent nightmares torment Viajar, Bruno – curled up by his arms – licks his face to wake him.

“He knows if something’s wrong with me,” Viajar said.

Very Important Pooch

Sasha’s pre-Foothill backstory is like no other. She was born in Germany, the daughter of purebred Dobermans purchased as “G8” or “VIP” canines handpicked to serve beside Petraeus in Afghanistan. Sasha’s mother sniffed for explosives and her father, a 130-pound behemoth, assisted in interrogations.

In his capacity as an intelligence officer and liaison to the Afghan government, Granfard was well acquainted with Sasha and her family. He was riding in a car with Sasha when an IED blew apart their convoy. Granfard grabbed Sasha and leapt from the vehicle.

“By saving her, it saved me, and I was able to save another life,” he said.

Granfard rescued one of Petraeus’ colonels from the vehicle, but Sasha’s mom, in another vehicle, was killed. The experience traumatized the dog, and she couldn’t continue her military service. She eventually made her way to the K-9 for Veterans organization in Tampa, Fla., to undergo service-dog training.

After Granfard was medically discharged for a shattered leg and post-traumatic stress disorder, he requested to be reunited with Sasha. Petraeus granted the request and removed the four-star general patch from his uniform for Sasha’s new owner to place on her service vest.

Granfard said seeking out and adopting Sasha, now his best friend, just made sense.

“I was in a place where my life could be gone,” he said. “She was an instrument as a second chance in life, and I was for her.”

For more information on the Veterans Resource Center, visit foothill.edu/vet.

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