Rob Weisberg plans to hike the Appalachian trail with his dog Chip to...

Rob Weisberg plans to hike the Appalachian trail with his dog Chip to raise money for Paws of War. The Nesconset nonprofit is training Chip to act as a service dog to Weisberg, a volunteer Commack firefighter who helped with victims on 9/11 when terrorists attacked the World Trade Center. Credit: Robert Weisberg

Rob Weisberg is no stranger to helping others.

He did it while working as an accountant at a financial software firm near the World Trade Center when terrorists flew airplanes into the Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001. He put his training as a volunteer Commack firefighter to use in assisting other first responders helping those injured in the attack.

Now he's helping again — this time to show his gratitude to Paws of War, a Nesconset-based nonprofit that helps veterans and first responders by providing and/or training service animals for them. Weisberg is using his planned hike of the 2,200-mile Appalachian trail to raise money for Paws of War. He plans to embark on the arduous journey March 11, starting in Georgia, with a hoped-for ending six months later in Maine — on Sept. 11, 2023. 

Paws of War trained Weisberg's dog Chip, a Treeing Walker Coonhound, distinctive with its tricolors of black, white and brown, to be a service dog to Weisberg, whose experience near Ground Zero has left him with post-traumatic stress disorder, he said.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Rob Weisberg, a longtime volunteer Commack firefighter, is preparing to start hiking the 2,200 Appalachian Trail next week to raise money for Paws of War, which provides and/or trains service dogs for veterans and first responders.
  • Weisberg helped first responders tending to victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center. He was an accountant working in Manhattan when the Twin Towers were struck. He suffers from PTSD and Paws of War is training his dog Chip to become his service dog.
  • Weisberg expects to be on the trail for six months: from March 11, when he starts in Georgia, and end up in Maine on Sept. 11.

Of Paws of War, Weisberg said: "Being with the members of Paws of War has been fantastic for me. People can say this is a veterans organization and you're just a first responder. But nobody there looks at it that way."

At Paws of War, "I'm just as well received by the veterans," he said.

"They know what it means when I'm having a bad day," he added. "It's a place where you can just go and be yourself and not have to worry about people going 'Oh that's Rob. He has PTSD.'"

Paws of War's mission, according to the website, is: "To rescue, train and place shelter dogs to serve and provide independence to our veterans & first responders that suffer from traumatic effects sustained while serving their country & community. We provide essential and supportive services to our heroes in need."

Robert Misseri, co-founder of the nonprofit, established in 2014, said Weisberg's fundraising effort was "significant." 

"Most of our donors are local, small donors, small VFWs," he said. "We don't operate on any type of federal grants."

Misseri added that "what's important is we have allocated individuals already who will benefit, hopefully, from his hike. They are people who applied for service animals."

If Weisberg's hike generates money, Misseri said, it "will really help these individuals."

Misseri said what Weisberg was planning to do was potentially dangerous.

"When you look at it on the map, it's pretty scary," he said of the Appalachian Trail. "He will be so remote. We learned a lot of people don't make it. He's a very rugged individual. But it's a very dangerous trek to walk from there … He's going from state to state in some of the roughest terrain you can possibly deal with because he wants to help others. It's tremendous he wants to do this."

Weisberg said he now had the time to go because his former employer, FlightSafety International, which had been based in Melville, moved its corporate headquarters to Columbus, Ohio, a move that was planned a year ago. "I stayed on with them to help them transition. But after that, I wasn't moving to Columbus. My last day was Feb. 15."

Now, he said, "This is a great opportunity to do something I've always wanted to do, and when I get back I'll figure out what I want to do next" on the employment front. 

Weisberg, a longtime hiker starting from his scouting days — "I'm an Eagle Scout" — which he continues to do with his sons, Justin, 17 and Shane, 15, said he had hiked portions of the trail before. But he's planning to hike the trail alone, and he's getting prepared. "I'm putting together boxes of food and supplies … I can't carry six months of food with me. I'm setting up drop points along the way where I can pick up supplies."

Weisberg said: "It'll take me about six months to complete. The plan is to start March 11 and finish Sept. 11." He's also excited about meeting people along the way." Already a cousin wants to meet up him somewhere along the trail in Pennsylvania and his older son, Justin, an Eagle Scout, is looking to join him when he is on the trail in New York. "School will be over by then."

Justin has asked him to start the trail clean shaven, Weisberg said, but then not shave until he finishes the trek.

His wife, Kathy, Weisberg said, "Thinks I'm nuts. But she understands why it's important to me, so she's on board."

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