As we move toward Independence Day weekend, we honor those who have fought to keep our country free.
A retired Air Force veteran is using the holiday to mark six years of his own independence, after losing his eyesight to a roadside bomb.
After six years together, retired technical Sgt. Matt Slaydon and his dog Legend are always working, on working as a team.
It’s been a long road for this pair, and one Slaydon says he never would have made it down alone.
"Legend helped me get back out. I wouldn't be standing here, I’d probably be dead if it weren't for that dog,” Slaydon said.
Slaydon spent 17 years in the Air Force, first as a weapons system technician, then as part of the military’s bomb squad.
"It was the best job I’d ever had, I’d have done it if they didn't pay me,” Slaydon said.
In 2007, Slaydon was on his third tour, working in northern Iraq, when he was called to investigate a roadside bomb, and it blew up in his face.
"Blast took most of my left arm off, smashed my face all to bits, destroyed my eyes, brain damage, collapsed lungs, it blew me across the street,” Slaydon said.
He nearly died, but was saved by a combat medic. After surviving the physical damage, it was the emotions that was nearly too much to bear...until he met Legend.
"I was deteriorating, sliding, didn't care, had no motivation, and didn’t care about anything, not even myself at that point, and he brought love and companionship, safety and security, gave me a job and responsibility and it's grown into I love this dog, I would do anything for that animal,” Slaydon said.
Slaydon calls teaming up with Fidelco guide dogs a turning point, but that team work has come with some challenges of its own.
It was trainer Becky Cook’s first time working with someone with a prosthetic limb.
"All of our dogs are trained to guide on the left, with your natural arm, so having a somewhat rigid prosthetic presented some challenges,” said Cook, who is a Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation Placement specialist.
They have worked to modify the harness, and the prosthetic over the past six years, but Cook said all that work is worth it to see the team succeed.
"I feel it’s my duty to give them back a little something for so much they've given us,” Cook said.
Each Fidelco Guide Dog takes two years, 15,000 hours, and $45,000 to breed, train and place. They are given to clients with no cost to them. Fidelco provides support for the working life of its guide dogs, typically about 10 years. Clients can apply for a successor dog once their dog is nearing the end of its work.
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