Non-profit Operation Fetch has van stolen during service trip

Lon Hodge drives from state-to-state for Operation Fetch named in honor of his late service dog Gander

TOPEKA, Kansas — Traveling through Topeka, Kansas, Lon Hodge said he was on his way to support a homeless camp when his van was stolen from his motel while he was packing up.

“I was loading the car to leave and I had all the doors open and I was taking boxes out and putting them in the car,” Hodge, a Pueblo native, said. “I walked into my motel room like 10 feet away from the car. When I walked back out the car was gone.”

About eight years ago, Hodge started on the road driving a white mini-van with his service dog Gander. Hodge would play taps at military cemeteries around the country to honor veterans who died of suicide after bouts with anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder through his non-profit called Operation Fetch.

Hodge said his white van would carry him and Gander for thousands of miles with hopes of making a difference while making memories.

“We actually have been hit, I’m not kidding, 17 times in that van,” Hodge said. “17 times and none of them were our fault.”

Gander passed away about a year ago, but Hodge was still on the road with a new service dog in the old van until Tuesday night when the van was stolen. Not only did it contain all of Hodge’s belongings and gear, but Hodge said Gander’s ashes were stored underneath a passenger seat.

“I was devastated,” Hodge said.

Hodge said he received a tip on Facebook of where the van was spotted. After several hours of searching, Hodge said his friend found the van stripped and empty surrounded by Gander’s tennis balls.

“Everybody believes the tennis balls led us to the car,” Hodge said.

The dashboard was ripped out and the front grill and headlights were broken, according to Hodge.

“Tore up everything inside, I mean they destroyed the van and they took literally everything that was in there.” Hodge said. “When we recovered the van, the thing they left was Gander’s ashes.”

While he was certainly relieved, Hodges said he was also angry.

“Part of me is like really furious and enraged and the other part of me is like, there’s a part of me that wishes I can reach out and say what can we do fix the circumstances,” Hodge said. “Get you the help you need so you don’t do something like this to someone again.”

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After spending so much time paying it forward, someone paid Hodge back.

“This week, I’ve seen the worst and the best of people,” Hodge said.

The next day, an anonymous donor bought Hodge a new van so he can carry on with his mission across the country.

“I’m without words,” Hodge said.

He is now headed to a law enforcement seminar in Alabama to speak about veterans and service dogs. But, he does have to start over after losing all his things.

“We just had everything. We had medical equipment that we take on the road with us to help people if they’re in need,” Hodge said. “Now, our big concern is all the stuff that was in it. Getting all that stuff replaced you know. You can’t believe what we got in there.”

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If you want to find out more about Operation Fetch, click here.

“Now that we got a van, time to go back to work,” Hodge said.

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