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U.S. Marine Corps veteran James Henninger with his fiancée, Denise, and their dog, Monty. Freedom Dogs, an organization that helps pair animals with military personnel, is honoring Henninger, an Oceanside resident, and Monty, at its seventh annual golf tournament at the Del Mar Country Club on March 6. Courtesy photo
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Sports Talk: It’s a golfing, and dog’s, life for a grateful James Henninger

His manners on a golf course are impeccable. He knows where to stand and to stay quiet when a player is in their back swing.

Although after being in the Marine Corps for nearly two decades, James Henninger’s graciousness shouldn’t be a surprise.

But we’re talking about Monty, Henninger’s reliable partner on the links. Monty never misses a beat, either, and so what if he’s an English Black Labrador.

“He’s got good golf etiquette,” Henninger said like a proud papa after Monty once again avoided the greens.

If any parent and offspring can form the bond that Monty and Henninger possess, they are lucky. These two are more than pals, as the retired Marine isn’t shy about saying if there’s no Monty, there’s no Henninger.

“Monty saved my life because without him, I would be gone right now,” Henninger said.

Monty and Henninger are being honored by Freedom Dogs at its seventh annual golf tournament at the Del Mar Country Club in Rancho Santa Fe on March 6.

Henninger, an Oceanside resident, is among the hundreds of veterans to be aided by Freedom Dogs to help blunt the fallout of post-traumatic stress disorder.

The upbeat Henninger, who turned 45 on Feb. 28, saw heavy action in his six tours of the Middle East. He later struggled with the pain and horrors that can only be appreciated by those experiencing combat.

“I was a platoon sergeant taking care of 45 Marines,” Henninger said. “Now Monty takes care of me and I take care of him.”

They are quite the pair as some say they even walk alike. Others marvel of how Monty’s stare doesn’t disconnect from Henninger and that includes when being on the fairways. While others track the ball, Monty stays focused on his Marine.

“He never takes his eyes off me,” he said.

Monty is an ace off the course, too. During those times when the PTSD demons arrive, Monty pounces. He senses when Henninger is having challenging days and Monty’s task is to ease the pain which invariably comes with them.

“He really watches out for me,” Henninger said. “When I have flashbacks, he comforts me and puts his head on my lap. He stays right there and he doesn’t leave my side.”

When Henninger returned from fighting on Uncle Sam’s side, he wasn’t at peace. Henninger was introduced to Wounded Warriors, and from there he was pointed toward Operation Game On, a golfing endeavor for veterans led by Solana Beach’s Tony Perez.

The golf had its bite and soon Henninger had his friendly bark with Monty. They became a team six years ago through Freedom Dogs and the impact it had on a grateful Henninger is immeasurable.

“I can’t say enough of what Freedom Dogs did for me,” Henninger said. “Please know that when you help Freedom Dogs you are helping a fellow wounded warrior.”

There’s still time to register for the golf, or make a donation, at freedomdogs.org. You can throw a bone to man’s best friend while helping the heroic men and women who’ve sacrificed to preserve our way of life.

Freedom Dogs flipped Henninger’s world and now if Henninger can just find his way to qualify for the U.S. Open. That’s his goal and he chases it on a North County golf course on a nearly daily basis.

With, of course, his best friend at his side.

“Monty rides in the cart with me and with him, golf is my happy place,” Henninger said. “When I’m out there playing it just feels like God is watching over you.”

It’s just another set of eyes from above to complement those from Henninger’s four-legged companion on the ground. Over 18 holes where many chase birdies, Henninger’s golf ball never takes flight minus his dedicated dog.

Whenever Henninger wiggles his club, Monty always waggles his tail.

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