Downeast Dog News

Joseph Worley: A New Journey

By America's VetDogs | Oct 27, 2017
Photo by: Rebecca Eden/America’s VetDogs

As a Navy corpsman, Joseph Worley served as a medic to a Marine unit in Fallujah, Iraq. In 2004, he was wounded by an IED when his medical convoy came under attack. He would lose his left leg above the knee and suffer severe damage to his right leg and ankle.

He spent the next two years in rehab at Walter Reed Army Medical Center (now the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center), but to Worley, “I didn’t really start my recovery until 2008.”

What made 2008 special? That was the year Worley partnered with a Golden Retriever named Benjamin. He trained with the dog in the first on-campus service dog class at VetDogs headquarters in Smithtown, New York. Since then, the two have been inseparable.

Before Worley was teamed with Benjamin, he used his wheelchair to get around more than 90 percent of the time. Now, he says, “I would say I spend roughly 85 percent of my time walking.” (By “walking,” Worley means wearing his prosthetic leg and being prepared to walk, not that he is on his feet all day.)

The change Benjamin brought to his life is one of the reasons that compelled him to volunteer to promote America’s VetDogs. He quickly became one of VetDogs’ most popular and requested speakers, addressing conventions, trade shows, and schools; representing VetDogs in local and national media.

In 2015, Worley joined the staff at America’s VetDogs as the veterans relations liaison. In this role, he fosters relationships between VetDogs and potential donors; builds rapport with veterans service organizations, veterans, and other service clubs; and promotes increased public awareness of America’s VetDogs and the Guide Dog Foundation.

But as Worley started getting busier, Benjamin started slowing down. On their last big trip to a trade show in Orlando, Florida, he relates, “[Benjamin] did everything that I asked him to do, and I couldn't figure out why I felt so guilty about it. His speed was good, and he was fine. But when we stopped and went back to the hotel room, he passed clean out, and when we got home, it was a week until he was back to his old self.

“And I realized at that point he would work himself to the grave for me, and I didn't want to do that to him.” So Worley made the difficult decision to retire the partner who’d been by his side for more than eight years. Benjamin is now a treasured pet in the Worley household. “I wanted him to still be able to get around and be healthy,” he says. “He’s done so much for me that I wanted him to enjoy a little bit of down time.”

Worley returned to VetDogs in April 2017 to train with his new service dog Galaxie.

There was never a question, he says, that he would come to America’s VetDogs when it was time to get another dog. “Part of my job is to teach and inform people,” he says, “and you can’t do that from a book. You have to see what these dogs can do.”

Worley’s new dog has been trained to retrieve dropped items, brace, and open doors (either manually by using a special handle or pushing the push-plate on a power-assisted door).

One of the tasks Worley particularly likes is the “move” command, which he can use to have Galaxie help pull his wheelchair. It was a task he thought unnecessary, until shoulder and wrist injuries forced him to wonder what would happen if he was unable to maneuver in his manual wheelchair. “That was something [the trainers] already thought of.”

He reflects: “My life is so far beyond where I thought I would be in 2008 when I got Benjamin that I cannot begin to express the love and appreciation I have for America’s VetDogs and for the people here. I feel like I left the old me in the dust. I’m doing things I never thought possible. I can’t see my ‘ceiling’ anymore.”