Desert Veterans was born from an idea between two colleagues who saw a way to meet a need. Also known as Desert Dogs, the concept was simple – people need to get rid of their junk, and veterans who are struggling to adapt need work. Why not put them together?
Navy veteran Anthony Calderon and Lacey Rank, who served in the Phoenix Police Department, founded Desert Dogs to provide veterans with employment, housing and a long-term opportunity to work and grow with a business who understands that the transition from military to civilian life can be difficult.
Calderon and Rank worked together in a company with a similar vision. When that company went bankrupt, Calderon and Rank opened Desert Dogs to continue that mission.
“We work with the Phoenix Veterans Administration to hire veterans who are displaced, returning home and struggling to transition,” Calderon said.
“Many of those we work with have had drug or other crimes that have prevented them from getting other jobs. But our motto is that we care about who you are today, not who you were yesterday.
Desert Dogs launched in January 2020, and Calderon said it was an instant hit. The company, located just south of Desert Ridge, has landed contracts with local homebuilders to perform cleaning and compliance. Since then, Desert Dogs has grown in every way – its people, its services and its coverage area.
“We started with a truck and about four people,” Calderon said. “Today we have 64 employees and 22 trucks.”
While continuing to work with Phoenix VA, Desert Dogs recently expanded to Prescott and Prescott Valley VA. He also partners with US Vets, a nonprofit that runs homeless shelters for veterans, to find veterans looking for jobs. Desert Dogs offers more than jobs. Veterans are offered housing.
“We can put them in our house and charge them rent – low rent – but they are able to build up credit. Then by working with us they earn money and they usually stay in our house for about six to eight months before they can save enough money and improve their credit enough to get an apartment on their own,” Calderon said.
“And then they continue to work with us and hopefully obviously continue to rebuild that life. So that’s kind of our focus, not just to employ them, but if they need housing, to provide them with housing and help them get back on their feet.
Calderon served in the early 1980s, outside of conflict, and had no problem transitioning to civilian life. That’s not the case for many, and Calderon said most of the veterans he works with suffer from PTSD.
Desert Dogs forgives past problems and even tries to help employees resolve current issues.
“We do random drug tests, and if they don’t pass the drug test, we’ll put them through rehab,” Calderon said. “If they refuse rehab, we have to let them go just for legal reasons, but if they go to rehab and they get better, their job is there for them when they come back. We understand. that it is not always the first time that you quit that you quit for good… Those who want to be helped, we absolutely do.
The goal is to help veterans get back on their feet and set themselves up for success. Even within the company, Calderon said there are plenty of opportunities for growth. Most people start out on a truck doing trash removal for $16 an hour, but they can take training to move up to more skilled labor services, where they can earn $23 at $25 per hour.
In fact, human resources, operations, and skilled labor managers all started in the field and progressed into management positions.
Once employees get training and gain experience, Calderon said it’s common for them to receive job offers from other companies. Some choose to stay with Desert Dogs, even with lower pay.
“I don’t know if it’s a military thing or just a personal thing, but there’s a lot of pride in who you work for and a lot of dedication to those who have shown you the kind of respect other people can’t. -be not.” he said.
More so, Calderon said many veterans just enjoy being around like-minded people going through similar hardships. According to Calderon, about half of the employees don’t have a driver’s license, so every morning they get picked up from the truck and drive to work together. They have plenty of time to talk, and Calderon said many of them find it therapeutic.
Additionally, Desert Dogs hosts Thanksgiving and Christmas parties each year. It also offers fun outings like bowling and ax throwing just to remind everyone that they are valued and appreciated.
“Our goal is to celebrate them every chance we get,” Calderon said. “So if there’s a reason to throw a party, we throw a party.”
Seeing how successful the company has been with jobs and in its mission to help veterans, Calderon said it seeks to replicate that success in and beyond Arizona. Desert Dogs plans to open a location in Tucson by the end of the year. On a larger scale, Calderon said VA offices in Portland and Eugene, Oregon, have offered partnerships. Calderon said he hopes to move into other areas where the company can partner with the Veterans Administration.
18009 N. 41st St. Phoenix