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For Soldier, New Dog Is More Than Pet Project

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By Marcia Carroll-Burzair

When we profiled Sgt. Clay Rankin in early November, he was celebrating life. Not only had he overcome spinal cord injuries sustained during his deployment to Iraq, but Archie, the service dog that helped him regain independence, was awarded “Dog of the Year” by the ASPCA.

Much changed the following week when Archie died of a heart attack.

“He was more than a dog,” Rankin said. “He was my friend. He was part of my body and soul. He gave me the ability to walk like a man, interact with other people and get on with my life.”

Patriot Paws of Rockwall – a nonprofit that trains and donates service dogs to veterans with mobile disabilities – came to the rescue. Founder Lori Stevens had provided Rankin with Archie more than three years earlier.

“When she found out he had died, she flew to my home in West Virginia and stayed for two weeks to help get me through my grief,” Rankin said.

At Stevens’ urging, Rankin returned to Patriot Paws last month to explore the prospect of finding a new service dog.

“No dog can replace Archie,” said Rankin. “Losing him was like losing a child, but I’m open. I’m open to the possibility.”

And while Rankin has not fully recovered emotionally from Archie’s death, moving on is a necessity if he wants to resume the freedoms he enjoyed when Archie was alive.

Rankin works for the Army Wounded Warrior Program, which assists and advocates for seriously ill and injured soldiers, veterans and their families. It is a job Rankin loves, but since Archie’s death, has been unable to perform.

“You have to understand what this dog did for me,” he said. “He braced me so I could walk. Without him, I can’t visit my soldiers because I can’t get around.”

Stevens is hoping Rankin’s visit to Patriot Paws will change all that.

“We’ve narrowed it down to an 18-month-old yellow lab named Harley Davidson,” she said. “I know Clay’s heart is not completely open to getting a new dog just yet, but it’s time.”

Rankin worked with Harley for a week, then took him home for a three-month trial run.

“What you go through makes you who you are,” he said. “My whole heart exists to serve other people. As long as I can do that, I am happy. Maybe Harley can get me there again.”

To assist with Patriot Paws’ mission, call 972-772-3282 or visit patriotpaws.org.


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