Orange County Sheriff’s Deputy Mark Salgado and his daughter, Alissa, 15, first learned about the Patriotic Service Dog Foundation while attending Pet Expo 2017 in April at the OC Fair & Event Center.
In an effort to reverse the staggering number of suicides committed by veterans, the foundation provides service dogs at no cost to veterans battling post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or who have other health issues.
The dogs can be trained to interrupt panic attacks and nightmares, pick up items off the floor, and protect their owners from being confronted too abruptly.
“They train them to do all sorts of things,” Salgado said. “Whatever that veteran needs, they can make arrangements and start training the dog.”
Salgado and Alissa currently are working with their second service dog trainee, Jet, an adorable 2 1/2-month-old Labrador retriever.
They are teaching Jet to perform basic duties before he goes to the Patriotic Service Dog Foundation for specific training suited for his future owner.
“It’s fun to be able to take him out places and train him,” Alissa said. “It’s fun to have a puppy to play with. What’s not to love about puppies?”
By the time the service dogs are ready to go home with a veteran, about $25,000 has been invested in each one, said Tom Tackett, founder and president of the Patriotic Service Dog Foundation.
Twenty-three service dogs trained by the foundation are currently serving veterans.
Salgado felt the nonprofit would be the ideal beneficiary for this year’s push-up challenge at the Theo Lacy Facility, the maximum-security jail complex in Orange, where he works.
Salgado’s coworkers and Theo Lacy administrators were all for the plan.
Starting at 4:20 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 10, deputies at Theo Lacy performed 20 push-ups every hour for 20 hours to symbolize the shocking number of 20 suicides per day committed by veterans.
With dozens of supporters – and service dogs – on hand, deputies and others performed the final 20 push-ups on Nov. 11 under a tent in the Theo Lacy parking lot.
“What you’re doing here today for us is very much appreciated and we really do thank you,” Tackett said to the deputies.
The number of push-ups has been lowered by two since the 22 performed every hour for 22 hours in 2016, the first year of the event.
“Our hope is that we get to zero,” Undersheriff Don Barnes said. “Eventually, the hope is that we just celebrate our veterans on Veterans Day and not the ones we are losing after they are done serving.”
The deputies promoted the event in advance and raised money through T-shirt sales, opportunity drawings, and at the event.
“It brings awareness,” Sheriff Sandra Hutchens said to those who organized and participated in the push-up challenge. “It’s saving lives and bringing honor to those who serve.”