...The Story Thus Far...
…The story begins in the late summer of Iraq serving as a Sniper Section Sgt for the 10th Mtn. Div. Morale, or what amount of it we had remaining, was little to none and our hope was fading. When every day seemed to bring with it another scoop from our shovels, digging the mental hole that we laid in deeper and deeper. As we carried out our orders, a light found us, not that of the mid-day sun…this time it came in a ball or fur…
…We had the pleasure of working with Military Police (that will be the only time I will ever say that!) and their Military Working Dogs (MWD). They would typically stand guard with us to assist our guys with security checks of the locals and any vehicles. This was typically our job when we were not conducting patrols within the local area of operation. What they really did was keep us alive, the morale boost from such a simple sound of hearing paws hitting the ground could turn anyone’s numbness to a smile instantly and I mean INSTANTLY. I fully credit those amazing animals and their handlers for keeping us alive over there.
…When I returned stateside after my tour, I brought home demons, just like every other vet. I found myself in a dark place following the realization that something was wrong with me after deployment and being honorably discharged from service. I thought I was broken and the only way out was to end it all right then and there. At the time of me realizing these things, I had just brought home my first-ever gun dog puppy “Banjo” who was 10 weeks old at the time.
…Leaving Banjo asleep on the third floor, I slowly and quietly closed the office door taking one final look at him. I made my way to the basement and to spare the next part I found myself with a pistol to my head. With my eyes closes and slight pressure on the trigger, all I could feel was a strange “wetness” upon my face… When I opened my eyes, there was Banjo licking my face…how?
…To this day I still believe someone was working through him, and here is why…puppies sleep like a rock. It should also be noted that Banjo had also never done (been exposed to) stairs, let alone three flights of stairs. In conjunction with this all, Banjo had never been to the bottom floor of our house. For him to even know what room was what is simply an act of God. I will still never forget the moment where I put the pistol down and cleared it, Banjo sat there staring at me, like he had known this all along. To this day I have never seen a puppy sit so calm and so still in my life. We looked at each other in silence but his actions spoke volumes, it’s almost like he was trying to tell me,
“Zach, you’re not done yet… you’ve got a lot more to do here…”
…From that moment on I knew he was everything to me, we were connected from day one, that’s something you can’t find in a breeder report or a lineage chart. Banjo would bring me out of flashbacks and wake me up from every single nightmare I had from that point on, he truly saved me…period. Every time we would train together (Banjo and I) I would have merely a shimmer of clarity from what PTSD has taken from who I was before I left for Iraq. Note that when you watch my videos, you are seeing me in the truest form I know. It is truly remarkable how dogs, specifically Labrador Retrievers can save us from our everyday battles and demons. I founded Southern Loon Retrievers to not only form a community of dog trainers/lovers alike but to share this gift that I have found through Labs and War.
…Today, I train Labrador Retrievers full-time as the owner and lead trainer of Southern Loon Retrievers LLC. We are proudly certified as a Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business (SDVOSB). I currently am a certified dog trainer in the State of PA and I am studying for my professional certification. I hold multiple animal trauma and medical certifications from the Cornell University Department of Animal Science. We are headquartered out of Mecklenburg County, VA and we have plans to expand from here forward.
…The Unfortunate present, my marriage has ended, leaving me with everything minus my hunting partner and PTSD dog, Banjo, as you can imagine, this is the exact opposite as I would have wanted it. The nightmares have returned, the symptoms have come back and the life I had recently recovered from, thanks to Banjo, was now back to square one. Nonetheless, this is why I made this program, to recover with dogs, and through dogs. As fate would have it, good or bad, this is the path I’m on and Banjo is on his, I can only hope he thinks of me as someone special who was at least a good trainer in his life for a little while. I was never given the chance to say goodbye to Banjo before he was taken from me and with every dog I train I make sure that never happens again.
…I currently reside in Southern Virginia where I building this company more and more with each passing day to ensure Banjo’s name is never forgotten. As of October 7th, 2020 a new puppy has followed in Banjo’s pawprints, he comes from from Southern Country Kennels in Mississippi with one of the finest bloodlines, his name? “FURY”… The Fury of Banjo’s Vengeance… In closing I hope this page can be a place for the retriever community to come together to learn and progress in the true art of dog training. Thank you for following the page and I look forward to training with everyone!
Southern Loon Retrievers LLC