Mando, the leaders' team dog, is training for a bigger job

Mando, the leaders’ team dog, is training for a bigger job


One of the most notable free agent signings for the Washington Leaders this year is a 10-month-old boy from Folkestone, Ga. He has a stocky frame and big drool-proof gloves. He’s about two feet tall, weighs over 80 pounds, and has a demeanor that trainers aspire to: never too high, never too low, just easy.

Unless the game plan includes bonuses.

Mando, the black English Labrador Retriever puppy the Leaders adopted as their team dog this summer, was an immediate fan favorite with his introduction in September. He wears his number 00 jersey during bobbing Across the aisles of the stadium amidst the staring fans. He has Full page resume In the team’s media handout, his furry face has become a sight to behold for early-arriving fans, and as cameras zoom in on his wagging tongue, The crowd stands and cheers. Even for gamers, he’s somewhat of a celebrity.

“Every home game, I try to take a picture with him,” said quarterback Taylor Heinecke. “It’s been a good luck charm so far. It’s great.”

However, there is a lot more to those pensive eyes and big paws.

Mando is a pup who trains with K9s For Warriors, a Florida-based organization that rescues dogs mostly from high-kill shelters and pairs them with retired military personnel suffering from PTSD, traumatic brain injury, or military sexual trauma. The organization says its mission is to “save two lives, a veteran and a shelter dog” by reducing the chances of veteran suicide and avoiding euthanizing puppies. (Some of the dogs, like Mando, were donated by breeders.)

The leaders, led by co-owner Tanya Snyder, began talks with the organization this summer, hoping to informally adopt a puppy like the Jacksonville Jaguars. (They have a K9s For Warriors puppy named Morris Bones Drew, OR mojo.) Washington is paired with Mando, who lives with a volunteer “puppy kennel” in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, and flies to the D.C. area for select home games at FedEx Field.

The Washington Leaders Charitable Foundation covers the cost of Mando’s training.

“I think it’s great — I really do,” said coach Ron Rivera. “Doing what we do makes sense. We train a dog and we’re going to give him to a vet at the end of his training.”

K9s For Warriors says that since its launch in 2011, it has rescued nearly 2,000 dogs and provided more than 800 service members with canine companions trained to fit their needs, free of charge. Through the program, the pups begin their training with foster owners who take them in until they are 10 to 14 months old and ready to begin a rigorous live training program at one of the K9s For Warriors campuses.

This training lasts six to eight months and includes basic commands and more complex tasks. Many retired service members suffer from hypervigilance, constantly trying to assess potential threats, usually due to trauma; Dogs relieve this anxiety by watching their appearance. Others feel restless in the crowd. Dogs can sense this and make room by circling them so that others will move away.

Dogs are also trained to “lap,” in which they place their front legs over their owners’ thighs to provide a deep compression treat, and “strut,” which allows their owners to use their shoulders and hind legs to help them stand.

Football is not Jeff Zgonina’s only passion. He is also partial to dog shows.

“A lot of Warriors have told me that before they have a panic attack, the dog will start to kind of love them — put their paws on them, snuggle with them — and they’re like, ‘Okay, I’m not sure why you’d So.” And then, all of a sudden, they’ll feel a panic attack coming. So the dog was really hooked. It’s a battle buddy, really, to get these guys through the day.”

About half of the dogs succeed in the program and are paired with service members who spend three weeks on the K9s For Warriors campus to bond with them. Dogs that do not pass are up for adoption.

For some veterans, it can be difficult to find a dog with an energy level and skill set that aligns with their needs. Such was the case for David Crenshaw, a retired sergeant in the Army National Guard who served 20 years, including nearly 14 months in Iraq. He also taught at a military training facility in New Jersey and was a former police officer and firefighter.

“I have what’s called complex PTSD,” Crenshaw said. “…a lot of times you feel like an island on your own; no one will understand you, and eventually you might lose your job. It leaves you in a place of vulnerability and loss of control.”

Crenshaw tried the traditional methods prescribed to him, including therapy and medication, but none were “helpful enough,” he said. He had friends donate dogs to K9s For Warriors, and he eventually inquired about the program.

“I went to K9s For Warriors with hope and faith,” said Crenshaw, who is now an ambassador for the program. “I hoped it would work, and I had to believe…they’re going to deliver what they advertise.”

When Crenshaw arrived at the organization’s headquarters in Florida nearly three years ago, the four-legged creature looked at him from afar and immediately relieved his anxiety about the process.

“I’m still trying to be this tough guy, I’m still trying to put on that tough exterior,” Crenshaw recalled. “Then I finally sit down, and he jumps into my lap, licking me and kissing me and loving me all over. It was probably the first time in a long time that I had real, proper feelings for a situation. That’s when I knew we were going to be in for a good ride.”

Doc is a Labrador Pointer German Shorthair Retriever mix who was rescued with Crenshaw in 2019 and is Crenshaw’s protector, companion and possibly the only friend who could have saved his life.

In September, just days before the NFL season opens, Crenshaw and Doc, as well as other former service members with dogs from K9s For Warriors, attend a workout at the Leaders Training Facility.

Ron Rivera protects his team from chaos. He got this trait from his mother.

As the team finished its practice and walked off the field, players and coaches alike stopped by to meet the pups, offering ear scratches and affectionate looks. This is the routine before most home games.

Mando sits with his tongue hanging out, basking in the attention before he takes off for his biggest job yet: the companion of a veteran in need.

“He’s so hilarious,” said Charles Leno Jr. “He’s just a happy dog. I’ve never seen a happier dog.”

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