Veteran, Service Dog Graduate Together

Two women own the heart of Eddie Gunter.

One is his wife, Maria, who watched proudly from the seats at John E. Tucker Coliseum in Russellville on Saturday morning as Gunter received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Arkansas Tech University.

The other is Star, a 7-and-a-half-year-old service dog who was with Gunter every step of the way to that degree, including the walk across the coliseum floor in her own cap and gown during Saturday’s commencement ceremony.

“(Star) is my savior when I’m down and my companion when I’m up,” said Gunter. “My wife is my best friend, and Star is right there in the same capacity. I think I care about each of them about equally. To have both of them here today, and for Star to get to walk with me, it’s icing on the cake.”

Gunter graduated from Russellville High School in 1987 and began classes at Arkansas Tech that fall.

“College probably wasn’t the first thing on my mind at that time,” said Gunter. “I was still young…18 years old. About two semesters in, the dean invited me to take a vacation. That vacation is what ultimately got me into the military.”

Gunter served as a medic in the U.S. Army. The years after his retirement from the service were trying times.

“I was struggling a lot with drinking, alcoholism and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder),” said Gunter. “I went to the in-patient treatment at the V.A. there at North Little Rock. It didn’t go really well the first go-round. That’s an eight-week process. It didn’t go very well, and I didn’t take it very well. I was short two weeks of making the whole program. The second time I went into the program, I was more open-minded because I knew I needed to get something to change.”

That change was made possible in part by Dr. Robert G. Zepecki, a veterinarian from Hot Springs who connects veterans with assistance dogs.

Zepecki, or “Dr. Bob” as Gunter calls him, had arranged for a service dog named Charlie to live with the patients on Gunter’s floor at the treatment center. Charlie and Gunter bonded.

“Dr. Bob was a blessing in getting this program worked out,” said Gunter. “They trusted me a little bit with Charlie, and I took Charlie to Petco. When we took Charlie to Petco is when I met Star. She was there with a rehab rescue group. As soon as I walked up to Star, and Star walked up to me…if you ever believed in love at first sight or that something was meant to be, that’s what I felt that day.”

Within a short period of time, Gunter had completed his therapy and Star was seated beside him for the car ride home to Hot Springs. They’ve been together ever since.

It was about that same time that Gunter resumed his education at Arkansas Tech. He took approximately half of his classes online and half in person, commuting from Hot Springs to Russellville for Tuesday and Thursday classes.

Now, almost 30 years after he began his studies there, Gunter is a graduate of ATU with a degree in rehabilitation science and psychology.

“Knowing the people and the doctors that had helped me along to get from the point of…let’s say drinking a fifth of whiskey every day and not wanting to get out of bed or leave my house…to wanting to leave my house and wanting to consider going to school…that adds some fuel to the fire,” said Gunter. “When I finally decided that rehabilitation science and psychology were for me, it just kind of fueled that fire a little more because I was learning about me. I want to work with other veterans because I know how many people helped me to get here. If people knew me five or eight years ago…down and out and battered and beaten as I was…if I can do it, anybody can do it. That’d be something I’d want every veteran in the country to hear.”

Comments

  1. nancy gunter says:

    All the Mother’s out there who have had a happy Mother’s Day let me tell you that I have gotten the best present ever because this young man just happened to be my SON!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I could not be more proud of him and Star than I am this weekend. He has been thru a lot in his lifetime but has always managed to come out just fine but this was the biggest hurdle and he has conquered it. We are all very proud of you Eddie and Star.

  2. Terry Holland-Finley says:

    What a wonderful turn-around you have made. Many Veterans need a helping hand and I hope you get the opportunity to pay it forward! They need to hear you story!

  3. Herbert Huggins says:

    I am glad to read your story. I retired from the Navy in 2003. I was deployed to Iraqi twice and other areas of conflict. I received two AAS degrees from ATU Ozark. Good job on your degree.

  4. Linda Vaughn says:

    First, THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE TO OUR COUNTRY. Second, it was heart warming to see you and Star walk for your degree on Saturday. It was also fun to see Star with her cap and gown. So congratulations to you and Star and wishes for the future to be full of all you can dream. I am sure many veterans will be helped because you have been “there”. Again thank you many times over.

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