Matt Pundyk was just 22 when his life changed forever. While serving as a cavalry scout in the U.S. Army, the Texan stepped on, and detonated, an IED (improvised explosive device, or homemade bomb) during a patrol in Afghanistan. He lost the lower part of his left leg.
Now 24, Pundyk is back home in New Braunfels, Texas – north of San Antonio – where he lives with a German shepherd named Rush, who hails from Merville.
The 14-month-old Rush is his best friend, protector and service dog.
“He’s a great dog, I love him,” Pundyk said from Texas. “I feel a lot more comfortable having him at my house. Being an amputee, a lot of times I’ll be in my wheelchair, and I feel more vulnerable. He’s a really, really gentle dog, but I know that he would protect me if he needed to.”
Rush was born at Broomeacres German Shepherds in Merville, where he was trained by owners Heather and Doug Wilson. In May, after about a year of training, the couple took him to Texas to meet his new owner. They did so through a program dubbed Rebuilding Warriors that provides companion dogs to wounded soldiers.
Rush and Pundyk met for the first time at Lackland Air Force base in San Antonio, where Matt volunteers at a military working dog program.
Before journeying south of the border, Rush had set foot in Courtenay and Campbell River stores, getting accustomed to noises, smells and people. He also spent time in parks, hanging out with children and walking with leash, harness and wheelchair. He even made an appearance at the fair in Courtenay.
“Rush was an exceptional dog who loved to learn,” said Heather, who taught him how to ‘play’ basketball, push balls and dance.
He can pluck items from a floor, turn on light switches and even let himself out a door.
“The front door that I have, it has the kind of handle that if I don’t lock it, he could let himself out,” Pundyk said.
Rush has also been taught to check on Pundyk if he moves around in bed or gets up at night. Conversely, he will lick his owner’s face when he needs to use the toilet.
“He makes me feel a lot more comfortable, especially at nighttime. But he doesn’t sleep on my bed,” said Pundyk, who suffers at times from anxiety.
Rush is the second dog from Broomeacres that has been donated to a soldier in Texas. The first dog, Ayla, also lives with an amputee and his family.
“She is doing awesome and just loves her job,” Heather said of Ayla.