Anthony Cook celebrated a special birthday last week.
Not his, but Grandin’s. Grandin is Cook’s service dog and he turned 2 on Thursday, March 23. Cook honored the black labrador retriever with a trip to the dog park, a new bone and a can of the pup’s favorite dog food.
Cook, 29, joined the Army in 2010. He served as an infantryman in Afghanistan from 2011 to 2012 and left the military in 2013.
“I was just trying to do my part for my generation. We’ve been there for so long, I felt like I had to do something,” said Cook. “The military did improve my life.”
Cook took a short break before enrolling at USF St. Petersburg as a history major in the fall of 2015.
Right before starting class in the fall, he visited a military friend in Iowa whom he served with in Afghanistan. Cook’s friend had a service dog and encouraged Cook to get one for himself.
Cook figured the process would be difficult, but says that his friend’s service dog showed what a big difference it could make in his life.
“When I went up to visit him I saw how much it had helped him,” said Cook, who suffered from traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder due to the heavy mortar fire near his base in Afghanistan.
After Cook’s friend made a quick phone call to the founder of Paws & Effect, a service dog training program in Des Moines, Iowa, Cook scheduled a meeting to discuss getting his own service dog.
Over the course of a year, Cook submitted his military records and obtained a note from his psychiatrist at the Veteran Affairs office that explained how he could benefit from a service dog.
Finally, he flew back to Iowa to meet Grandin. Cook trained with Grandin for two weeks at Paws & Effect, participating in classes so that the pair could become familiar with each other.
Now, they are inseparable.
Grandin is protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act, which allows Cook to take Grandin along with him to any space that is open to the public.
Cook has only had one experience where the management of a public place told him he couldn’t bring Grandin inside. Cook realized that was illegal and fought against the management so that he and others with service animals wouldn’t face discrimination there.
He wouldn’t name that place, but on campus Cook hasn’t had any problems.
“I haven’t had any issues at school whatsoever,” he said. “He’s kind of like a celebrity at the school, people love him and he probably has more friends than I do to be honest with you.”
Grandin might be a celebrity on campus, but Cook’s face is just as well known.
Cook is president of the Student Veterans Organization and holds the university and community affairs chair in Student Government. He works alongside student senator Albert Moreno, a fellow veteran, in both organizations.
“We decided to run for Student Government to bring a unique scope of maturity, being we are non-traditional age and our military and life experiences are unique from most,” Moreno, 30, said.
They first met in the Student Veterans Organization and have gotten along ever since.
“It is an absolute pleasure to have served in Senate with him and to have known him over the past year as he is one of the most caring people I have ever crossed paths with in the world,” Moreno said.
Moreno says that Cook’s kind personality makes him a perfect fit for the UCA chair in Student Government.
“For as long as I’ve known him, he’s been a great volunteer and continues to set a great example for veterans, students and for anyone wanting to be a decent human being,” said Moreno.
But Cook attributes his friendly demeanor to Grandin, who he says allows him to stay affectionate and care for others.
“I work very hard to try and destigmatize veterans, PTSD and people with disabilities and service dogs,” said Cook. “He helps me get in touch with my emotions. A lot of people that deploy would agree that you lose a lot of that. When you come back, it’s very hard adjusting.”
Even though Grandin helps keep Cook impassioned, he says caring for him can be demanding.
“You always have to just generally consider them — do they have enough water or food — or make sure you’re not working them too hard,” Cook said. “There’s a lot. It’s like a part-time job.”
Most people qualify themselves as dog owners, but Cook doesn’t see it that way.
“We work together, we’re a team,” he said, watching Grandin play in the backyard.
“He’s just such a dork, so cute and funny that it’s hard to be mad or sad when you have a dog around,” Cook said.
Photos courtesy of Nicole Carroll | The Crow’s Nest