It’s been almost two years in the making, but, Friday, Patriot Paws service dog Tommy met his match.
He will be working with Lt. Spencer Fusselman for a special job with the U.S. Army.
“He was exposed to a lot of wonderful things out in the world that made him so rock solid today,” said Patriot Paws Executive Director Lori Stevens.
Some of that exposure happened when FOX 7 Austin helped train Tommy. For four months they worked on his cues, and introduced him to new experiences and people.
It was a trial run for both FOX 7 Austin and Patriot Paws. The nonprofit organization had never had a television staff work as team of puppy raisers before.
“That was our very first try and we tried with an amazing dog,” Stevens said.
That amazing dog came with a purpose. One even FOX 7 Austin didn’t know at the moment, but, less than two years after watching little Tommy explore Austin, he was ready.
“I absolutely believe that he’s the right dog,” said Fusselman.
Fusselman is former infantryman with the U.S. Army who is currently a reserve chaplain candidate.
“I saw a desperate need for chaplains within an infantry battalion that understand what these soldiers are going through,” said Fusselman.
Spencer will travel to military bases to help soldiers overseas and he was looking for the perfect dog to take with him.
“He’s going to be interacting with soldiers wherever they go. If that means they’re going to a machine gun range, he’s going. If that means they’re going to do an insert with helicopters or helicopter training, he’s going,” Fusselman said.
“To send Tommy over there breaks my heart, but also makes my heart smile,” said Stevens.
Spencer said having a dog with him can make a big difference when it comes to helping others.
“When a soldier goes through a crisis and they’re not comfortable opening up to a chaplain that they’ve just met, they can open up to Tommy,” Fusselman said.
Tommy will get his own Army uniform, complete with doggles, and he will have a military rank right off the bat.
“Out of respect for the dog and out of respect for what he’s doing, he will wear one rank higher than me,” said Fusselman.
“Tommy deserves it. He could be a captain very easily,” Stevens said.
Tommy will start off helping Spencer, along with about 300 other soldiers, but that’s only the beginning.
“He’s going to have an opportunity to handle countless veterans,” said Fusselman.
Tommy’s training is not over yet. He’ll have ongoing specialized tactical skills training throughout his career with the U.S. Army.