Fans had been asking for the Washington Capitals to get a team dog, and they got their wish in October 2019. But he wasn’t any ordinary team mascot—he was a service dog in training from America’s VetDogs, a New York-based nonprofit that provides service dogs to veterans and first responders with disabilities.
Captain, the official dog of the Washington Capitals, made his debut with the team as a 10-week-old puppy during the Rock the Red Carpet event. Captain socialized in the front office and at community events, practices, and various home games with Capitals staff, players, and the public, helping him become a confident and calm service dog. Capitals fans were given an all-access look at Captain’s journey through his Twitter and Instagram, @CapsPup—he even had his own Caps jersey.
When the adorable yellow Labrador wasn’t hanging out with players and chewing their hockey gloves, he was being raised by America’s VetDogs area coordinator Deanna Stone, prepping for his formal training in February 2021 with Service Dog Instructor Kim Stasheff. That’s right—sadly, Captain’s stay with the Capitals was temporary, as he was destined for bigger responsibilities. After his puppyhood, he went back to Smithtown, NY for his formal service-dog training.
While he’s no longer hanging out with the Capitals, he is back in the DMV area—Captain has been trained to assist retired U.S. Marine Corps Master Sgt. Mark Gwathmey (pictured above), a St. Leonard, Maryland, resident. Gwathmey served in Desert Storm, Somalia, Rwanda, Liberia, and Bosnia, and served stateside in the cleanup of the anthrax-infected Hart Senate Building and the two Washington, DC, post offices after the anthrax attacks in 2001, known as Operation Noble Eagle.
Gwathmey’s first Operation Iraqi Freedom deployment was during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, where he was injured during a building collapse. During his second OIF deployment in 2004, Gwathmey blacked out following a combat mission and was evacuated to Germany for medical treatment. Upon returning to Iraq, he was injured during a combat operation. During a third tour in Iraq, Gwathmey was yet again injured during patrol when a series of IEDs exploded; vibrations from the explosions exacerbated his previous head injuries, and he suffered traumatic brain injury (TBI), which brought on a seizure disorder.
Although Gwathmey medically retired in 2011 after more than 20 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, he was hired by the U.S. Navy as a disaster-preparedness specialist, where he continues to serve his country as a civil service employee.
Captain has been trained to help mitigate Gwathmey’s disability with several tasks and cues, including retrieving dropped items, counterbalance, summoning assistance, seizure response, positional cues to extend personal space, and PTSD cues such as rest, nightmare interruption and shake.
From hockey mascot to helping a hero, Captain has been—and continues to be—a very good boy.
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