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Learning Center Experience
Melanie and Dave Thomas’s service
dog, Sir Rocco, came to them from a high-kill shelter in Miami earlier this
year. He was just 4 years old. Sir Rocco is a “super breed”—a king shepherd
who at birth was worth about $15,000.
His previous owner gave him up
because his girlfriend didn’t like large dogs (Sir Rocco is nearly 4 feet tall
and weighs 130 pounds). However, Sir Rocco was always very gentle, with a calm
disposition. He was set to be euthanized when the Thomas family brought him
Melanie and Dave were alerted about
Sir Rocco while they were volunteering at the German Shepherd Rescue of Central Florida near their
home in rural Florida, and they were very excited about the new addition to
their family of service dogs. They have two other trained service dogs and have
trained dogs for nearly 10 years.
“When we first met Sir Rocco it was
love at first sight!” Melanie said. My girls just adored him. He is so
gentle, so beautiful, and he is like a giant teddy bear! He loves kids and has
such a warm and loving disposition. He also is very disciplined and obeys
commands, so he has been a joy to train!”
Both Melanie and Dave are Kaplan
University students—Melanie is currently earning her master’s degree in criminal justice (after earning her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice at Kaplan University as well). Dave earned his associate’s degree in fire sciences and is currently in the process of earning his bachelor’s degree
in the same field. Dave also works full time as a contractor for the Department
of Defense at one of Cape Canaveral’s Air Force Stations driving a fire
When the Thomases brought Sir Rocco
home, they began to train him as a service dog to
help Dave with his mobility issues and PTSD. A veteran of several wars,
Dave worked with service dogs as an Air Force fire fighter in Iraq and
Afghanistan, during grueling search and recovery missions. Dave has been
injured numerous times and has endured an unbelievable 117 surgeries. He now
requires knee replacements in both knees. He has difficulty getting into and
out of his truck, and Sir Rocco helps him.
Dave also suffers from PTSD,
especially in large crowds, and Sir Rocco is there to comfort his owner and to
Sir Rocco is a registered service
dog and seems to know how to make change in
the lives of others. In addition to helping his master, he helps make a difference in
the lives of others as well. The Thomases’ neighbor’s son has autism, and one
of the boy’s fears is of sand. Recently, the family went to Adventure Island
amusement park and the boy built sand castles and played in the sand with Sir
Rocco. His parents were thrilled at all he was accomplishing!
Sir Rocco is out and about with his
owners as much as possible. He accompanies the family on their outings to
Adventure Island and Busch Gardens, and to the grocery store and local
restaurants. “Our goal is to get Sir Rocco as well socialized as possible. That
way, we expose him to different situations so that when challenges arise, he is
as experienced as possible,” Melanie said. “When we’re out, we always get
compliments on Sir Rocco’s behavior and looks!”
Depending on the situation, many
times Sir Rocco wears a service dog vest that says “Please Don’t Pet Me, I’m
Melanie and Dave look forward to
continuing to work with Sir Rocco and their service dogs, as well as earning
their Kaplan University degrees.
Once their children are all grown, Melanie plans on becoming a criminal justice professor. When Dave retires, his goal is to become a fire sciences professor
at a university like Kaplan University.
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