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Saturday, Mar 28, 2015

Service dog provides therapy to boy injured by stray bullet

Hernando Today correspondent


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An image of a boy and his dog is a familiar representation of unconditional bonding.

For 5-year-old Davien Martinez and 15-week-old Bruno, the relationship that began on July 19, when the two first locked gazes, will escalate beyond traditional expectations. The boy and his dog will become inseparable, each other’s best friend. But even more poignant, Bruno will be Davien’s safety net.

The two were introduced at Pendragon Acres U.S. K-9, a breeding and training facility in north Hernando County, where top pedigree German shepherds become lifelines for people with physical or emotional challenges. Bruno and Pendragon Acres were chosen to help bring back some of the innocence Davien lost in a tragic accident.

On July 27, 2013, the Bradenton boy was struck by a bullet while asleep in his mother’s arms. The incident, which was determined to be an accident, left Davien with a multitude of new challenges.

His mother, Dianna Lopez, said her son sustained frontal lobe damage when the bullet entered the side of his forehead. He now has anxiety, mood swings and low impulse control. He also rages at times without obvious provocation.

And he has post traumatic stress disorder, much like a soldier on the front lines who has witnessed unspoken atrocities.

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While no one can prepare for something like this accident, Lopez said, she has learned to cope with their new journey by working to get Davien what he needs to live a productive life. That includes following up on a tip about the benefits of psychiatric therapy dogs for PTSD.

Pendragon Acres was the first outfit in the area to become certified in PTSD canines. Last year owner Michael Giannetti placed a canine with a decorated war veteran who had served tours in Iraq and now has PTSD. With donations from local businesses and private parties, Ernest Chainey was able to get Gweneverre, his female PTSD service canine. Gwen’s training will run about $35,000.

Giannetti also provided an assisted service canine for a local resident whose previous dog, Baron, was killed by a hit-and-run motorist. Pendragon donated and trained Tarlov for Katherine Lockwitch, who has Tarlov disease, which limits her mobility.

“We want to give people a better quality of life,” Giannetti said.

He accomplishes that goal by holding activities to raise money needed to train the canines. His efforts are making a difference in the lives of many people.

Lopez met Giannetti and was impressed. She had interviewed other breeders who wanted to give Davien an older trained dog and provide two weeks at their facility to acquaint Davien with the canine.

Pendragon Acres has a different approach.

The facility breeds German shepherds from respected bloodlines. They place pups based on temperament and degree of service when the dog pup is very young, so canine and client can build a strong bond.

Training for Bruno will take several months, first once a week at the facility until Davien becomes accustomed to the procedure. It will progress to twice a week and move to Davien’s home where Bruno will learn how to protect Davien in his own environment.

“It will take some time,” Giannetti said. “They need time to get used to each other.”

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The training is expensive — up to $35,000 in some situations. But Giannetti said he discounted both the canine and the training for Davien. Lopez was able to obtain Bruno and his training for $18,000. She came up with half that amount through community donations after Davien’s injury.

Help for Davien and Bruno have come from Tampa Bay Gun Runners, World Class Martial Arts in Tampa and Island Way BP in Clearwater.

When Davien met Bruno for the first time, his eyes lit up. The pup was named by Pendragon Acres before anyone at the facility knew Bruno Mars is Davien’s favorite performer.

“The dog even has a cowlick,” Lopez said with a laugh, “just like Davien’s Mohawk.”

Lopez still can’t fathom the “why” behind her son’s freak accident. She was holding him when the bullet struck. Yet she remained calm, applying pressure to the wound while waiting for paramedics to arrive.

Her mother, Angela Lopez, had placed the 911 call.

A year later, the boy with brown eyes and an upbeat outlook is recovering. He has a scar on his head from the surgery and now is blind in one eye. But he is centered, cautious and in love with is new friend.

His grandmother hopes Bruno will help soften Davien’s experiences through his many obstacles as he progresses through his recovery. “I hope he can learn to control his anger,” Angela Lopez said, “so people won’t look at him differently. I think Bruno will give him the confidence he needs.”

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