A Veteran’s Road to Recovery by Gwen Abbott

This week’s column is an invited story, written by a close friend. Gwen Abbott had interviewed a couple of veterans, a female and a male, who had recently fought in Iraq.  Both had major problems upon returning stateside. 

A local publisher had asked Abbott to write the story, in honor of all the Veterans. However, the publisher decided it wasn’t what she wanted—as it did not mention certain advertisers within the story. Gwen was asked to insert them into the story, but declined. The rest is why her wonderful article appears here. It is her, and my, way of a salute to the Veterans of America. I present the article as written by the author, thank you.

By Gwen Abbott

The Army Soldier’s Creed states in part:   “I will never accept defeat. I will never quit. I will never leave a fallen comrade.”  Veteran Sergeant, Len Warren, is the exemplar of all brave American heroes who fight for our freedom, and the service dogs who love them. Although a dog-authored Canine Creed remains unwritten, the axiom, Man’s Best Friend,” says it all.  And nothing could be truer about Nico.

Theirs was a chance meeting—or was it? Suffering severe combat wounds sustained in Iraq, the two-time Purple Heart, recipient was headed home after visiting the local VA, when divine intervention would lay its claim. A torn-up Nico limped across Owens Avenue, covered in blood, a cruel chain ravaging his neck. He, too, had left a horrific battle.

For many, the sight of a large, bloody Pit-bull would prompt a call to authorities.  For Warren, seeing a fallen comrade was a call to arms—his own.  He picked him up and took him home.   “And that’s where our journey began,” a rough start though, Warren says. “He was mean at first and startled easily.  Around others, he’d do the whole Pit-bull stance thing–act dominant and bark.”  But, Nico wasn’t the only one snapping at people. “I was a mess too.”

Without a livelihood, with memory problems, jumbled thoughts, unable to communicate, and not functioning correctly, Warren explained, “I’d explode when people told me what was wrong with me.” Among his many injuries from a pipe bomb, Warren had a concussion, and a traumatic brain injury (TBI) only complicated things. “I was mad. ‘Who do you think you are telling me this?’” He’d challenge doctors. “Of all the treatments I’d had for PTSD and TBI: medication, pool therapy… all those things, the biggest reward was watching Nico’s feedback to my changes in personality.”  Nico began to use corrective measures, Warren says. “For example if I was upset, he could tell because my breathing would change.  He would come over and put his paw on me, or nudge me, and put his head under my arm, as if to say, ‘Hey, that’s not okay.’  As for affection, in the beginning, I was unable to hug or even pet him—and he was also a loner.”  

Wounded Warrior Project
Wounded Warrior Project

In Nico, he saw his own reflection. “When I acted intimidating or unstable, he wouldn’t want to be around me. I knew then I had to change. Obviously if he’s afraid of me, humans will be. Honestly, that was the truth.”   Warren’s little “man in the mirror” gazed back with big, brown eyes, floppy ears and a wet nose. “Nico showed me that I had to do something different…”   They both did.  True to form, Warren foraged a road less travelled. (While specially trained service dogs have proven valuable with aiding veterans, their training often carries with it a price of roughly $40,000, and are unobtainable for many).  And, why do that with Nico’s superior ability, and a bond so strongly developed between the two?  A basic education began with watching famed dog trainer, Cesar Millan on television. Nico progressed nicely and later enrolled in obedience training at a local dog training facility. Despite his previous trauma and mature age, Nico demonstrated high intelligence and excellent temperament. “Even though he was dominant, he was dominant and secure—not dominant and insecure. That’s when you have aggressive dogs and they’re just a mess.”

Put to the test with “Canine Good Citizen” class at the facility, Nico passed with flying colors. Training concluded with service dog courses.   Around the same time, with another mile-stone accomplished, a greatly improved Warren had completed his TBI rehab and things were really looking up.  “I accepted an opportunity with the Wounded Warrior program.  Nico and I went to work in an office here in Nevada with Congressman Joe Heck for a while.  I now work for the VA in peer support,” Warren laughs. “It’s funny to me sometimes:  going to work, wearing a suit and here sits this big black Pit-bull at my side.

Reflecting back on his experience, Warren adds, “It gave me unimaginable strength. At first I didn’t understand why I had such trauma. Why did I get punished?  Now, I say wow, God had a plan after all. Now I know my purpose is to guide others and show them how to find theirs.  Mine is to help vets, a passion I’ll do all my life.”

If God has a plan, so does Dog. Anyway you look at it—forward or backwards—the very word “Dog” seems to point in the right direction.  And while it may be said that one needs a shoulder to cry on, nothing beats a paw to rely on…

Author’s note: This is a true story, as told by a veteran soldier who cannot be named.  Unfortunately, certain for-profit interests (not named here) demanded alterations of its contents to satisfy some other agenda.  Exploitation of any war hero (be it human; canine; equine or other), for one’s own personal profit and gain, have no place in this or any other discourse this writer would either pen or orate. 



This is a review written by a London reviewer, and appears here “EXACTLY AS WRITTEN BY THE REVIEWER,” as a personal favor to the two entertainers. Leigh and Domenick, who have been loyal friends, and great members of our Las Vegas community:

Leigh Zimmerman and Domenick Allen
Leigh Zimmerman and Domenick Allen

A Love Affair From A 2 Z, with Leigh Zimmerman and Domenick Allen at the St James Theatre Studio, in London. Zimmerman certainly knows how to make a guy feel small. At 5’ 11” this statuesque American has a start on most of them anyway, but in her high heels she towers over her long-haired husband of 20 years, the British rock singer-guitarist Domenick Allen. These two met when Zimmerman got her Broadway break in The Will Rogers Follies in 1993, and their Love Affair From A 2 Z, a heady mix of the chemistry, the music, the frothy fun and the anecdotes which make them a clearly still-in-love but disparate couple, got the London Festival of Cabaret off to a thumpingly successful start at a packed and wildly enthusiastic St James Studio. Because she is so striking to look at and has those endless legs (covered up in the first half by a figure-hugging, full-length Julien Macdonald creation), it could be easy to forget what a serious singer-dancer-actress she is.

But you don’t get an Olivier award for A Chorus Line, an Olivier nomination for the delightfully ditsy Ulla in The Producers, or the demanding part of Velma in Chicago, all three big West End hits, unless you can cut it at top level. And this lady most definitely can, moving us with fine versions of Peggy Lee’s ‘Fever’ and Bonnie Raitt’s ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me’.

Leigh’s old man, a former member of 1980s group Foreigner and a Las Vegas regular, is less well-known here, but now that they have settled in London and love it, we shall discover he is a hugely versatile, multiple-instrument-playing entertainer, whether it be rock, pop, cabaret or even jazz (his aunt is jazz legend Annie Ross and he has played with Buddy Rich). His forte is wittily updating other people’s songs to make them more contemporary. I’m not sure Stephen Sondheim even knows what ‘twerking’ is, but there it was in Allen’s version of ‘The Little Things You Do Together’. And Dave Frishberg might not have recognized ‘Blizzard of Lies,’ all about the torrent of insincerities and downright untruths we are marooned in as part of our daily life-speak. But both worked well. In the second half, Dad called up their 13-year-old daughter Cayleigh to belt out that old crowd-pleaser ‘River Deep Mountain High’ and this two-hour love-in ended with what else but ‘All You Need is Love’.

Backing was brilliantly provided by John Smith on piano, Matt Senior, a very lively drummer, and Don Richardson on bass. Jeremy Chapman

Well, gang, that’s definitely it for this week.

I’m outa here!

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