Billy Martin Jr. lives in Niles, Ohio, and is currently living in the house in which he started his project when he was in fifth grade. He is now 20 years old.
He changed the way people looked at K9 police dogs, affecting many communities nationwide.
He has taught me that age should not make a difference, but the actions which a person does will make a difference. Knowing that helping does not mean helping only people, but helping animals in many different ways, can also help the people in our community.
Billy created “Bite the Bullet” when he was 9 years old. It all started when he heard about a K9 that died in the line of duty. My brother thought that if a bulletproof jacket was in place, then possibly this K9 would not have sacrificed his life for his partner. That is when Billy started this program. He went to organizations and gave a speech about his program and asked for donations. The company Second Chance was Billy’s sponsor. They told him that although the vests ran over $900.00 each, if he was able to get $500.00 per vest through his efforts, they would give the vest to him at their cost.
Eventually, he started locally and within months, he was able to vest his own hometown city Niles, Ohio, along with three dogs in Warren and two dogs in Boardman. Bite the Bullet eventually went nationwide. Before we knew it, our family was attending organizations, groups and companies as Billy gave his speech. The K9 Dogs were getting vested quickly. He has since vested from Texas to New York, and all the way down to Florida!
His favorite K9 was Rookie, which was from Boardman, Ohio. Rookie was young, just like my brother. Rookie could look and act mean in the police car, but when my brother and I were around he was like a puppy to us. Rookie and Billy became the best of friends, as did his handler Jack Neapolitan and our family. Our family became extended through Bite the Bullet.
On December 27, 2002 my mother remembers the phone ringing and the next words she heard was, “He is gone . . .”
I was only 8 years old, the same age Billy was when he started Bite the Bullet. I remember that day in my own mind and how confusing it was to know that Rookie was gone. He was almost like our own dog, our own family.
My mother told me that it was Jack (the handler) and her own fear becoming reality. They knew how attached Billy had become to Rookie and that Rookie was a ‘working dog.’ Most working dogs live a full life and end up retiring often times to their handler's home, but in December, Rookie’s life was taken. A young 17 year old driver, who did not have his windshield completely cleared, cut through the parking lot of a local school. At this same time, Rookie and Jack were doing some training and it is here that the teen ran Rookie over, because of his blocked-vision. It became a tragedy for the community.
My mother said Jack called late at night, he only mumbled the words ‘he is gone,’ then hung up. She knew by the tone in his voice who it was and who he was talking about. Rookie. Billy’s Rookie, now gone.
Boardman, Ohio had a funeral procession in honor of Rookie and I remember not going to school that day. Once there, numerous police, firemen and woman were there in Rookie’s honor. This was the first time my brother, who had no trouble doing public speaking, could not speak at all. Yet, his silence was more than any word he could have spoken.
Since the death of Rookie, it was hard for Billy to go to organizations and help raise money for the K9’s that remained in need. Although he helped over 32 dogs, raising over $16,000 for vests, more K9’s needed protection. Since then, a small group of children in Pennsylvania took over in his honor.
Unlike my brother, I don’t like to do speeches for organizations or groups and companies, so I walk dogs! My mother and I go to the Mahoning County Dog Pound on Saturday mornings. We can spend as much time as we would like there and help walk the dogs. This gives the canines some free time to enjoy the grass, sit underneath a tree, stretch their legs and have some human-animal interaction. While the dogs are being walked, the Dog Warden and Employees clean cages, bowls and other things.
Often, you will find a dog that is wonderful for the first few weeks in the pound and then after some time, they become ‘excitable,’ which we call “Kennel Crazy.” It is not good for a dog to get Kennel Crazy because people that come to meet the dogs may not pick a great dog, because it is too excited and may jump, nip at them in play or pull too hard on a leash. The tamest of dogs can quickly turn Kennel Crazy, therefore we give them the breather of a walk!
At times, it is sad when you walk a dog and they don’t even realize you are there. This happened last weekend, when I was walking a female coonhound. She kept walking as if the leash was in mid-air and I was not attached to it. I would have to call to her by a nickname such as ‘Sweety’ or ‘Girl’ to let her know I was there. She slowly turned to me, to see me but did not know how to approach me or that she should come to me. Within one hour, she understood that if she came to me, she would get a good scratch behind the ear or a tiny hug.
We also have ‘Wash a Pooch Day.’ This is normally held on Thursday mornings, so that the dogs are clean and ready for visitors on Saturday in hopes for adoption. Almost all counties had a dog pound, so I ask everyone to visit the pound and either adopt a new ‘Fur-Ever Friend’ or spend some one-on-one time with a new Furry Friend.
Page created on 10/24/2011 12:00:00 AM
Last edited 10/24/2011 12:00:00 AM