Country star Collin Raye to play Pueblo benefit for service dogs
BY REGAN FOSTER
THE PUEBLO CHIEFTAIN
When she was a sophomore in college, Sandy Esposito went to bed with vision and woke up blind. It was the result of a bilateral retinal detachment that literally happened overnight.
But the young woman would not be held back.
“A group of incredible people gathered around me and sponsored my very first guide dog,” Esposito, who now resides in Canon City, said.
After a failed surgery to reattach her retinas and six months of adaptive schooling, Esposito returned to her college. She graduated, went on to earn a master’s degree, married, moved to Southern Colorado and took up the ministry in the now-defunct Colorado Women’s Prison. All with a trusty guide dog by her side.
And Esposito developed a dream: to sponsor guide dogs for other people in need. Nearly two decades and 30 sponsored dogs later, her mission has grown to include PTSD and service animals for veterans,among others.
So she reached out for help — all the way to Nashville and charttopping country singersongwriter Collin Raye.
On Sept. 17, Raye will play a benefit concert at Pueblo’s Memorial Hall to support specialty dog training facility Guide Dogs of the Desert and Operation Freedom Paws, a nonprofit that trains and pairs service dogs with veterans and first responders.
The show starts at 7 p.m.; tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. today.
“(Raye) should do well in this area,” said Joe Gonzales, spokesman for Memorial Hall. “He’s been around for a while, so he should have a pretty good following here in Southern Colorado.”
“It’s just a miracle that made it possible,” Esposito said. “Collin Raye adores veterans.
“It’s not just a nice concert coming up, it’s got the heart of a sophomore in college that is basically saying, ‘hey I want to do something that makes a difference in somebody’s life.’ ”
Neither Raye nor his management team immediately responded to requests for comment, but his discography speaks for itself.
He was one of contemporary country’s top names in the ’90s, fusing country-rock and ballads.
His freshman album, 1991’s “All I Can Be,” went platinum; and two of its singles, “Love, Me” and “Every Second” topped country charts early in that decade.
The prolific artist has released 15 albums since 1992, and scored five hits on the Billboard Top 100 between 1995 and 2000: “One Boy, One Girl” (1995); “Someone You Used to Know” (1998); “Anyone Else” (1999) and “Couldn’t Last a Moment” (2000).
Esposito, her husband, Joe, and her dog, Bobbie, met Raye last summer.
It was Bobbie, a friendly 9-year-old yellow Labrador, who broke the ice.
“Collin Raye was on the floor playing with her,” Esposito said. “He was literally sitting on the floor playing with her, and she was climbing into his lap staring at him.”
It didn’t take much to get the musician on board for the concert.
“We sat and talked with him for two hours,” Esposito said. “He said ‘I’m in.’ ”
Joe Esposito is a retired Marine who saw combat in Vietnam. To this day, he suffers from the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder, although he is doing well with it.
Bobbie helps by sensing when his emotions change, sitting with him and demanding he refocus his attention to her.
“She comforts him when she sees any stress in him,” Esposito said.
The dog was bred and trained by Guide Dogs of the Desert, a Palm Springs, Calif.,-based training facility that pairs selected animals with their blind charges. Dogs that don’t make the grade are often redirected to Operation Freedom Paws, in San Martin, Calif., for cross-training and new service careers.
Proceeds from the concert will benefit both organizations.
“My heart is just to (help) other veterans and people I love who, in my mind, have sacrificed their lives and who have sacrificed so much,” Esposito said.
Tickets start at $38.50 for side balcony seats and go up to $100 for a VIP pass. That package includes a 30-minute meet-and-greet with Raye and the best seats in the house, Esposito said.
To get your tickets, call 866-722-8844 or log on to Pueblomemorialhall.com.