A veteran's dying wish for his service dog

Victor Garcia and Smokey, his service dog, in training when they were first paired in 2013.

A service dog recently said goodbye to El Paso to fulfill his owner's dying wish.

Smokey, a 6 year-old golden lab, was trained by the Guide Dog Foundation in New York as a puppy, raised by foster parents in Woodlands, Texas who donated to the organization to fund his training and then paired through America's Vet Dogs with his owner Victor Garcia, a Vietnam veteran who was disabled in the war, resulting in a double amputation, and suffered from diabetes.

The puppy with a purpose had quite the adventure before the pair met for the first time in 2013, after Smokey was flown to El Paso through the American Airlines Puppies In Flight program in coordination with Assistance Dogs International. The program flies service dogs for free and is run by employees who donate their spare available travel benefits and volunteer their time to coordinate flights and transfers to different organizations.

Once Smokey was paired with his new owner, he provided stability and support for Garcia and was trained to fetch and retrieve specific medication, his wallet or a phone.

They lived together for five years and just blocks away from their close friend Tom Scrivner, who they met a little over three years ago through an unfortunate accident.

"I was driving by when I saw Victor was on his side, and he had fallen out of his electric wheel chair. Smokey was standing by him and trying to help him up. I pulled over and helped them. He had hit an uneven part of the sidewalk. So I took him to his house and helped him get cleaned up. Ever since that day, we became the best of friends, and I'd go over every day to check on them," said Scrivner.

Smokey moved in with Scrivner last month after Garcia suffered heart complications and passed away. He left behind two sons who do not live in El Paso, but coordinated with Scrivener to take care of Smokey and their father's wish.

"Smokey was Mr. Garcia's life, and Victor was his. It's been an extremely hard time for Smokey, making that transition and adjustment. They were great together, and Smokey was just so obedient and loyal. Victor went to dialysis three times a week, and Smokey went with him and would lay there for four, five hours, no complaints, nothing, every week," said Scrivner.

Smokey is a great relief and pet companion who not only guided Garcia, but is a part of his family. Scrivner said that's why Garcia had one request before he died.

"Smokey's well-being was his priority. He told me he would like for him to be re-trained and given to another disabled vet so that Smokey could live out his days doing what he was born to do," Scrivner said.

After reaching out to the same organizations that raised, trained and paired Smokey with Garcia, officials with the organizations came together with Scrivener to help fulfill this dying wish.

Arraignments were made, and two American airlines employees, Sharon Johnston and Justin Franco, who are part of the Puppies In Flight program, came to El Paso to meet Scrivner and Smokey at the airport and accompany Smokey on his journey back to the guide dog foundation in New York.

"It can get emotional because you know you're doing something really good and positive. To be able to bring Smokey back to New York, where he's from, and to see if he's a good fit for someone else, that was Victor's wish, and we're happy to be a part of it," said Franco.

Through the Puppies In Flight program, employees have helped transport 500 other service animals throughout the past two years.

Smokey is one of hundreds of service animals they hope to transport in 2018.

Scrivner had a heartfelt goodbye with Smokey before he boarded his plane Wednesday.

"It'll be difficult, but I'll tell Smokey to keep his head high and do the right thing, just like he always has. He's a special dog. Smokey is a service dog, and he wants to be of service," Scrivner said.

The trio had a long day of travel flying from El Paso to Dallas, then to New York ,where Smokey was transported back to the Guide Dog Foundation in Smithtown.

Foundation officials said Smokey is settling in and will be evaluated. If all goes well, he will be re-trained and paired with another vet in the future.

Scrivner said he missed Smokey already, but that this was meant to be, and he was grateful for not only the organizations and volunteers but his neighbors, the staff with El Paso Animal Hospital and Pet's Barn, who showed Smokey love while he lived in El Paso and helped prepare him for his journey.

"Victor is now at peace, and Smokey will continue to be serve his purpose," Scrivner said.

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