Jake the lab opens doors that once were closed for Alexandria vet

Jake the lab opens doors that once were closed for Alexandria vet

Decades ago a land mine sprayed Sonny Morrow with shrapnel and left his right knee weakened. After it gave out in 2003, Morrow struggled to stay on his feet, but lately, hes taken to leaning on mans best friend for support.

Morrow was a younger man when, while on patrol in Vietnam, he tripped the land mine that claimed five comrades and threatened his mobility later in life. Despite his troubles, the retired U.S. Army colonel talks animatedly from his chair inside his West End condo, his new friend a black lab named Jake resting quietly on his lap. 

Jakes no ordinary pet, hes a trained service dog and his job is to ensure Morrow can climb up and down staircases as well as open doors, fetch objects around the house and even call 911 in an emergency. 

Hes very intuitive to my needs, Morrow said. He is totally dedicated to that function. He wont venture off. When that harness goes on [him], hes saying: Im dedicated to you. Im not going to do anything but stand by you.

Morrow came by Jake through Paws4Vets, a nonprofit that trains canines for psychiatric service, mobility service or rehabilitative assistance for veterans and civilians alike.

Each of the dogs undergo months of training, much of that spent working with their soon-to-be owners. Jake is so attentive, Morrow has to command him with words like alert, speak, and up, to keep the black lab from bursting into a barking fit something he only does when Morrow is in danger. 

Complicating the now replaced knee, Morrow suffers from a neurological disorder in the legs from his contact with Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. He compares it to the feeling you have when an arm falls asleep, except it strikes regularly. It makes moving around difficult. Even with Jakes help, hes fallen four times in the past month, knocking himself unconscious once. 

Jake spent five minutes licking my face, cleaning my ears, just trying to wake me up, Morrow said. Jake was totally attuned to the fact that I was down. He was trying his best.

When Morrow moves, it is slow and laborious. He can summon the energy to make short trips around his condo, but anything more requires a scooter. Either way, Jake is at his side; watching and waiting, ready to lend help. 

Before Jake’s arrival nearly five months ago, Morrow was struggling with his limited mobility, said his wife Peggy. 

Hes been a breath of new life for Sonny, she said. [Jakes] opened doors Sonny thought were closed. His calendar has gone from sitting and waiting for doctors appointments to being booked.

And when Jake isn’t shepherding Morrow around the Capitol, cruising the Potomac by boat or touring Mount Vernon, he’s just another dog. Sitting in his living room, Morrow carefully unstraps the harness from Jake’s back, looks him in the eye and signals that he is off the clock. 

From then on Jake is content to chase a ball, chew on a fake bowling pin or just roll around on the floor.

When he doesn’t have to work, then he’s just a dog, Peggy said. He is a dog too and that is really important.

The effect Jake has had on the Morrows is palpable. They rave about him as if he were human and he may not be far off, given his habits. They’ve let the young lab Skype with their adult son, a helicopter pilot currently stationed in Afghanistan. 

It’s been enough to turn both of them into avid spokesmen for the cause. From posttraumatic stress disorder to physical wounds, a dog from Pets4Vets can make all the difference, Peggy said. 

Her husband agrees.

If you want to sit at home and die, well, that’s your right, Morrow said. I don’t want that to happen to me.