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Short Shifts

Service dog becomes star at first NHL game

Air Force veteran, German shepherd were crowd favorites at Canadiens vs. Stars

by Cristina Ledra @cledra / NHL.com

Veteran, service dog enjoy game

MTL@DAL: Nevada Grassie and service dog attend game

Military veteran Nevada Grassie and his service dog, Six, attend their very first Stars game at American Airlines Center

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Nevada Grassie never expected when he got a couple of tickets for the Dallas Stars game Wednesday that his service dog would gain so much notoriety.

But the same calm demeanor that matched his personality so well when he and Six the German shepherd were paired up a year ago made her a star in the crowd at American Airlines Center.

"We've gone to a lot of places doing hunting trips, we've been in remote places but nothing like this where she got a lot of attention," Grassie told NHL.com. "When they flashed her up on the big screen everybody was freaking out. She loved looking up, like, 'What?'"

For the past year since Grassie left the Air Force after a decade of service, he and Six have been inseparable.

"She's good for anxiety and everything I've dealt with being deployed and all that I've had to go through, and just knowing that she's there, I know she's got my back," he said.

In fact, her namesake is the military phrase, "I've got your six," meaning "I've got your back."

They found each other through Grassie's artwork. He makes intricate carvings out of skulls and antlers that people send him from hunting trips. One of the people he worked with was Jeff Greene, a trainer with Svallin, a protection dog company that trains canines and matches them with owners based on personality compatibility.

"I had a few buddies that were prior service and had gotten dogs from Jeff, and they met Six and they just didn't quite mesh," Grassie said. "Then when I got there, he handed me the lead for Six and I was just like, 'Man this dog is really calm.' But when we went out and we did all the work and obstacle courses together, we just clicked."

Grassie said Greene had seen many dogs during his time as a counter sniper and member of special forces that were battle hardened and unable to integrate into home life, so he set out to train dogs to offer elite protection and still be good with families.

"We did the protection work, she bonded with me really well in like three days," Grassie said. "When we did a pretend assault, I was able to send her. She went with authority like she was going to take that guy that guy's arm off.

"She's very calm, she's very good with everybody, everybody can pet her. Like if she senses the intent of the individual coming toward me or anything that might be hostile, she recognizes that and completely just changes."

Grassie recalled a time when he and Six were at the grocery store and she backed him into a wall because she sensed something she didn't like in a fellow customer that he didn't see any problem with.

"I was like, 'Uh, you should probably go,'" Grassie said to the customer.

Among the places they travel together are hunting trips where he gets some of the items he uses for his carvings, with the support of Kryptek Outdoor Group, though most of the materials come from people who hunt the animals themselves.

His most ambitious piece is up for auction in two weeks at the Wild Sheep Foundation Convention in Reno, Nev. to benefit Wounded Warrior families. A Marine, Kirstie Ennis, was in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan in 2012, leaving her with an amputated leg. She took a hunting trip during her rehabilitation wearing her first prosthesis and killed a bison. The meat was turned into 3,000 meals that were sent to Wounded Warrior families, and Grassie got the skull to carve.

The piece took him 200 hours to complete and was mounted on a base by his employer, The Wildlife Gallery. The base also includes a flag that was flown through Afghanistan, over the Normandy American Cemetery in France, and run through Europe by Wounded Warrior Adventures Enabled alumni.

"There's a lot of trust because they spend so much money to do those hunts, to go to those places and then that comes to me," said Grassie, who was an art major in college and comes from a family of saddle makers. "So there's a lot of responsibility in creating something that's going to last them into their great-grandkids. It's a lasting piece of artwork. It's not taxidermy anymore, it's a story."

The Wildlife Gallery was also responsible for getting Grassie and Six to the Stars game. The employees were at the Dallas Safari Club Convention, about six hours from Grassie's home in Medina, Texas, where he lives with his wife Edith and three children, and his boss had some tickets to the game against the Montreal Canadiens.

Tweet from @dog_rates: @DallasStars name might be 6 but he's definitely a 13

It was the first NHL game for both of them and a memorable experience with Six getting her own seat from a nearby fan who gave up an extra ticket, and making an appearance on TV.

"The game was pretty cool," Grassie said. "And then Six stealing the show was pretty cool too.

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