In a house on the top of a grassy hill in Coarsegold lives a father, a mother and two dogs who miss Benjamin Pleitez.
The 25-year-old died in Afghanistan in 2012, where Pleitez served as a medic with the Army National Guard. Back home, he also cared for pets and had dreams of one day opening a dog breeding and training kennel.
His parents are working to keep their son’s dream alive. Salvador and Dianna Pleitez recently founded Doc’s Dogs For Vets, which will train shelter dogs to become service dogs for wounded veterans at no cost to recipients. Veterans’ wounds can be physical or mental/emotional, such as veterans coping with post-traumatic stress disorder. The nonprofit will adopt its first four dogs in May.
The project helps the Pleitezes cope with Benjamin’s death. Salvador says an accident, which remains unclear, at an Army base in Afghanistan claimed his son’s life. Benjamin was deployed out of Fresno about four months prior and was awarded more than a dozen medals for his service.
“I think there is some healing power in it,” Salvador says of starting Doc’s Dogs For Vets, “keeping you away from thinking the worst and knowing that you are doing something for somebody else in his honor, that it’s not all lost.”
The Pleitezes moved from Turlock, Calif., to Coarsegold a couple of months after Benjamin died. They needed a change. They brought their son’s dogs, Scarlett and Cadence, with them. Benjamin rescued the stout mutts, one black, one orange, from an animal shelter.
Benjamin taught them well, and it went beyond “training,” Salvador says. They seemed to have grown smarter because of him. Benjamin had worked as veterinarian assistant for a short time.
Benjamin also came to the aid of people in need off the battlefield. After Haiti was hit by a large earthquake in 2010 that killed tens of thousands, he and a friend raised money for supplies and volunteered helping people in the country for about a month.
The Pleitezes hope the dogs in the Doc’s Dogs For Vets program come to the rescue like their son did. They know a veteran with a service dog who wakes him when he’s having a nightmare and heard an account of another veteran who decided not to kill himself because he didn’t want his dog to be alone without care.
Salvador, a civil engineer, and Dianna, a former elementary school teacher, are not professional dog trainers, but they plan to enlist the help of people who are.
The dogs will go through four phases of training that will last about 10 months.