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Supporting Our Veterans

How a Service Dog Got This Marine Back on His Feet

Photos: Courtesy of America’s VetDogs

Al Moore has experienced more than most of us ever have ever dreamed. But there’s never a hint of boasting or self-promotion when he recounts his life story, just a matter-of-fact retelling. He’s open and forthcoming.

Moore is originally from Michigan. He worked odd jobs and eventually saved enough money to attend Michigan State University, with a plan to study medicine or attend veterinarian school. 

However, after his freshman year, Moore returned home. With no money to resume his college studies, he decided to enlist in the Marine Corps. 

“I said, ‘all right, let me go see if I can actually do this,’” he said.

After fulfilling his active duty requirement, Moore planned to return to college, but his father developed lung cancer. 

During this time, Moore held a series of jobs, including manager of an outlaw biker bar. However, managing the bar didn’t pay a living salary, and by 1984, Moore was ready to end his hand-to-mouth existence. He re-enlisted in the Marines.  

He became a photojournalist and eventually joined the USMC Combat Camera unit. He was responsible for documenting missions, shooting both video and still photography. As with everything in his life, he tackled these duties with his usual determination.

Eventually, Moore’s previous injuries and surgeries began to catch up with him. On a mission in Afghanistan in 2009, while waiting for operations to begin, Moore had an epiphany. 

“For the first time in my life, I ached from head to toe. I mean, I hurt from my neck to the soles of my feet,” and he recalled past conversations with “old timers:” “‘How do you know when it’s time to retire?’ And they said, ‘You’ll know. The moment is different for everybody.’” 

When he rotated stateside, he immediately underwent surgery from injuries aggravated by his most recent deployment. He knew this was his moment. 

Moore retired from the Marines in 2010, having attained the rank of master gunnery sergeant (the highest enlisted rank). When he applied for disability after his retirement, the Department of Veterans Affairs determined he was 100 percent disabled, with 90 percent of that combat related. However, it was not in his nature to be content with retirement.

As he was transitioning out of the Marines, he joined the Department of Defense as a civilian employee. In this new capacity, he was responsible for operational planning to ensure that if government agencies had to relocate for any type of disaster, they could continue to operate. 

It was a job that had him traveling throughout the country to scout locations and make recommendations for how to develop services for large groups of people.

Courage to move forward

Diagnosed with PTSD in 2006, Moore had managed his symptoms, “but the treatment is just slow and methodical, and nobody’s ever really cured,” he said. To help with the condition, Moore was paired with service dog Kevin in April 2018.

The subject of service dogs came up during a session with his therapist, who thought it would be a good thing for him. Moore did his research and eventually reached out to America’s VetDogs (AVD). 

“It was the communication and the professionalism of AVD that sold me on AVD,” he said. “My instincts have kept me alive, and I was like, ‘This just feels like the right thing.’ And that sealed the deal. I think they are the gold standard.”

It was a big step. 

“I was terrified to go,” Moore said. “Up until the day before, I almost didn’t get on the plane.” It was his wife who told him, “You need to do this.”

Diminishing stress

For the next two weeks, Moore and Kevin learned how to work together. Kevin has been trained to wake Moore from nightmares, turn light switches on and off, retrieve items such as a phone or medication, and pull open doors.

Moore returned to his job, but eventually, even with Kevin by his side, “The PTSD, the physical pain, the stress of the job, it just became too much,” he says. He left the DoD in 2019.

The first six months, “I didn’t know what to do with myself,” but then he joined a woodworking shop, “and that’s just been a huge blessing,” he said. 

Best of all is the difference Kevin has made in his and his family’s life. 

“He’s removed a lot of stress, and as the stress has diminished, so has the physical pain and a little more energy has come back,” Moore said. “I sleep a little better. I’m not quite as angry and easily agitated. In combat, you have a battle buddy. Now that I have Kevin, I feel like I have a new battle buddy. He gives me the courage to face things and continue to move forward.”

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