OLATHE, Kan. -- A decorated Marine who survived seven combat tours and three IED explosions is now getting support from an Olathe-based non-profit dedicated to helping veterans.
This week Friends in Service of Heroes, or FISH, donated a service dog named Rusty to Marine Gunnery Sergeant Robert Cale.
“My initial reaction was kind of like, ‘No way!’” Cale said. “This is too good to be true! But I’ve wanted one, it’s really going to help. I’ve already gotten a lot of help from Rusty, and we bonded real well. I was really happy, I was ecstatic, actually.”
Cale is currently stationed at Camp Pendleton in San Diego, Calif. He will retire on Monday after serving 20 years in the Marines, where he earned a Purple Heart and a Medal of Valor in a combat environment.
He will now use Rusty to help cope with PTSD and a traumatic brain injury as he reintegrates into civilian society.
“It’s having somebody with me all the time that connects to me and assists me through life and helps me out,” Cale said. “But also, like a family member, like an extended family member.”
Michael Sligh, a disabled veteran himself who used to be an Army Captain, works with FISH to train its service dogs.
“A lot of veterans in every service, they have this irreplaceable bond with other service members,” explained Sligh, who owns Signature Canine Training.
“And when they get out of the military, they feel like a lot civilians just don`t understand what they`ve been through in life. So dogs, they`re going to love you every day, no matter what.”
FISH flew Cale from San Diego to Olathe this week to train with Rusty alongside Sligh, who has taught the dog a lot over the past seven months.
“I did extensive training with him,” Sligh said. “I’ve done tracking with Rusty, retrieving with Rusty, a lot of advanced obedience and then I made the decision that I wanted to transition him over to being a service dog.”
Sligh said the key is to create an unbreakable bond between Cale and Rusty.
“I find with service dogs, that as service members that transition out, take care of their dogs, it helps them kind of take care of themselves,” Sligh explained.
His work with Rusty appears to have paid off.
“He’s really attentive to me,” Cale said, “and to the surroundings, and he’s a well-trained dog.”
And now, Cale is excited to embark on his new life with his furry friend by his side.
“I think Rusty is my canine soulmate, so to speak!” Cale said.
It was Cale's mother who submitted his name to the nonprofit for consideration. If you know another deserving veteran, FISH is always "fishing" for its next hero and wants to hear from you.