OCSD push-up challenge raises awareness of veteran suicides and raises funds for service dogs

By Lou Ponsi

Orange County Sheriff’s Deputy Mark Salgado and his daughter, Alissa, 15, first learned about the Patriotic Service Dog Foundation while attending Pet Expo 2017 in April at the OC Fair & Event Center.

In an effort to reverse the staggering number of suicides committed by veterans, the foundation provides service dogs at no cost to veterans battling post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or who have other health issues.

The dogs can be trained to interrupt panic attacks and nightmares, pick up items off the floor, and protect their owners from being confronted too abruptly.

“They train them to do all sorts of things,” Salgado said. “Whatever that veteran needs, they can make arrangements and start training the dog.”

Fifteen-year-old Alissa Munoz, daughter of OCSD Deputy Marc Salgado, smiles as she receives affection from 8-week-old Jet, a red and yellow Labrador mix puppy she is training for the Patriotic Service Dog Foundation. Alissa is the foundation’s youngest dog trainer.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Salgado and Alissa currently are working with their second service dog trainee, Jet, an adorable 2 1/2-month-old Labrador retriever.

They are teaching Jet to perform basic duties before he goes to the Patriotic Service Dog Foundation for specific training suited for his future owner.

“It’s fun to be able to take him out places and train him,” Alissa said. “It’s fun to have a puppy to play with. What’s not to love about puppies?”

By the time the service dogs are ready to go home with a veteran, about $25,000 has been invested in each one, said Tom Tackett, founder and president of the Patriotic Service Dog Foundation.

Twenty-three service dogs trained by the foundation are currently serving veterans.

Members of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department participate in Push 20 at the Theo Lacy Facility to raise awareness for veteran suicide prevention.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Salgado felt the nonprofit would be the ideal beneficiary for this year’s push-up challenge at the Theo Lacy Facility, the maximum-security jail complex in Orange, where he works.

Salgado’s coworkers and Theo Lacy administrators were all for the plan.

Starting at 4:20 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 10, deputies at Theo Lacy performed 20 push-ups every hour for 20 hours to symbolize the shocking number of 20 suicides per day committed by veterans.

With dozens of supporters – and service dogs – on hand, deputies and others performed the final 20 push-ups on Nov. 11 under a tent in the Theo Lacy parking lot.

Alissa Munoz, 15, daughter of OCSD Deputy Marc Salgado, holds Jet, the Labrador mix puppy she is training.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

“What you’re doing here today for us is very much appreciated and we really do thank you,” Tackett said to the deputies.

The number of push-ups has been lowered by two since the 22 performed every hour for 22 hours in 2016, the first year of the event.

“Our hope is that we get to zero,” Undersheriff Don Barnes said. “Eventually, the hope is that we just celebrate our veterans on Veterans Day and not the ones we are losing after they are done serving.”

The deputies promoted the event in advance and raised money through T-shirt sales, opportunity drawings, and at the event.

“It brings awareness,” Sheriff Sandra Hutchens said to those who organized and participated in the push-up challenge. “It’s saving lives and bringing honor to those who serve.”

OCSD Deputy Patrick Moran performs 20 pushups with others participating in the department’s Push 20 event.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Thomas Malenofski, left, and Don Dixon of the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs Pipe Band, play as members of the OCSD gather for the Push 20 event.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens thanks everyone for participating in the Push 20 event at the Theo Lacy Facility.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

OCSD Deputy Jay Jones gets down for 20 pushups with others from the department at the Push 20 event.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Members of the OCSD gather with those who came to participate in Push 20.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Jet, an 8-week-old red and yellow Labrador mix puppy undergoing training for the Patriotic Service Dog Foundation, is a magnet for kids.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Brittney Malenofski, wife of OCSD Deputy Thomas Malenofski, teaches her 2-year-old daughter, Emma, the proper way to fold one’s hands during prayer at the start of the Push 20 event.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC