(RAPID CITY, SD) – The Rapid City Rush, proud ECHL affiliate of the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes, are pleased to formally introduce “Rush”, the team service dog, to his veteran partner, Retired United States Air Force Staff Sergeant Tony Russell. Their introduction was made official during the first intermission of last night’s series finale against the Allen Americans.
Early in the 2019-20 season, the Rush organization adopted a red labrador puppy, aptly named “Rush”, from Turkey Creek Labradors, with the goal of developing him into a service dog for a South Dakota veteran. The team partnered with South Dakota Canine Center to train “Rush” to ensure he would be able to fully serve the needs of his veteran as a service dog.
The Rush organization reached out to long-time community partner, Mission 22, to help identify a South Dakota veteran who was in need of and qualified for a service dog. Mission 22 is a non-profit organization dedicated to healing America’s veterans. Based on a nomination process, Mission 22 identified Russell as a candidate to receive “Rush”.
“Humbling is really the only thing that comes to mind with all of this. I don’t know any other way to say it,” Russell said of the process in receiving “Rush” as his service animal. “I had been actively looking for a service animal after my doctors recommended that I get one. Once Veterans Affairs took over my medical care, they concurred that I needed one as well.
“We looked at about eight organizations nationwide, and there was almost a two year waiting period. With what I had going on personally, this was a situation where the medical recommendation was the sooner I got a service animal, the better,” he continued. “My former operations chief, who happens to be a part of Mission 22, nominated me to receive ‘Rush’. Before you know it, I got a call from Chris Cooper, the South Dakota State Leader for Mission 22, saying that I would receive ‘Rush’ as my service animal. From that point on, it was a surreal moment for six months to understand that an organization was going out of its way to spend the time and money in training for such a dog. Not only that, but the community buy-in as well was special, from Turkey Creek Labradors donating him, to Canyon Lake Vet taking care of him, Healthy Paws providing him with food, to the time that Tim and Kellee Matthews at South Dakota Canine Center took to train him, it was just incredible.”
Russell served in the United States Air Force, beginning as all airmen do at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. His first duty station was Ellsworth Air Force Base here in Box Elder, South Dakota, where he was a part of the 28th Civil Engineering Squadron. During his tenure at Ellsworth AFB, Russell met his wife, Denise, who is a native of Hot Springs, South Dakota. As an airman at Ellsworth AFB, Russell had three deployments and multiple humanitarian missions that brought him all over the world. While on active duty Russell had multiple duty stations, in addition to Ellsworth. Russell and his family were assigned to Yokota Air Force Base in Tokyo, Japan, Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii, and McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey where he retired from his service.
The primary point of care for “Rush” with Russell is mental health. However, his skillset is vast enough to adapt to any situation for which Russell would need his companion.
“His primary point of care for me is my mental health, especially Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and anxiety response. That said, ‘Rush’ has quite the array of skills for my other needs,” Russell added. “Take, for instance, my mobility purposes. In particular, he helps me with stability and standing, getting up and down, and he’s even trained to pick things up for me as well. On a mental health side of things, he’ll wake me up if I’m having night terrors, and has an anxiety response to either comfort me or diffuse a situation. If there’s a crowd of people, he’s trained to move people back to give me a buffer zone.
Russell concluded: “‘Rush’ is an all-around, well-trained puppy that does a lot of work for me. He’s the youngest service dog in any capacity that South Dakota Canine Center has ever trained, so he’s incredibly intelligent. ‘Rush’ has meshed well with my family in the brief time we’ve had him and has brought tons of happiness to our household. I’m incredibly thankful to the Rush organization, Mission 22, and all of our partners in making this possible. My family and I are just humbled and thankful.”
A native of Buffalo, New York, South Dakota became home for Russell shortly after his military career ended. At the time of his discharge, Russell finished as an E-5, or a Staff Sergeant. Throughout his Air Force career, Russell was a water and fuel maintenance craftsman, a major cog in the operations of any military installation tasked with efficiently maintaining a supply of water and fuel from the point of source to the point of use. Russell now resides in the Black Hills with his wife Denise, and his two boys, Jacobi (6) and Evan (2).
Throughout this process, “Rush” was provided outstanding veterinary care thanks to our partners at Canyon Lake Veterinary Hospital. To ensure he was well-fed and supplied with fun toys, the team welcomed Healthy Paws into the Rush family as well.
If you see “Rush” at future home games, we kindly ask on behalf of the Russell family that, because “Rush” is an active service animal wearing a designated service vest, to please refrain from approaching “Rush” to pet him.
The Rush continue their eight-game homestand with a “three-in-three” this weekend against the Tulsa Oilers, marking the long-time rivals first head-to-head showdowns of the 2020-21 season. Puck drop for Friday, January 15th and Saturday, January 16th, is slated for 7:05 p.m. MDT, while Sunday’s series finale on January 17th is slated for 4:05 p.m. MDT.