Rescue 22 Foundation Helps Provide Service Dogs to Veterans

July 24, 2023Lauren Warner
Rescue 22 Foundation

A golden retriever trained by Rescue 22 in a tactical vest. Photo courtesy of Rescue 22 Foundation.

By now, everyone has heard stories about weird critters people have tried to pass off as “service pets.” The species list spans the animal kingdom, from peacocks and ducks to miniature donkeys and bearded lizards. Yet, for all the variety, no beast or bird has proved a better sidekick to those in need than man’s best friend — the dog.

Among those who understand the indispensable value of a good service dog are the founders of Rescue 22 Foundation, a veteran-operated nonprofit that provides free service dogs to veterans, no matter where they live. That’s right. They train the dog, bring it to you, and then teach you and your new companion how to work together, all at no cost. 

The idea behind Rescue 22 is to give a new start to both a veteran and a dog. Like most good veteran-run nonprofits, this one has a backstory involving a former service member who saw flaws in the veteran healthcare system and wanted to do more to prevent those to their left and right from falling through the gaps.

Army veteran Daniel Reyes and his K9, Charlie, take a break during a hike. Photo courtesy of Rescue 22 Foundation.

Rescue 22’s founder, Byron Beplay, served in the 75th Ranger Regiment. He left the Army in 2012, and, like many vets, he soon found himself personally and professionally struggling. He jumped jobs, working as a security contractor and a commercial underwater welder before starting his own business. 

After the business failed, Beplay grew so depressed that he tried to take his own life. He swallowed all the medications the VA had prescribed him and then went to sleep on a pier, believing he would never wake up again. When police officers found him several hours later, they thought he was dead. Fortunately, one of the officers, who was also a former soldier, managed to bring Beplay back to consciousness by rubbing his sternum.

“I promised him that I would get help,” Beplay recalled, referring to the officer who saved his life. “So I landed on PA [physician assistant] school and started to get my life back on track. Shortly after that, amid a divorce, I moved back to Florida to be closer to my kids.”

Rescue 22's mission of saving two at a time is embodied in this photo of a service dog with its veteran owner. Photo courtesy of Rescue 22 Foundation.

In Florida, a VA physician realized that Beplay had stopped taking his prescribed medications and threatened to have his disability benefits revoked if he didn’t start again. 

Beplay explained to the doctor that not only did the medications make it difficult for him to concentrate in school, but they were also the same ones he had used in his suicide attempt. He said that he would take up the issue with his congressman if the VA didn’t offer him another solution. 

The VA’s solution was to offer Beplay a service dog, which would be provided to him by a partnering nonprofit organization. However, when he contacted the nonprofit, he learned he would have to pay for the dog himself. The price tag: $32,000.  

“Service dogs are highly trained and highly expensive animals, and it takes thousands and thousands of hours of training to get them to that level of work,” Beplay said. “But nobody has that kind of money.”

Some insurance companies will help cover the cost of a service dog for the treatment of post-traumatic stress, but the VA does not because it classifies service dogs as an elective form of mental health treatment.

A Rescue 22 dog is trained by their partner organization Coastline K9. Photo courtesy of Rescue 22 Foundation.

Inspired by his experience, Beplay called his best friend and turned to crowdfunding so that they could begin training dogs themselves. He had already started training dogs as a hobby and soon became so obsessed that he quit PA school a week before graduation to train dogs full-time.

One thing distinguishing Rescue 22 from similar organizations is that it continues to work with the dogs even after they’ve been handed off to their new owners, conducting periodic training to ensure a long, successful companionship. Furthermore, Rescue 22 trains dogs for specific tasks, so each veteran gets a dog tailored to their needs. And they’re not just working with Labs or shepherds; they are currently training two poodles.

“We don’t just hand off the leash and say, ‘Hey, have a good life, veteran.’ These dogs are trained to help a specific person, whether it be mobility issues, seizures, or medical needs,” Beplay said. “We aren’t breed-specific — we train a dog to a task to meet the veteran’s needs.”

John Devine of Devine K9s and his service dog compete at the Patriot Games. Photo courtesy of Rescue 22 Foundation.

Both Beplay and Rescue 22 co-founder Erick Innis are friends of Mat Best, co-founder of Black Rifle Coffee Company, from their time in the military. After losing his previous dog two years ago, Best searched for a dog that could fill that void, serving as both protection and a family dog. 

One of Rescue 22’s dogs recently found its way to Best. The dog, named Nova, is a Dutch Shepherd trained as a family protection animal. Best didn’t realize how much he had missed the companionship of his dog until he had Nova, not to mention what Nova did for him psychologically. 

“Between the emotion of receiving such a well-trained dog from them and realizing its drastic impact on my mental health, it got me thinking, Best said. I mean, I’m a pretty decently functioning guy, so what impact does receiving a dog like this have on guys and gals with physical disabilities or more severe mental health issues?”

Best was inspired to get more involved with the organization.

BRCC co-founder Mat Best's dog, Nova. Photo courtesy of Mat Best.

“Byron [Beplay] came out to San Antonio to do some remedial training with Nova and myself, and he also had his lead trainer there working with a golden retriever,” Best said. “We were in Bass Pro, and the trainer was just tossing keys across the aisles and having the dog bring the keys back and put them in her hand. 

“You never think about the fact that if they’re teaching a dog for someone who’s wheelchair-bound, the dog can perform physical functions for them so they don’t have to struggle.” 

Best now serves on the board of advisors, and his efforts to support Rescue 22 include incorporating them into an upcoming BRCC commercial titled “Service Bear.” Though the commercial is satirical, it allows BRCC to tie in a nonprofit that works very seriously in the service animal space. BRCC donated $25,000 to the organization in conjunction with the commercial recognition.

Rescue 22 operates two programs. One of them, the Veteran Service Dog Trust, is devoted to the foundation’s primary mission of providing veterans with high-quality, task-trained dogs. Depending on the veteran's needs, these service dogs are trained to assist with mobility, medical, or psychiatric needs. 

The other program, Service Dog Sustainability Fund, provides annual refresher training and any additional task-specific training that might be necessary after a dog has settled into its new home. This service is available to the veterans through the entire lifespan of their handler-service dog partnership.

Donations like Black Rifle Coffee’s help cover the costs of the year-plus of training for each dog, animal/veterinarian care, service dog and handler equipment, handler education, and service dog and handler integration. 

Read Next: Do You Know the Difference Between Service Dogs, Emotional Support Dogs, and Working Dogs?

Lauren Warner
Lauren Warner

Lauren Warner is the managing editor of the BRCC Blog. She's only slightly connected to the military community, growing up as an Army brat before serving in the Army herself as a public affairs specialist, then becoming an Army spouse and caregiver. With degrees in English, journalism, and a master's in marketing, to say that she enjoys reading and writing might be an understatement. She spends her free time drinking too much coffee and going on adventures with her husband and three dogs (yes, they're all rescues).

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