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PARKERSBURG — For security reasons, Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Andrea Taulton can’t be too specific about where she was deployed overseas in the summer of 2022.
But she’s more than happy to share what she brought back: a friendly German shepherd by the name of Axel.
Students at Martin Elementary School got to meet Axel Wednesday in an assembly that also marked the 387th birthday of the Guard.
Both aspects of the program appealed to students like fourth-grader Hadley Knotts.
“He’s cute,” she said of Axel. “It was fun, learning about the military.”
Taulton was invited by Martin second-grade teacher Sherry Morris, who read an article about her in an issue of Woman’s World while she was on a flight. Seeing that the soldier was from West Virginia, she made contact with a student’s father who is a member of the Guard. He was able to reach Taulton, who lives in Inwood and serves in the Guard for the neighboring state of Virginia.
Taulton told students about how she encountered the dog trying to cross a road as she was going out on a mission. She discovered his front legs were deformed, causing him to walk on his wrists rather than his paws, and one back leg was injured after apparently being hit by a car.
“His name is Axel because he only had one working axle when I met him, his back leg,” Taulton said. “I sat with him there for about an hour, gave him lots of loves.”
She fashioned a bed for him from sticks and leaves away from the road. For weeks, she brought him food from the base on her way to and from missions.
There was no dog food on the base, and it’s not part of his diet now, Taulton said in response to a student’s question about what Axel eats.
“He will not eat dog food. He only eats turkey or chicken or meat like that,” she said.
Knowing dogs aren’t treated the same in the country where she was serving as they are in the U.S., Taulton said she quickly decided “there’s no way this dog’s not coming home with me.” Through a Google search, she discovered Paws of War, a New York-based organization that brings dogs and cats soldiers rescue overseas to the United States and provides service dogs for veterans. She reached out to them and they agreed to help. After raising money for a couple of months, they picked Axel up, made sure he was stable to travel and have paid for surgeries and other medical care to help him.
“It’s all through donations,” Taulton said.
Axel and Taulton were reunited stateside in December 2022.
She also has another dog she rescued from overseas, Chancie, a smaller animal who was paralyzed after being hit by a car. Thanks to the medical care provided by Paws of War, she’s moving again and “a ball of fire,” Taulton said.
But she doesn’t do well with other people. That’s more Axel’s speed, despite his experiences.
“You would think … he would hate humans or hate other animals, but he absolutely loves humans, as we saw in the assembly,” she said.
Axel was surrounded by excited students hugging and petting him wherever he went, trying to balance their excitement and a need to be gentle.
“I liked how he walked,” reported fourth-grader Emmy Fullerton, seeing Axel’s unusual gait as a plus.
Wednesday was Axel’s first trip to such an event with a large group of people, and Taulton said she was going to decide whether to do more based on his reaction.
So far, so good.
“He seemed to love it,” she said.
Also at the assembly was 1st Lt. Josh Mason, executive officer for the West Virginia Army National Guard’s 601st Engineering Support Company. He’s a Martin alumnus who works for the Guard in Charleston in the area of plans and operations.
Mason didn’t shy away from the challenge of keeping kids’ attention with Axel in the room, quizzing them about Guard history and giving out free shirts for right answers. He acknowledged most were probably too young to be thinking about college, but suggested that as they get older, they consider the Guard, which paid for his education as a civil engineer.
“It was definitely cool to kind of look at some kids that were sitting exactly where I sat 15 years ago … (and) tell them about what the Guard’s done for me and the experiences I’ve had,” said Mason, who still has family in Parkersburg.
Evan Bevins can be reached at [email protected].