Big Dog Finds New Home with Local Veteran

Getting up close and personal with a Cane Corso can be an intimidating experience. Descended from Roman war dogs, they are big, loyal and energetic — exactly the kind of attributes that Francisco Oquendo values for service animals.

A retired Special Forces soldier, Oquendo has partnered with a few like-minded friends and family to create a fledgling organization known as Corsos for Heroes, a program that trains and matches these large-breed dogs with disabled veterans. The organization remains in a nascent stage and is not yet fully developed.

In early August, the organization presented its first dog, a brindle Can Corso named Sophia, to Joe Phanton of Raeford.

“My cousin is a professional breeder. He and I wanted to do something for our veterans and also these dogs,” he said. “This is our first step. We are still in the process of forming our nonprofit, but the goal is to donate two to three dogs a year.”

Valerie Tucker with Bellona Dog Training in Aberdeen has been working with Sophia for ongoing one-on-one training sessions with Phanton and his new dog.

Also a medically retired Army veteran, Tucker specializes in training large-breed dogs, which are known to be a bit headstrong and typically not well-suited for inexperienced dog owners. The powerful breed must be socialized properly.

“Sophia is a very energetic and loving girl,” said breeder Harry Toro, of Toro Cane Corsos of Lutz, Florida. Toro and Ginney Sweet raised and donated the dog. “She will be trained for a veteran in need and will have specific skills tailored for that individual.”

Corsos for Heroes anticipates its next dog will go to a veteran in Tampa, Florida, who has already been identified.

For more information about Corsos for Heroes, contact Francisco Oquendo at


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