An Army veteran from New York is going the distance - 4,000 miles to be exact - to help his fellow veterans in need of service dogs.
Saratoga County native Jimmy Thomas, age 61, of Ballston Spa, is currently kayaking from the town of Glenville all the way to Key West, Florida. He then plans to bicycle back to upstate New York.
The arduous journey is all part of a fundraiser called Doggie Paddle for Veterans, a partnership with the Glenville Rotary that seeks “to get our country's attention to help our American veterans find a better tomorrow with a service dog,” reads the fundraiser’s website.
It’s an issue that’s near to Thomas’ heart, having lost his own service dog, a golden retriever named Boots, to cancer in the summer of 2022, he told Daily Voice.
After suffering from stress-induced seizures, Thomas was paired with Boots thanks to assistance from the Mountain to Miracles Veterans Foundation.
"The dog I got happened to be able to recognize that I was going to have a seizure way before I had a seizure," Thomas said.
Now, he’s on a mission to make sure that other veterans facing similar challenges can be paired with their own furry companions, whose costs with training can top $50,000.
On Saturday, Sept. 24, Thomas launched his kayak into the Mohawk River in Glenville, kicking off what he expects will be a five-month journey to the Sunshine State and back.
He had reached Chesapeake, Virginia, by Monday, Oct. 17.
Thomas told Daily Voice he’s been blown away by the generosity of strangers helping him along his journey, many of whom have hosted him in their homes. Some have even cooked him steak dinners, he said.
“Where did all these nice people come from that you never see or hear of?” he said. “That part of it is just so contagious.”
Thomas said he’s had plenty of people tell him he’s crazy for attempting such a grueling trip. However, he’s no stranger to difficult journeys.
In 2020, he helped raise awareness for service dogs by biking across the United States, riding from Newport, Oregon, to the VA hospital in Albany.
“I honestly think, knowing what I know about veterans and the suicide rate, I would have to say I’d be crazy not to do it,” Thomas said.
He’s hoping the adventure, which he’s dedicating to Boots, will raise six figures in donations.
“Success will be when we help the first person,” he said. “But when that one person changes, he or she will change several other people’s lives.”
Those interested in following Thomas’ journey can find updates on the Doggie Paddle Facebook page.
People can also donate to the cause on the project's website.
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