Operation Dog Tag – Saving Veteran’s Lives, One Dog at a Time
Joe Scheffer is a Marine Corps Vietnam Veteran who runs a business called Operation Dog Tag in Spokane, Washington. He provides training and service dogs for military veterans who need them free of charge… he does it to save lives.
The back story
Joe did 4 years in the Marine Corps, and 2 tours of duty in Vietnam with Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines. They were deployed near Khe Sanh in one of the bloodiest battles of the Vietnam war. So he is well aware of what combat veterans go through when they return to the States.
“When we got back and went to Camp Del Mar, the guys in the barracks were told to leave and go to the other side of the camp and had strict orders not talk to us or interact. It felt like we’d come back from Mars and didn’t belong.”
Desperate for relief from what he was feeling, Joe tried to commit suicide 3 times. But that last time, as he began to squeeze the trigger on the gun he had pointed at his head, a young woman appeared and looked him in the eye. She said, “Please give me the gun. Please don’t… I love you.”
Joe said that he felt like he ‘zoned out.’ But as he returned her gaze, he knew that she meant what she said, so he gave her the gun and she disappeared. He never saw her again.
A combat veteran who understands
Joe knows exactly what’s happening with our current veteran’s crisis.
He went on to become a dog trainer. Since 1976 he’s been training with police and military dogs. Four and a half years ago he decided to start his own facility – Operation Dog Tag- after hearing about the high rate of suicide among military veterans.
He asked himself, “What can I do to help? What did I want more than anything else when I got back? I wanted someone I could trust. In the jungle I could trust my battle buddies. But here I couldn’t… the dogs were the answer.
Dogs don’t ask questions. They’re a heart beat, a warm body next to you, and when they sense that you are going through a memory or problem, they nudge close or lick your face…they show love.”
Combat veterans have vivid senses of the battles they’ve encountered the taste, touch, feel, smell of death. Joe teaches them that rather than focus on the horror, it’s what they do with it that matters most. The dogs are life-savers.
Operation Dog Tag, “You’re not alone”
One of Joe’s most recent clients is a young man who lost a leg and some of his fingers from an IED explosion. He called a breeder who will be bringing two female German Shepherds to meet this veteran. He will be able to chose between them.
Then Joe will work with the man and the dog to help them become bonded, and make sure that they will work well together.
He does this all free of charge. His work saves the lives of our veterans.
“I love seeing the changes in these men and women after they get a dog. It’s like breathing life back into them.”
The nonprofit receives qualified animals from several places, such as the Spokane Humane Society, county shelters, the public, and trains them to help veterans deal with needs such as PTSD, veterans in wheel chairs, or as walking aids. And they could use our help.
“Operation Dog Tag” is in need of a building to lease for a training facility that has room for more dogs. Though they have been using the Veterans Center in Spokane, they need more room. They also need upgraded kennels and space for between 4 and 10 dogs. Winter is on its way, and the dogs need a place to be warm and safe.
A local college student created a Go Fund Me page for these needs. Every day, at least 20 more veterans commit suicide. Saving their lives is a priority!