Vietnam veteran pays tribute to faithful service dog

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 26, 2005

Disabled Vietnam vet and active volunteer Thurston Mosley is one of those who heartily agrees with the old adage &uot;Dog is man’s best friend&uot;.

He didn't know just how much of a friend a canine could be, however, until he met up with a handsome yellow Lab named Tobin.

"When I applied for a Service Animal through Canine Companions for Independence [a non-profit organization that trains assistance dogs for people with disabilities other than blindness] in 1994, I had to go to Orlando, Florida for an initial interview. After patiently waiting for 30 days they notified me I would be put on a waiting list for a companion dog," explains Mosley.

After a "long" sixteen months, Mosely was notified in January of 1996 they had found what just might be the perfect match for him.

Learning together

There was a catch, however.

Mosley would have to go to Long Island, New York and spend two weeks with the dog to learn what the service animal had already learned in the first 22 months of his life.

"Tobin was born in 1994 in a California breeding home. They flew him at the tender age of two months

to Orlando for training. A police officer in Pampano Beach, Bill Serantis, took him through his paces and he graduated from canine 'high school' in 1995."

Tobin's foster parents flew the dog to New York and entered him into Canine College at the Northeast Center for CCI.

"In Long Island, two ladies and myself worked with three different animals each morning and three each afternoon beginning on Monday. On Thursday morning, the pros matched us up with the one companion they thought was best for us.

"Tobin went to our motor home on Fire IslandŠand met my wife Rochelle for the first time. While he and I were bonding those first three weeks she wasn't even supposed to look at him. Well, she would wink at him when I wasn't looking and he picked up on that. After that, whenever he wanted Rochelle to give him his peanut butter or anything - he would wink at her," Mosley chuckles.

On the road with Tobin

This dynamic duo of man and dog went on to travel many places and attend many functions, helping educate the public about Canine Companions for Independence.

&uot;We went everywhere, from the White House to the outhouse, together,&uot; chuckles Mosley.

Along the way, Tobin was in some pretty distinguished company, his owner recalls.

&uot;Tobin met Fob James when he was Governor of Alabama. He stood with me before the Senate and Congress of both the state and the nation. He went with me 24 hours a day when I was the Disabled American Veterans Commander of the State of Alabama.&uot;

Mosley’s faithful companion always drew attention wherever they went.

&uot;When I presented the DAV Chapter in Decatur with their ’50 Years’ plaque, the newspaper wanted Tobin’s picture, not the members of the DAV – and his photo was on the front page the next day! He enjoyed being the center of attention, especially at fundraisers for Canine Companions for Independence.&uot;

During a DAV National Convention in Las Vegas, folks were &uot;so fascinated&uot; watching Tobin play the slots.

&uot;It was two or three years later, this couple came up to me somewhere and said, ‘Isn’t that the dog that played slot machines in Las Vegas?&uot; laughs Mosley.

A popular fellow

Tobin managed to bring smiles to folks of all ages. &uot;He was known at many classes at the schools and the Boy and Girl Scouts. He was especially happy when we visited the nursing homes, veteran homes and assisted living facilities.

"He was in demand to go and speak and demonstrate at schools, civic organizations and clubs all around. We'd both dress up in our Shriner's fezes and ride in the golf carts in many parades. We were always welcomed whenever we went around Greenville…people didn’t remember me, they always remembered ‘the dog,’&uot; says Mosley.

The disabled vet remembers what a hard worker Tobin was. &uot;He was always ready to work in order for someone to observe him. You notice I don’t say ‘performed’ because he never performed. Everything he did was for a good reason, and even though it was work as far as I was concerned, it was ‘play time’ for him. All in all, it's been such a joy to educate the public about Canine Companions. It's been a very interesting and enjoyable trip."

Saying goodbye

The day came earlier this year when, after eight happy years together, Mosley was forced to make one of the toughest decisions of his life concerning his faithful friend.

"Tobin had been very sick. I knew the time had come to let him depart this world. I believe when I looked into those big ole black eyes, he was asking me to make that decision for him and telling me he would be up in heaven waiting for me, free from pain and wearing that CCI vest proudly."

Mosley asked his cousin and Tobin's veterinarian, Dr. Bill Watson, to "perform the ritual".

"For Bill, it was a really hard thing and he first asked if his assistant could do this. But at 8 a.m. the morning of February 1, between tears, Bill did the ritual for Tobin."

Mosley still misses his dear friend but rejoices in the years they had together.

"I remember how I used to take Tobin to the crippled children's parties, especially at Christmas. One little boy once asked if he could go home with us and be our little boy and have Tobin as his dog. We had such wonderful times together. We were the perfect match."

Thurston Mosley looks forward to that future day when he can play once more with Tobin in the "great green meadows in the sky."

To learn more about the Canine Companions for Independence, go to the organization's website at