For Wes Mangus, raising dogs to help others is a labor of love. For Craig Trumbull and Bonnie Nation, helping veterans is a cause close to their heart. And that combination of caring has led to the first local business sponsorship of a Trieven-Sungold Kennels service dog by the Brandin’ Iron Restaurant of Lovell.
Mangus has been breeding and training hunting dogs with his Trieven-Sungold Kennels business for years and trained his first service dog about two years ago, he said, a retriever specifically trained to help a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, Brandon Tennery, arranged through the Beyond the Battlefield Foundation of Colorado.
Two other service dogs followed that were able to be self funded by the recipient, and now the Brandin’ Iron Restaurant is funding a fourth veteran service dog.
“I hope to continue to grow it with people who want to help like Craig,” Mangus said. “There are so many people out there who truly need a service dog, but the biggest issue is finding the funds. There’s a waiting list of servicemen and women needing dogs.”
Mangus trains the dogs in house to a certain level, which can cost $3,000 to $4,000, and specialized training beyond Trieven-Sungold can cost an additional $10,000 or so.
Recently, Mangus was speaking with Chris Ferguson of WYO West Warrior Foundation in Sheridan, who told him there was a need for a service dog to be specifically trained to assist a quadriplegic veteran in Sheridan.
In the meantime, Trumbull had been talking to Mangus about how he could help a veteran in need of a dog.
“Bonnie and I (business partners at the Brandin’ Iron) try to do a lot of things for vets, and we thought it would be nice to do something after seeing articles about Wes,” Trumbull said. “I called Wes to see if there was a way to help out. He had recently found this guy, and he had the perfect dog.”
The “perfect dog” is Belgian Malinois named Jade, which Mangus obtained when she was about three months old.
“We pick up dogs to train as service dogs and evaluate them at a young age for whether they’ll be service, hunting or drug dogs,” Mangus said. “The issue is finding funds to complete the training. Placing the dog is not an issue.
“Jade has the natural temperament to be a service dog. We were working with her and then the Brandin’ Iron stepped forward. I’ve had her for about a year.”
For Trumbull, Nation and Mangus, helping veterans touches them deeply.
“Bonnie and I are eager to do something like this,” Trumbull said. “I have family members who have suffered from PTSD including an uncle who took his life three years ago.
“This was supposed to be anonymous, but talking to Wes, we hope this will cause others to help out. It’s a high cost but a worthy cost…We hope in another year or two to be in a position to do it again…Bonnie loves animals, so it was a perfect approach for her. Bonnie worked for years with disabled people in southern Wyoming, so she’s got a big heart for (people in need). It wasn’t a hard sell. It’s a good cause. We hope people will pay it forward.”
“When I started getting into service dogs, it gave me a whole new aspect on life,” added Mangus, noting that working with Brandon Tennery on his first veteran service dog training made him realize the impact a dog can have.
“Brandon’s case really pushed me to go forward and do more,” he said.
Mangus and Trumbull have been talking about working together on a sponsorship for about six months now, they said.
“It takes a lot of fingers in the game to make it happen,” Mangus said. “Once Craig and Bonnie decided to do this, it all fell into place.”
Mangus said all service dogs are trained in the same way and to a certain basic level, with a lot of obedience and respect training so they can easily accompany a person out into the community, in public. Once a match is found, the training becomes more intensive and specific to the need.
“Every veteran has a different need,” Trumbull noted.
Once funding is in place, there’s an initial screening process, which takes about two weeks, including an interview about what a particular veteran needs in a dog.
“Then we’ll train and finish the dog out,” Mangus said, adding that, if more specialized training is needed, to help a veteran with seizures, for instance, it would be completed at a facility in Dallas.
With Jade, Mangus is doing all of the training himself.
“I’ll finish the dog out to the veteran’s specific needs,” he said. “I may make a visit to Sheridan…It will take a few days teaching the veteran how to handle the dog, how it’s been trained and how to work with it.”
In the case of the Sheridan veteran, Jade is being trained to pick up objects that the veteran, who has only limited use of his arms, may have dropped, from a TV remote control to silverware. She is being trained to fetch specific items on command, and she will even be able to open a lever-style door and hit the handicap button on a powered door leading into a store or building.
“Jade will be ready in 45 to 60 days,” Mangus said. “If she was just a PTSD companion dog, she’d be ready now. I expect her to be ready around the holidays. We’ll go over and spend some days with Chris (Ferguson) and the gentleman and transition the dog over.”
The project warms Trumbull’s heart.
“I have a nephew who’s a quadriplegic,” he said. “But it’s also about friendship and companionship. It’s huge.”
“About 85 percent of a disability is a mental game,” Mangus added. “Dogs bring joy to people and keep people excited about life.”
Meeting future needs
Mangus hopes the program will continue to grow, noting that there are veterans right here in Wyoming who need assistance.
“The two end pieces are always there – veterans and dogs,” he said. “What we need is funding to make that jump. I hope this will become a chain reaction of people wanting to help.”
“We want more veterans to get help,” added Trumbull. “That’s the only thing.”
Mangus said donations can be funneled through the WYO West Warrior Foundation as a tax write-off, and he’s working on a way to more easily do that.
“I hope this is the start of something big,” Mangus said. “So many people need help, and not just veterans. It’s also firefighters and other first responders. Training dogs is just one way I can help.
“My goal is to be able to do it all in house.”
“There’s no way to put a dollar amount on the time Wes puts in,” noted Trumbull, saying that Mangus put many more hours into the training process than he is compensated for.
“To me, it’s not about the money,” Mangus responded. “If I can provide a dog at a 10th the cost of another program, that will mean 10 more veterans can get a dog.
“I hope this will spark people to say, ‘Hey, I can help. We owe it to these people.’”
Trumbull and Mangus said they would love to see individuals and businesses band together to raise money for more service dogs, and if people want to pool their resources to host a fundraising event, Mangus said he can work on getting a top notch speaker.
For more information on the program, call Mangus at 307-272-0453.
By David Peck