A black Lab mix, once homeless, gives love to vets
By: James Goodman
Hans, a black Labrador mix, knew exactly where to go when he returned from his Christmas Day dinner walk — making a beeline for the dining area of the Veterans Outreach Center’s Richards House.
Moving from one table to another, Hans looked for a Christmas treat, with his ever-wagging tail assuring the veterans living in the nearby apartments and their family members who joined them for dinner that he is their friend.
But the veterans needed no assurance that Hans is a loving companion.
“He is everyone’s buddy,” said Joshua Wichtman, 33, a veteran of the U.S. Army from Romulus, Seneca County.
Hans joined the Outreach Center’s housing program along South Avenue in Rochester just after Wichtman moved in — but he is for all the residents.
He is officially called a “supportive companion animal” at the Richards and Otto Houses of the Outreach Center.
But, unofficially, he is just “Hans,” who greets everyone with a wag and will — if asked for one — give a high-five with a paw as well as offer another paw for a handshake of sorts on command
“He’ll come up to you and ask what’s going on — wondering where you are at,” said Wichtman.
When Wichtman sits on the couch in the living room, Hans is not far behind. Although Hans is only 9 months old, he is big enough to make for a comfortable pillow. And Hans returns the affection like a snuggling pro.
Hans himself has experienced homelessness. He was taken in by a Rochester-area organization, Rudy’s Rescue, as an unwanted puppy. Amy Holtz, who founded the rescue group and became Hans’ trainer, thought he would do well working with veterans.
Wichtman said that he came to Veterans Outreach after a year at various rehab drug centers.
“I want to clean up my act,” said Wichtman, who said that his drug problems began during his military service.
He began taking tramadol for back pain while he was in Afghanistan for 12 months in 2010 and 2011, and continued to take it when no longer needed.
Hans comforts Wichtman as he adjusts to his new housing.
“He helps calm me down. It’s like meditating,” Wichtman noted.
Hans, however, is not above chomping on his small rubber football that has a loud squeaker inside of it.
In fact, near Hans’ bed in the living room is a plastic container full of dog toys.
Veterans stay in the housing for up to two years.
“They are here to get their lives on track,” said Judy Gilbert, who supervises this program.
James Jenkins, 65, a veteran who served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1967 to 1974, has been in the Outreach Center program for about a year as he gets treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.
In greeting Hans, Jenkins made the tactical error of giving him doggy treats.
Whenever Hans now catches a glimpse of Jenkins, he goes through a snack-checking routine.
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