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Luna's Goal: To Give Healthy, Loving 'Assist' to a Veteran

Raised by Coyotes, service dog soon will be paired with her partner

by Alex Kinkopf @AEKinkopf / Arizona Coyotes

Luna was just a puppy when she arrived at Gila River Arena in August 2019.

For the past 18 months, she's been raised by Coyotes.

Soon, the black British Lab will graduate to become a full-fledged service dog.

"A veteran with PTSD challenges will most likely be matched with Luna," said Cole Cook, who has served as Luna's handler during her time with the team. "So, somebody who just needs a comforting dog there at all times. She will be awesome at that. Just given her experience with socialization and all the different things she's been a part of."

Cook, the Coyotes' Vice President, Strategy & Business Intelligence, has supervised Luna's training under the guidance of National Assistance Dogs, Inc. (NADI).

National Assistance Dogs, Inc., is a non-profit organization headquartered in Phoenix. NADI provides trained assistance dogs primarily to veterans with mobility and post-traumatic challenges.

Luna has about one month left with the team before graduating from NADI.

So far, Luna has learned to respond to a wide variety of commands. In addition to responding to basic dog-training commands, she also has learned how to open and close cabinets and drawers; call an elevator; open a handicap door, and wait patiently in a public setting, such as under a table at a restaurant or in an airplane row. She also learned how to overcome a fear of riding an escalator.

Additional training will include "really advanced skills," Cook said, "like getting things out of the fridge or turning on the lights."

He added: "We go to public places about once a week for an hour with five other service dogs. We've been to Home Depot and we've been to Bed Bath & Beyond. We've been to a parking garage. There are so many (places and) things a dog has to experience, so that when it is placed with a veteran, it's normal to them."

Luna often is recognized on those outings. People ask Cook, "'Is that Luna? Is that the Coyotes dog? Can I take a picture?'"

Luna's favorite activity, Cook says, is playing fetch on the concourse at Gila River Arena. 

Besides playing with a ball, Luna also fetched more than 800 dog toys for the Arizona Humane Society and the Arizona Animal Welfare League during a fundraising competition with the Nashville Predators' team dog, "Smash," during last year's playoffs.

For opening night, last year, she walked the "Red Carpet." She also has experienced a few shifts on the ice.

"I think the first time she went out on the ice after a practice, she was slipping and sliding all over the place," Cook said. "It was pretty entertaining for everybody who was out there. We threw a puck, and she ran and tried to stop at the goal line and just slid right into the boards. It was just a wake-up moment for being on the ice, I guess."

Luna is welcome in the Coyotes' dressing room. She has somewhat of a special connection with Jason Demers. 

"Every time he sees her, JD always yells loudly, 'Luna!, Luna!,'" Cook said. "I think he's probably the player she's connected with the most."

She is a favorite with the Coyotes front office and with fans at games. 

"When she comes into the office, it's just a ball of joy for everybody," Cook said. "For instance, when she's here, our CFO plays fetch with her probably five or 10 minutes. She just brings a smile to everybody's face regardless of what happens on the ice. It's nice to have that personality in the office and keeps things light when things are tough."

Cook says Luna's favorite snack during Coyotes games are chicken-flavored bites. "I think if she was a human, she'd be buying chicken tenders," he said.

As for the games: "She loves (the goal horn)," Cook said. "Her ears perk up. She's not one to bark or whine, but you can definitely see the excitement when the goal horn goes off."

And when the Coyotes are playing on the road, "She's locked to the TV," Cook said. "She sits in front of the TV and when the camera pans left, her face pans left. She follows the puck."

When Luna leaves the Coyotes in the coming month, she will return to NADI for that advanced training, then she will graduate and be placed with a veteran.

"Mental health and veteran assistance are both key elements under the Coyotes community umbrella, especially with all of the local military presence," Cook said. "This country, especially during the pandemic, has a lot of individuals struggling with mental health, especially our veterans."

Soon, one veteran will be able to lean on Luna.

Those interested in becoming involved with National Assistance Dogs, Inc. (NADI) can contact the organization online at nadiassist.org, or by phone at (480) 251-9513.

Lead Photo Credit: Kevin Anggara - Arizona Coyotes

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