He just bought an old winery outside West Milton and is turning the 12.5-acre property into the new home of Brave Breed Rescue, his sanctuary for at-risk dogs that are taken in, calmed and nurtured and readied for adoption by others.
He began Brave Breeds two years ago with his mom, Rhonda, and today the non-profit effort has become a family affair.
“We don’t have any breed restrictions, we take any dogs in,” said Bailey Martin, who married Wes four months ago and handles the sanctuary’s social media and its website (bravebreed.org). “We like to take those in that are in need of a lot of help: The super sad, the scared dogs, the ones that owners can’t keep any more.
“We don’t turn any dog away. If we have room for it, we want to take it in.”
Wes touched on this idea when he spoke to an Associated Press reporter last year:
“It means the world to me to be able to save as-risk dogs, dogs that if weren’t able to step in, a lot of them would be headed to euthanasia.”
He reiterated that when he spoke to me by phone from his Virginia home the other day:
“I really love helping dogs in that situation.”
Speaking of love, it’s not just the dogs that now fill his heart.
He and Bailey Spitler became friends at Milton Union High and began to date when he was a sophomore lineman at IU and she was a nurse.
They married this past March 13, just days before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down much of our society.
“She found a little chapel she liked in Arkansas and, well, the rest of it is history,” he said with some bemusement.
But while he is never one to toot his own horn, that assessment was just too anemic to let pass.
Wes and Bailey Martin at their March 13 wedding at the famed Thorncrown Chapel outside Eureka Springs, Arkansas in the Ozark Mountains. The chapel, which recalls the Prairie School architecture popularized by Frank Lloyd Wright, has been named one of the 12 Most Beautiful Churches in America and one of the 50 Most Extraordinary Churches in the World. CONTRIBUTED
The couple was married in the Ozark Mountains at the famed Thorncrown Chapel in Eureka Springs. A magnificent latticework of wood and glass that is reminiscent of the Prairie School architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, the chapel has been named one of the 12 Most Beautiful Churches in America and one of the 50 Most Extraordinary Churches in the World.
Bailey said they wanted a beautiful setting for a small wedding of just family and a few close friends.
A big reception for some 250 guests was slated for The Buckeye Barn in Piqua, but that gathering was cancelled because of the coronavirus threat.
Although the couple missed seeing their friends, they hadn’t been looking for a table-full of gifts. They had asked everyone beforehand to instead make a donation to help the rescued dogs at Brave Breed.
And before the newlyweds headed back to the home they bought on one acre just west of the Redskins training facility in Ashburn, Va., they did pick up a special wedding gift.
“We’ve built a good relationship with the Miami County Animal Shelter and they called and told us about a bunch of Brussels Griffons that had gotten surrendered because they weren’t in a good situation,” Wes said. “They called to see if we were interested.
“We got this little guy – he’s about seven pounds – and we brought him back home.”
They named him Scooter and back in Virginia he joined the couple’s other three dogs – two pit bulls (Libby, Bella) and a pit bull and Great Dane mix (Bane.)
“Scooter got along with them right off the bat,” Wes laughed. “He’s fearful of a lot of things, but he’s not scared of them. He knows he’s got a home here.”
Three of Wes and Bailey Martin s dogs, from left: Bane, a pit bull-Great Dane mix and two pit bulls, Libby and Bella. CONTRIBUTED
‘Always loved dogs’
Wes and his older brother Adam were raised by their mom with help from their paternal grandmother, Alice Martin. His dad, Al, is also very much a part of his life and always has been supportive.
“Growing up we all liked dogs, but it was my mom who was always finding them, bringing them in the house and fostering them until someone else finally gave them a home,” Wes said.
“We’d come home from school and there’d be a new dog in the house.”
That prompted a question:
“So is your mom just a good-hearted person or a really soft touch?”
He started to laugh: “She’s just a crazy dog person, I guess.”
Then again he’s never been too shy around dogs either. There’s one photo of two-year-old Wes practicing his first lineman’s pancake move and as he rests on the belly of Heidi, the family’s St. Bernard who has rolled onto her back.
“I’ve always loved dogs,” Wes said. “But I got my greatest appreciation for them from our dog, Sarge. He was a German Shepherd and he was pretty awesome. He was just a super smart, super loyal dog.
“I was about eight when we got him. We lived next to a creek and a lot of times I’d go down there to catch crawdads and whatnot.
“Sarge would run down with us and he’d do the same. He’d go bobbing for fish and try to catch crawdads himself. There was a little deep spot where we’d go swimming and he’d swim, too. We spent a lot of time down there. And that kind of ingrained the love into me.”
Once in high school, he really made his name with some different dogs.
He was a star of the Milton Union Bulldogs football team which he helped lead into the third round of the state playoffs. He was named an All Ohio lineman as a junior and a senior and the Southwestern Buckeye League’s Offensive Lineman of the Year.
Including a redshirt year, he spent five seasons at IU and proved to be a heavyweight in the classroom – he graduated with a criminal justice degree and a 3.79 GPA – and in his sporting ventures.
He was considered the strongest Hoosiers player and one of the most durable, starting 43 of his 50 games. He twice won All Big Ten honors.
When it came to the 2019 NFL draft, he was initially overlooked and not invited to showcase himself at the league’s scouting combine. Instead, he and 11 other IU athletes held their own pro day on campus and representatives of 28 of the 32 NFL teams showed up.
That’s when he put on a Herculean, one-man show.
Besides highlighting his football talents that day, he raised money for his fledgling Brave Breed project. He called his bench press effort “Repping for Rescue,” and had signed up sponsors who made monetary pledges for each of the 225-pound bench presses he’d do.
He did 38 in a row, which would have been second best to everyone at the NFL combine that year.
That turned heads, especially with the Redskins, who drafted him in the fourth round. He ended up playing in nine games last season and starting five in place of injured right guard Brandon Scherff.
Being a pro has given him a bigger platform and he used it last year to launch what he planned to be an annual golf outing to benefit Brave Breed Rescue.
This year the COVID-19 threat made the event at Locust Hills Golf Club in Springfield an iffy proposition until just a few weeks before the July 3 tee off.
Once they got the OK, they drew 36 teams, doubling the field and the donations they had the year before.
Old school training
With so much of the sports world shut down by the coronavirus, Wes has been preparing for the upcoming season with his own old school, Rocky-like – lumberjack training in the Russian woods for Ivan Drago – sessions that have had some of his new neighbors staring in awe.
“I was put in contact with a farmer here in Virginia and was able to track down a pretty giant tractor tire,” he laughed. “I did a whole bunch of stuff with that: Dragging it, flipping it, pulling it down the road. A lot of people stopped and gave me some funny looks.
“I found a couple of free weights, too, and got a couple of other things at my wife’s parents’ house. I did a lot of stuff with bands, too, and with a medicine ball. I pieced it altogether as best I could and I think it worked.”
As he trained the past couple of months, he’s observed from afar how the team’s nickname has become a point of controversy.
Redskins is an ethnic slur to Native Americans, many of whom who’ve tried for decades to get the team to change the name.
Since the killing of George Floyd and the growing focus on systemic racism, many of the team’s advertisers – including FedEx, which pays $8 million a year for stadium naming rights — have pushed for a change and the NFL and the team are said to be reviewing the possibilities.
“There’s been a lot of talk about it and a lot of people have asked me about what will happen, but I don’t have a good answer,” Wes said. “So I’ve just tried to get myself as ready as I can physically and mentally for the season, and I’ll play whatever the name ends up being.”
He said he worries most about the things he can control.
From left: Bailey Martin, Wes Martin and Rhonda Martin (Wes s mom) celebrate the purchase of an old winery on 12.5 acres outside West Milton that will be home to Brave Breed Rescue. CONTRIBUTED
That would be Brave Breed Rescue, where he said they will “take it slow,” as the company transitions from mostly his mom’s home — where she, Adam and a few others care for and retrain the dogs — to the new 12.5 acre site.
Since their first retrained, newly-comforted dogs were made available for adoption in January of 2019, they have gotten 51 of them into new homes.
After he’s done with pro football, Wes said he’d like to return to West Milton and run the rescue effort:
“I want us to be a well-functioning recue where at-risk dogs can come in and have a safe place to mentally and physically heal. I want them to understand that no matter what has happened, they can be loved by a human.
“In the end I just want them all to be able to go from a bad situation into a good, loving home.”
When it comes to Wes Martin, every dog does have his day.