“So she just kind of moved slowly between me and him, pushing him away. Something Jana never did before, she barked once real loud at him. She’ll keep me away from people like that,” said Moran.
And for Hurtado, who has had 17 operations on his legs as a result of 14 years of parachuting from airplanes, the physical support Rex provides is helpful.
“They train you to go beyond the pain. I became pretty good at it and now I am paying for it,” said Hurtado, who has had spinal, leg and shoulder injuries resulting from parachuting. In the mornings he wakes up in so much pain that he cannot move until he takes pain relief medication.A special harness he puts on Rex allows the dog to give Hurtado support when he is going up and down the stairs, and needs balance.
More than that, Rex provides emotional support.
“He senses my stress so he comforts me. When he sees me depressed, he’ll stay near usually with his head on my chest. Instead of me going to pop a pill, he just comes over and hugs me,” said Hurtado.
Dogs 4 Disabled Veterans has provided nine dogs to veterans throughout the nation since it was founded in 2009. None of the dogs have yet to be partnered with Miami-Dade veterans.
“It’s not popular yet. But it’s growing,” said Lorri Volkman, co-founder and executive training director. “A lot of the veterans who need help are not asking for them. It could be that they are not aware.”
There is not a lot of information about service dogs to educate the public, Moran said. On occasion people tell him he must leave an area – a business or a public park – because of his dog. They tell him dogs are not allowed there.
But according to the Americans with Disabilities Act, service dogs are allowed to go into businesses, nonprofits and government institutions even if regular dogs are not allowed.
Whenever Hurtado is out with Rex, people often ask him why he has a dog with him when he appears healthy.
“It’s difficult for people to understand. They can’t see inside my knees, they can’t see inside my back, and they definitely can’t see inside my brain,” he said. “A seeing-eye dog is accepted. A service dog is not socially accepted yet.”
While a guide dog is trained specifically to aid a visually impaired person, a service dog helps its owner with other disabilities, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Nonprofits that provide the dogs commission veterans to be educators in the community about the Americans with Disabilities Act, which spells out rules regarding service animals.
Back at Hurtado’s home near the Country Walk neighborhood, as Rex sank into slumber, Hurtado said he does not look forward to the day when his dog ages out of service.
While America’s VetDogs would provide another service dog for the veteran as well as a home where Rex could retire, Hurtado said he does not think he would be able to separate from his dog.
The two go everywhere together – even when Hurtado makes a five-minute run to the store. So he plans to keep Rex.
“Maybe I’ll lug him around on my back and have another dog help me. I’ll buy him a cart and lug him with me,” he said.