Azalea Charities Provides 2nd Generation Service Dog for Disabled Veteran

 After seven years of life as a faithful service dog, Gainor is ready to retire to life as a beloved pet. Gainor has been the inseparable companion of disabled Army Captain Mark Jeffery of Harrison, Ohio since Azalea Charities donated $5,000 for his training as a service dog in 2011. Now, as Gainor suffers the effects of spinal arthritis, he is handing over his responsibilities to Thea, a chocolate lab who is now in training.  Azalea has committed $7,000 to fund Thea’s training by Fran Morford of Wagmor Service Dogs as part of its commitment to Aid for Wounded Warriors.

Gainor was very involved in selecting Thea. He went with Mark and his wife Jenny to meet three candidates Ms. Morford had selected. Wagmor Service Dogs has relationships with breeders of purebred Labradors who are willing to donate dogs to be trained for service. According to Mark, it is very important to select a service dog that matches well because he and his family will spend countless hours in each other’s company. They all liked Thea, who is “a pretty little full-blooded chocolate lab who is a little bit cross-eyed, which adds to her charm”.

Gainor has added spirit as well as support to the Jeffery family. Like any proud owners, Mark and Jenny are full of stories about Gainor’s escapades. He loves to go kayaking, shooting the rapids and stalking trout. He has chased and caught over 100 mourning doves and robins, and has been known to do a complete backflip in quest of a butterfly. He can also turn lights off and on and get things out of the refrigerator.

More incredible is the synergy that has developed between Mark and Gainor. Mark suffers from severe Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as well as Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) incurred during his 5 years of service in Iraq as both a private contractor and a Captain in the US Army. As a result, he has brain malfunctions that cause him to fall down. Gainor has learned to recognize Mark’s unique physical signs – shaking legs and other nervous twitches. He can also smell the chemical change that occurs within Mark’s brain before Mark has an attack. This means that Gainor can warn Mark 20 minutes ahead of an impending attack by giving him a lick, bumping him with his nose, and getting in position to break a potential fall. Gainor can accurately read Mark’s moods, enjoying his happy times and lending sympathy when he’s sad. To build this kind of rapport with the new dog, Thea, the trainer will use a shirt Mark wore to train her to respond to the unique smells that occur as part of an attack.

At one point, Gainor kept nudging Mark that something was wrong. Mark and Jenny went to the emergency room to discover that his sugar levels were sky high. This resulted in surgery for Mark. Gainor was right up on the gurney, making sure that his master was properly taken care of.

Gainor is a beautiful Labrador and Golden Retriever mix and people always want to pet him – especially children and elderly people. As a recognized service dog, Gainor has certifications that allow him to go everywhere with Mark. He is trained to sit next to loud trains and handle crowds at the mall so he stays calm in any situation. Mark has become an expert in the rights of people with service dogs because he is often challenged in situations where he wants to take Gainor. As Mark says, “I’ve had some very embarrassing falls, like knocking over a display at Bass Pro Shops and I need to have Gainor with me at all times.”

Jenny Jeffery first found out about service dogs at a support group she belongs to for spouses of wounded warriors.  “I knew that whatever I needed to do, I was going to get that dog,” she said.  She discussed the need of a service dog with Susan Walters, an OEF/OIF Transition Patient Advocate for the Cincinnati VA Medical Center.  Then one night she got a call from Frank Lasch, Founder and CEO of Azalea Charities.  “I had no idea who he was, or that my request had been forwarded, but by the end of the conversation, I was in tears.  I can’t say enough good things about Azalea Charities.  They have been awesome.”  Azalea Charities is an all-volunteer organization that provided $5,000 to pay for Gainor’s training as part of their Aid for Wounded Warriors program.

As a result of dealing with Mark’s situation, Jenny Jeffery became a fellow with the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, a charity that supports the nation’s 5.5 million military caregivers. Her involvement has propelled Gainor into the national spotlight. He has met Senator Elizabeth Dole and visited the White House for Christmas festivities. Gainor has also been featured on Azalea Charities’ website and publication as an inspiration to people supporting Aid for Wounded Warriors. According to Frank Lasch, Azalea Charities’ founder and Chairman of the Board, “Both Mark Jeffrey and Gainor are heroes. Thea will be our first second generation service dog, continuing our support to these warriors who have sacrificed so much for our freedom.”

 Back home in Harrison, Mark and Gainor work several times a week with Thea and Fran Morford. Training is going well and the Jefferys are looking forward to welcoming Thea as a much-loved member of their family.

Captain Mark Jeffery visits family in Lake Ridge, Virginia with Gainor, who is trained to help Mark deal with the challenges of severe Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). Back Row: Mark Jeffery, Jenny Jeffery, Aeryn Jeffery, Joshua Jeffery and Frank Lasch (Chairman & Founder of Azalea Charities).  Front Row: Gainer (9-year old retiring service dog), Leah Jeffery, Aiden Kimball and Ava Kimball

Army veteran Mark Jeffery and his service dog, Gainer, paddle along the Buck Creek Whitewater Park Sunday, June 19 while participating in the Team River Runner program to teach wounded veterans how to kayak. Staff photo by Bill Lackey

Mark Jeffrey with Gainor and the new dog, Thea