NEW CASTLE —
Lambert the Labrador Retriever is a bundle of energy.
Constantly in motion, the chocolate-colored 2-year-old uses his big, brown eyes to plead with his owner, David Hoover, to throw a ball to him or join him in a tug-of-war with one of his many other toys.
But when Hoover quietly says, “Lambert, stop, Lambert, stay,” the rambunctious dog’s muscular 90-pound body comes to a screeching halt, as does the incessant wagging of his tail.
In an instant, Lambert goes from playful pup to a service dog with a job to do.
“It’s tough,” said Hoover, “because your instinct is to treat him like a pet, but you have to get stern with him at times so he can understand it’s time to do what he’s there to do.”
DOING A SERVICE
What Lambert is there to do is to help the 65-year-old Hoover with his post-traumatic stress disorder, a result of the time the retired Marine Corps sergeant spent in Vietnam from 1967-68.
On Aug. 3, 1968, at Contien, Quang Tri Provence, the 1965 New Castle High graduate, who grew up on the city’s East Side, was on the first day of his second tour of duty when a bunker he was in took a direct hit. He found himself buried under sand bags and wooden beams.
“I was in total darkness and kept wondering if I was dead,” Hoover said. “I could hear the Marines above saying that they needed to dig me out, but most likely I hadn’t survived.”
Hours later, he found himself looking at the sky as the base doctor told him he had a broken thigh and would be choppered out. It was many years later that he was diagnosed with PTSD.
Hoover admits he did his share of drinking after he left the service in 1971, then became a workaholic, isolating himself and attempting suicide on several occasions when he felt that life had overwhelmed him. He was forced to have his esophagus removed as a result of after-effects of Agent Orange he encountered in Vietnam.
“I was just a very angry person,” he said. “I was angry at everyone who crossed my path.”
It was 12 years ago when Hoover saw a story on the television news about dogs who could help PTSD victims cope. That led to the adoption of Granite, also a chocolate Lab.
Jane, his wife of nearly 25 years, stuck by him through it all and, finally, the couple began to get some relief when Granite came onto the scene.
“From Day 1, Granite was the perfect dog,” David said. “He was passive and very trainable.”
Granite’s reception in New Castle and the surrounding area was not a good one at first.
“People weren’t used to service dogs all those years ago,” Jane said. “We were questioned on many occasions when we tried to take him into restaurants and stores.”
As Granite began to age, David realized he needed a backup.
“Now with Lambert, we rarely, if ever, are questioned when we take him in somewhere,” Jane said, adding with a chuckle, “our biggest problem is that waitresses want to bring him food and water and he can’t accept anything when he’s working.”