BELOIT, Wis. — He's had a paw in just about everything.
Jethro, a golden retriever and honorary member and mascot of the 12th Cavalry Association, has traveled coast to coast with his owner Raymond St. John. Counseling as many as 1,000 veterans and sitting on a number of committees, the dutiful dog has been nothing short of a fearless ambassador, diplomat and committed companion.
"It's been a wonderful journey and there's so many things he's done for me and a lot of other people. It's just been great," St. John said.
Jethro, who recently tore his cranial cruciate ligament (CCL), is recovering from a surgery and is expected to make a full recovery so he can continue his active life. And St. John couldn't be more pleased.
Jethro also sits on the William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital Patient Centered Care Committee and the Mental Health Executive Council and attends numerous veteran support groups.
"When I was doing counseling, he was always there and became part of the healing. He empathizes," St. John told the Beloit Daily News (http://bit.ly/1gfuVi0).
St. John, who was in the 12th Calvary in Vietnam in 1969-70, said he had suffered many years from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), although it wasn't recognized as much when he first returned from service.
"It's with you your whole life, it never goes away. Sometimes it gets worse. There's always things that remind you of the trauma that you went through," he said.
St. John, 66, suffered from nightmares and always would sit facing crowds, unconsciously worried someone would attack him from the back. However, St. John, like many veterans, was relatively quiet about it until after 9/11 when PTSD became more recognized.
St. John finally decided to get a service dog nine years ago. He immediately bonded with Jethro. The golden retriever underwent service dog training, which included being taught to sense moods.
Once Jethro arrived, he helped to heal both St. John and many other veterans. St. John noted how he could go out to eat and not have to worry about keeping his back to the corner any more. He also found himself socializing more.
"He's protecting my back and letting me do things in a normal way," he said. "He provides a chance to meet and talk to people I wouldn't normally."
He also will nudge St. John awake if he was having a nightmare or was suffering from complications due to Agent Orange.
"Twice my throat's been swollen shut and he woke me out of a deep sleep, and we went to the emergency room," he said.
But it wasn't just St. John whom Jethro was helping. Once St. John got the support he needed he started volunteering on various committees through the VA and became a peer-to-peer counselor and was active with support groups for veterans.
"He gets to know them in the group. We'll be talking and if somebody gets upset for any reason he'll go over and sit down next to them. They start petting him and calming down," he said.
Together St. John and Jethro worked on projects such as on getting a rooftop garden on the VA hospital. They also helped to ensure locally grown food was being served at the hospital through their work on the Patient Centered Care Committee. Jethro's diplomatic ways even helped broker peace in a scuffle between a guide dog and a poorly trained dog visitor through their work on the Service Dog Committee.
In addition to his tireless service, Jethro has enjoyed himself. He went on the first VetsRoll trip to Washington, D.C. to see the monuments. He even has a set of boots he wears in Texas to keep his feet off the steamy pavement.