Veterans, golf & canine caddies


    This is a great story from the Cesar Milan website. 


    Scoring a Hole in One with Veterans

    By Josh Weiss-Roessler

    In recent years there’s been a lot of coverage about how poorly our veterans are being treated. They have trouble finding work because many companies don’t understand how their training applies to civilian work. The hospitals designated to treat them aren’t up to par. And important programs have been defunded due to the budget crisis.

    That’s why, amidst all of that, it’s so nice to see the positive, uplifting story of Rick Kaplan as we approach Veteran’s Day this year.

    Is Rick Kaplan a veteran? Nope. In fact, he’s a retired jeweler — probably about as far from a veteran as you can get! But the 67-year-old has so much respect for veterans that he’s spent the last four years doing what he can to help them.

    The reason we’re spotlighting Mr. Kaplan’s work here is because it’s so unique — and because he’s not just helping veterans, but also rescuing dogs. With Canine Angels, Mr. Kaplan saves dogs that are scheduled to be euthanized and trains them so that they can become service dogs for military veterans who are injured or disabled.

    Here’s where it gets really interesting, though. The service dogs available through Canine Angels are not only trained to perform the typical tasks that a disabled vet might need help with, they can also serve as golf caddies!

    A player for more than 40 years, golf is one of Mr. Kaplan’s lifelong loves, and he didn’t want vets to have to give up on their passion just because of an injury from their service.

    “Anything to make it easier for a disabled golfer,” says Kaplan.

    The dogs trained through his charity know to sit quietly while players are hitting, retrieve tees, balls, and clubs (without dragging them on the ground!), heel to the cart or ride inside it, keep entirely off of the greens, and go to the bathroom in the woods — away from the course.

    Kaplan jokes that if he could only teach them how to swing a club, he “could sit in a cart and watch them play.”

    How does the program work? Though there are currently forty dogs in Canine Angels, Kaplan only works with a dozen or so at any given time. The rest of the dogs live in foster homes and get regular obedience training. But when one of those dozen dogs that Kaplan is personally training is ready to go to a vet, a foster dog will replace it and the serious lessons will begin.

    Eventually, that means actually working with their veterans, but before then Kaplan will teach the dogs how to behave on the golf course and remain calm and ready. According to Kaplan, that means about half a year of training before the dogs even meet their veterans, and an extra 3-6 months after that before the vets themselves are fully trained on how to best use and care for their dogs.

    The training hasn’t been without its ups and downs. More than once, Kaplan says, a golf cart landed in a lake because one of the dogs accidentally stepped on the accelerator. “I learned my lesson. The cart goes off every time.”

    Each dog costs about $10,000 to train, and the charity survives on private donations, volunteers, and free rounds provided by local golf courses for training. Kaplan himself doesn’t even make a salary, but he says it’s worth it for the vets and to save the dogs, noting that his own dog, Freddie, saved his life.

    After he was involved in a car accident, Kaplan started having seizures, but Freddie is trained to spot them ahead of time and alert his owner. “For eight years that dog detected seizures for me and allowed me to be free and live a life.”

    He’s even willing to give up the prospect of a girlfriend for veterans and his pack, noting that the dozen dogs he trains at any given time sleep with him. “What woman is going to stand for this?” he laughs, saying that there’s no more room in the bed.

    Over the past two years, Canine Angels has supplied local veterans with 40 or so dogs, and about 15 of them play golf with their owners. For Kaplan, this is success. “We’re doing this to not only save our local dogs in shelters, but we’re doing it to pay back our veterans who sacrificed everything for us.”

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    What a heartwarming story, Chris.  Thank you very much for posting it.  And exceptional kudos to Me. Kaplan for his work in support of veterans.


    Great story.  So many groups such as Wounded Warriors give it all they got to help vets.

    My club hosted several wounded Marines.  They received lessons, all the range time they wanted.  Plus free golf.  I can remember one Saturday morning arriving at the first tee and two men were getting ready to tee off.  One had lost his leg up tho the knee and the other had braces on both legs and and a mangled hand.  I had tears in my eyes as I introduced myself and thanked them for their sacrifice.  He proceeded to hit a drive about 280 right down the middle.  As they got into their cart they thanked us for allowing them to play and said they would do their best to stay out of our way.  Tears are coming again as I remembered this memory.


    What a great way to say thank you to a veteran and to match two special needs.  : )    

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    Great story. Thanks for sharing.  Dogs and golf -- two of my passions.

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    That is amazing story.  Thanks for sharing it with us!