The Pongo Fund celebrated its 5 millionth meal November 10, and as is true of so many receiving help from the pet food bank, Thomas Peck and his dog Von have an extraordinary story.
Thomas suffers bipolar disorder and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) as a result of a car accident in 1994 in which his young female companion lost her life. Thomas was the only one on the scene with first aid skills, and worked to save her on that rainy night. Ultimately deemed caused by faulty engineering of the road, in addition to taking a young woman’s life, the accident caused deep and lasting harm to Thomas’s person, including flashbacks that take him out of his present reality and back to the horrific scene, including the smell of blood.
An executive pastry chef, Thomas moved from Oregon to Las Vegas and then Hawaii. It was there he learned about “Hawaii Fi-do,” an organization providing service dogs — specifically Labradoodles — to individuals afflicted with PTSD and disabilities other than blindness.
Thomas started working with the organization, which has a two-year wait before matching clients with service dogs. During the waiting period, clients prepare by participating in basic training with canines in the program. During a class early on Thomas was told, “Here’s Von’s leash; work with him.”
Thomas had been working with Von for about three months when he began experiencing a flashback during class. Von “keyed into him,” says Thomas, nudging him out of the episode. Seeing this, the instructors sent Von home with Thomas for the night. That night turned into a week, and soon, the match was permanent. Von had previously failed two prior matches due to “not listening well to the people he was to be placed with,” says Thomas, which was not the case with him. He says, “It was like he chose me.”
“Von keys in and half the time notices warning signs [of a flashback] before I do,” says Thomas, explaining that Von’s nudging steers him out of an episode and anchors him in present reality.
Thanks to no quarantine entering Oregon from Hawaii, Thomas says bringing Von home wasn’t difficult, other than the “arduous seven-hour flight.” “It was a bit cramped in coach,” he says. “At 60 pounds, Von had half of his body under the seat.”
Helping celebrate The Pongo Fund’s 5 millionth meal seems right in line with the way things are going for this well-matched pair. “Now that I have Von I’m getting off of Social Security and Disability through the Ticket to Work program,” says Thomas, “and I’m in school to become a civil engineer.”
Thomas says that as a service dog, Von is allowed to accompany him to The Pongo Fund. He loves that, he says, as it allows Larry and the volunteers to see the happy faces and he and Von together.
“Without Pongo, I would not always be able to keep Von well-fed,” he says. “And without Von, I don’t know what I would do. What Larry does really helps me a lot and eases my worrries.”
Tales like Thomas and Von’s are a profound reminder of what The Pongo Fund is all about: that “feeding the animals is feeding and healing the people.”
To follow Thomas and Von’s adventures, including fabulous photos, Like “Von Peck” on Facebook.
Kristan Dael is a freelance writer and the alter ego of Jennifer Mccammon. She lives in Portland with her 3-pack, and strives to produce articles that inform, edify, engage and entertain.