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A retired Rochesterian seeks community support to help raise money for the ACL surgery of his guide dog



Rochester, New York – Veteran of the Navy Robert Podlaski is requesting assistance from the community in raising money for the ACL surgery of his service dog, Levi, who is nine years old.
For the past seven years, the two have been inseparable.

“He’s been by my side every single day,” said Podlaski.

Levi’s original purpose was to serve as a therapy dog for Podlaski’s father, who suffered from brain cancer and underwent surgery to remove the tumor, leaving him paralyzed on his right side.

“He used to love throwing balls to a dog.’ I was like, ‘At least he could do that. It’ll give him something to do,'” Podlaski explained. “So, we were going through all the training to get him up to therapy dog standards, and he was clicking it every time. We got him certified as a therapy dog. Just about the time we were getting ready to move dad in, dad passed.”

After undergoing training, Levi was able to assist Podlaski with his severe PTSD and handicap related to service.

Beyond that, Levi has supported him in overcoming unanticipated sorrow and tragedy.

In 2020, Podlaski lost his son Dakota in a drive-by shooting on Rochester’s Magee Avenue.

“He made me get through the murder of my son,” said Podlaski. “He made me get through back surgery by bringing me his leash and forcing me to get up and walk and he’s been my best friend ever since.”

After coming back from the store last month, Levi tore his left ACL in his rear leg.

“He ran back into the house, slipped on the stairs,” Podlaski said. “His legs did this – completely splayed out. He didn’t yelp. He didn’t do nothing — stood there waiting for his treat like nothing ever happened. About an hour later, we noticed a limp.”

Levi’s injuries has severely hampered his mobility and caused him great discomfort.

“He can’t even climb into the bed to wake me up when I have nightmares and I can hear him whining at the bottom of the foot of the bed just whining because he knows he needs to get up to wake me up and he can’t,” said Podlaski through tears.

Additionally, Podlaski claims to be living paycheck to paycheck on a fixed disability income, which means he cannot afford Levi’s projected $7000 Tibial Plateau Levelling Osteotomy (TPLO) surgery. Just over $5200 is the deposit that must be paid at the time of surgery.

He has submitted scores of grant applications, but only one has responded.

Even after the procedure, Podlaski will still require a service dog until Levi fully recovers and can retire.

But there have been difficulties with that search.

“Someway, somehow, I will get another dog,” Podlaski said. “Either it’s going to be provided by the government who promised me that I would earn these veteran benefits or I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

He was hopeful that the PAWS Act, which was signed into law in 2021, would provide assistance from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).