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Iraq War Veteran Gives Thanks To SUNY Fredonia Students For Service Dog

Matt Wronski and “Judge” with Associate Provost Judith Horowitz.

FREDONIA — Matt Wronski, a Marine Corps veteran and Fredonia High School graduate, has “Judge” by his side to help heal the battle scars from his five tours in Iraq, thanks to the Veterans Club at the State University at Fredonia and WNYHeroes, a non-profit that supports veterans and their families.

A 5K run, the Stars & Strikes bowling event and numerous basket raffles were deployed by the university’s Veterans Club to raise $4,500 to cover the full cost to train a service dog for a Chautauqua County veteran.

Associate Provost Judith Horowitz, who had collaborated with WNYHeroes when she was at Medaille College, learned that the Fredonia Veterans Club wanted to raise money to benefit a Chautauqua County veteran, so she connected them with Chris Kreiger and Lynn Magistrale, both of WNYHeroes.

The WNYHeroes duo visited the campus, with Kreiger’s service dog, “Bubba,” in tow, to vividly show Veterans Club members how much a service dog can benefit a veteran.

“The students had the opportunity to see the dog in action,” Dr. Horowitz recalled, and learn how the dog can help a veteran to relax. When the dog has his vest on, he becomes a service animal; it’s like the dog saying ‘I’m working,’ and you’re not to touch him,” Horowitz explained. But when the vest comes off, Bubba was like any other dog and loved to have his stomach rubbed, she added. “The students in the Veterans Club were really struck by that, and they knew that (raising money to support service dog training) was what they wanted to do.”

Through its “Pawsitive for Heroes” initiative, WNYHeroes partners with a service provider that trains dogs to be assigned to veterans.

Wronski and Judge went through three graduated stages of training together, so they would get used to each other. The campus was a frequent obedience training site because there were plenty of “distractions,” Wronski explained, such as students walking to classes and other residents walking their own dogs. A service dog must be entirely focused on the veteran at all times.

In fact, Judge, who was about 1.5 years old when training began, did so well with off-leashing portion that Wronski no longer needs to have him on a leash.

Judge has a tight bond with Wronski. He’ll climb into Wronski’s truck after he returns home from work — he’s a lineman for National Grid — and accompany Wronski to stores and restaurants, most everywhere. Wronski used to avoid going to places with crowds, such as malls and movie theaters, but not anymore.

“He helps get me out of the house, gets me back to normal, so I have no problem with that kind of stuff,” Wronski said.

“He knows if I have a bad night — a flashback to Fallujah — that’s when he comforts me, gives me a nudge or looks at me,” added Wronski, a master sergeant in the Marines who went on to spend 14 years in the Marine Corps Reserves. He joined the Marines partly as a result of 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“Dogs are comforting; they don’t discriminate or hate, anything like that. They just want to be loved,” said Wronski, who grew up in a home that usually had dogs. “A lot of us vets use them; they’re just very comforting when we’re uncomfortable.”

Kreiger, president/CEO of WNYHeroes and also an Iraq War veteran, indicated Wronski has come a long way since receiving the service dog. “He even wants to help speak on behalf of the program and encourage others to get involved,” Kreiger said. “We’re able to do what we do because of the community support for veterans; having Fredonia’s support and getting behind us means a lot.”

WNYHeroes has a beautiful mission, Horowitz said, “and I’ve seen their work transform veterans’ lives. They fill a need that no other veteran’s organization fills.” WNYHeroes assists veterans and their families in a variety of ways.

To show his appreciation, Wronski brought Judge with him on a visit to Horowitz to express his thanks to Fredonia and to let the campus know how much the dog means to him. “It was life-changing for him,” Horowitz said.

Wronski and his three children — Brandon, Ayden and Norah — are all New York Yankees fans, so the dog was named after Yankees star outfielder Aaron Judge, a family favorite.

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