Barry, a joyful Saint Bernard, has big paws to fill, being named for the famed Swiss canine who saved 40 travelers crossing treacherous Alpine passes over the course of his life. But the pup’s life of service was nearly derailed by an avalanche of expensive surgeries and treatments.
The 1-year-old dog was diagnosed with rapidly deteriorating bilateral hip dysplasia along with a recurring staph infection, and the resulting medical bills for surgeries, rehabilitation and treatments mounted quickly.
Fortunately, owner Kaycee Fillmore found both financial resources and leading-edge expertise at Texas A&M University’s Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital. Donors have established hospital funds that can be tapped to partially defray these expensive medical bills.
The San Antonio resident credits the hospital’s doctors and staff for Barry’s full recovery. “The hospital staff is made up of incredibly capable and caring individuals who make it their top priority to provide world-class care for their patients,” Fillmore said. “Barry has been blessed with medical care far beyond what most dogs in his situation ever have the chance to receive. He’s been given a special second chance at full mobility, and for that alone, we are forever grateful.”
Fillmore believes Barry will soon follow his namesake’s path. “People flock to Barry because there’s something magnetizing about his personality and his size,” she said. “Our vision for his future is to find a way for him to bring joy to the military community as a therapy dog.”
Commitment to Service
Dimitri began displaying an interest in the military as a young boy, thanks to relatives who served in the U.S. Armed Forces. He eventually set his sights on West Point, although he also considered attending Texas A&M. The young man’s commitment to a life of service deepened when he heard then-President George W. Bush address the West Point cadets about the importance of leadership during a time of war.
Dimitri was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant with the U.S. Army upon graduation from West Point. After earning his Airborne Wings and completing the Basic Officer Leadership Course and the Mortars Officers Leadership Course, he qualified as a U.S. Army Ranger and was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division. He was stationed in Hawaii before being deployed to Afghanistan.
His leadership skills were tested during his deployment in Kunar Province, Afghanistan, but the officer developed a deep bond with his unit. “He led people spiritually, physically and professionally,” Carlos said. “He talked to people about his walk of faith and love of God and got them to go to church with him. Physically, he helped people pass their physical fitness tests. He also worked on their professionalism—how to be a better leader and how to get to know their men.”
Recognizing a Soldier’s Bravery
During his last battle, which was an assault on the Taliban, Dimitri maintained his forward position and called in airstrikes as his unit was attacked. He was killed holding the radio mic in his hand. “He knew what he was walking into, but he never showed fear,” Carlos said. “He always maintained his focus and was concerned for his men.”
After the battle, surviving members of the unit held a memorial service for Dimitri and his comrades. Dimitri’s boots, those of the soldiers in other units in his battalion who were killed, and Agdar’s collar were displayed during this service, which honored their valor. For his bravery, Dimitri earned the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart and the Army Commendation Medal.
When Dimitri was killed in action, McCormick looked for ways to honor her former student. She thought about a previous gift that she and her husband, Mack McCormick ’74, made to the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences in memory of an Aggie who was a long-time friend. She also thought about Dimitri’s boyhood pet, Shadow, as well as Agdar.
As she considered her options, McCormick remembered the care her own dogs received at the VMTH. “I noticed how costly it was to get animals taken care of, so I started inquiring about the possibility of creating a fund,” she said. “I worked with development officer Monika Blackwell, who was so diligent in helping me create this fund.”
Ultimately, McCormick was drawn to the idea of celebrating Dimitri’s valor. “I wanted to do this knowing that Dimitri died in Afghanistan, which was so brave,” she said. “I have a deep respect for him. He had a great deal of commitment and knew the risks, but he fought for our country and freedom.”
The del Castillo family remains very touched by the retired teacher’s gift. “It was a wonderful surprise, and Mrs. McCormick has an amazingly generous heart to make this happen,” Carlos said. “Those who knew Dimitri miss him immeasurably. He taught everyone he met to believe in yourself and know that you’re capable of much more.”