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Service Dog Banned

An employee at the Topeka VA said his service dog is banned from coming to work with him after another employee said the dog put his mouth around her arm.

Kyle Stueven said his dog, Warrior, only jumped up on his hind legs and that was it.

“He jumped up, his front paws were about that high off the ground,” Stueven said. “I got him, had him sit and put him between my legs.”

Stueven said he received a letter that Warrior was not allowed back to work after the incident. He works as a peer counselor at the VA and Warrior helps him with his P.T.S.D.

“He is able to do for me those things I can’t do or if i was doing, I would be less effective at my job,” Stueven said.

Joseph Burks with the Topkea VA said he can’t talk about this case specifically, but he said they investigate each case individually to determine the best outcome.

“If there is ever a situation where a service dog is out of control or kind of going against what a service dog should be doing, we need to look at that,” Burks said.

Stueven said Warrior is trained and has never had problems before. He said he just wants to able to bring his dog back to work.

Ace The Service Dog

There’s a new puppy with a purpose at PenFed Credit Union.

In partnership with America’s VetDogs, Ace, a yellow Labrador Retriever, will be raised to assist a military veteran or first responder with a disability.

Andrea McCarren, vice president and chief content officer for PenFed Digital will raise Ace alongside Maverick, a service dog she began raising last year. Ace also joins PenFed service dogs in training Mission and WestPoint who are being raised by PenFed employees.

“Ace is being raised with the purpose of providing enhanced mobility and renewed independence to veterans, active-duty service members, and first responders with disabilities, allowing them to once again live with pride and self-reliance,” said James Schenck, president and CEO of PenFed Credit Union and CEO of the PenFed Foundation. “We are committed to this program and making it work for our employees who are donating their time to raise these dogs for a very noble cause.”

McCarren will spend the next 18 months raising Ace as part of the PenFed family to prepare him for the next step of his training. He will learn additional tasks that are helpful to a person with a disability. PenFed is covering costs associated with the raising of Ace as he begins his journey to becoming a future service dug.

“As someone who is raising her fourth service dog, I have seen firsthand the powerful impact they have on the lives of wounded service members and first responders,” said McCarren. “The ability to help a remarkable organization like America’s VetDogs while on the job is one of the many things that makes PenFed special.”

America’s VetDogs specializes in placing highly-skilled service and guide dogs to individuals with physical injuries, PTSD, hearing and vision loss, and seizures. All services are provided by America’s VetDogs at no cost.

Suly, President George H.W. Bush’s former service dog,  who is currently working as part of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center’s Facility Dog Program, was raised, trained and placed by America’s VetDogs. Ace joins other high-profile VetDogs, including including the Washington Capitals’ Captain, Scout from Monumental Sports, Atlanta United’s Spike, WBAL’s Brooks and New York Islanders’ Tori and Radar.

“America’s VetDogs is excited to partner with PenFed on this life-changing program to raise a future service dog for a veteran or first responder with disabilities,” said John Miller, president & CEO, America’s VetDogs.

You can follow Ace’s journey on PendFed’s social media accounts.

Service Dogs For Veterans

A company with ties to Burke County has made a commitment to support local veterans with a special project.

Synergy Labs, a Florida-based pet product manufacturing company with a facility in Hildebran, has committed to sponsor two dogs to be trained as service dogs and then donated to help two veterans in Burke County, according to Highland Canine Connect, the nonprofit organization that will handle the training.

Highland Canine Connect is based in Iredell County and “works with the community to create fulfilling and engaging connections between dogs and people in need,” according to its website. Erin Purgason, owner of the related business, Highland Canine Training LLC, said they train 3-4 service dogs per year.

“Synergy was networking for any local nonprofits they could work with to provide a service dog for a veteran,” Purgason said. “Highland Canine Connect was mentioned as a possibility, and we were introduced in the fall of 2019. We finalized a plan at the beginning of 2020.”

She said Synergy requested the dogs provided be donated by a reputable breeder or come from a shelter or rescue.

“We were able to find one of each,” Purgason said. “Koda Bear is a 1.5-year-old German Shepherd mix that was located at Henderson County Animal Services by a dog trainer friend in the area. Alvin is about a 1-year-old Shepadoodle (a cross between a German Shepherd and a Standard Poodle) donated to us by Country Poos and Doos of North Carolina.”

She described how the dogs have responded to the training.

“Koda has been working with us about five months now,” Purgason said. “He has come so far. When we first got him, he had never been on a leash. He now performs basic and advanced obedience tasks, such as deep pressure lay and touch, and has been started on tracking. We are concentrating on keeping him out in public, since COVID-19 has limited our public outings and socialization time. His tasks will also be changed or added to once we find his forever handler. We like to really get to know them so we can customize what tasks they will need from a service dog.

“Alvin we received as a puppy. He has been trained to fetch items dropped, open cabinets, turn on lights and walk beside a wheelchair or walker. Again, we will add or change his tasks as well, once we find the perfect handler for him.”

Veterans in Burke County may apply to receive Alvin or Koda Bear as their service dog by visiting highlandcanineconnect. org, clicking on “Service Dog Donation” and filling out an application. The deadline for applications is Aug. 1.

Purgason explained how Highland Canine Connect staff will evaluate the applications.

“We have a detailed application process where we learn about their day-to-day life and what they are wanting a service dog for, meaning tasks,” she said. “We explain that having a service dog is a commitment and make sure applicants are ready or prepared for the training and bond process. We also get references for character, as well as the financial aspects of food, vaccines, medicines and other care for the dog.”

Once the veterans are selected, they will be trained by the organization on how to handle their dogs.

“Once we select the handlers, they will come meet the dogs so we can make sure the personalities are a good fit,” Purgason said. “We also deliver the dog to their home and work with the handler and dog one-on-one for three to six days, depending on what’s needed. Also with everyone local, we are available anytime for questions or concerns in regards to training both in and out of the home. We also provide the handler with a take home video of the tasks and commands that they can refer back to at any time.”

She envisions the dogs becoming a vital part of the veterans’ lives.

“I am hoping the dogs will provide them independence, comfort, stability and of course, a partner,” Purgason said.

Canines For Service

This Wilmington, North Carolina, nonprofit trains service dogs to help veterans with everything from PTSD to mobility.

Based out of North Carolina and veteran-founded almost 25 years ago, Canines for Service’s amazing rescue-turned-service dogs have been taught to help veterans with mobility limitations, PTSD and traumatic brain injuries.

The dogs that graduate this program are trained in 90 commands, so they can do everything from retrieving objects that are dropped, to pulling a wheelchair, to opening doors, to loading a washer and unloading a dryer. They can even help their handlers with dressing and undressing.

Susan Heaton, the CEO of Canines for Service, said these dogs act almost like the veteran’s bodyguard.

“They can create space in a crowd,” she explained. “A lot of times, large groups of people are an issue for veterans with PTSD so the service canine can create a barrier around them as people start to get into their personal space.”

Another amazing aspect to Heaton’s nonprofit is the commitment to the dogs they rescue. These pups remain cared for by the facility, even if they don’t turn out as suitable service dogs. Canines for Service watches over them until they find a home.

“These dogs come in somewhat broken and scared and they’ve been tossed away,” Heaton said. “We take them through our trainers and give them a behavioral assessment. The Veteran comes into us in a similar way, so they really do need each other. The bond between the two is incredible to see.”

The Canines for Service application process is extensive, but once approved, the organization helps veterans from all over the country.

Canine Assistant

Since 2020 has a recurring theme of being a never-ending dumpster fire for everyone, I suppose this bit of news was inevitable. A week ago, my family and I said goodbye to my service dog, Pandy, after a solid decade with her.

What started as a series of hip pains turned out to be a rampant bleeding tumor. She contracted a fast and paralyzing illness, but thankfully didn’t have to suffer long. My dad told me how peacefully she went at the veterinary office, and I had the opportunity to say goodbye beforehand.

I don’t want to use this column to dwell on the circumstances of Pandy’s passing. Instead, I want to reflect on the time I had with her, and how she helped me grow as a person.  I had my reservations about getting a service dog. My parents thought it’d be a good idea, but I was a stubborn teenager who thought it was too much responsibility. Not only that, I also dreaded the attention that would inevitably come with it, and the cringeworthy statements that people would say to me.

“Aw, she’s your best friend, isn’t she?”

“You’re in love!”  “That’s a good companion you’ve got there! Is she your special friend?”

These kinds of anticipated comments made me hesitant about acquiring a service dog back when my parents first pitched the idea. I already received plenty of questions about my chair and my disability, but a service dog would eliminate any sense of normalcy in my life.

Still, my parents were adamant that I could benefit from having a canine companion in college, and we started discussing it when I was still in high school. It took some convincing, and I remained apprehensive about it throughout the process. Even when I was paired with Pandy, I still had my doubts. My parents reasoned that if I was ever alone on campus or needed help, they’d feel safer if I had a trained service dog with me. Stubborn as I was, I agreed to go through with it and see what would happen.

We worked with the organization Canine Assistants, a nonprofit organization based outside Atlanta, Georgia. The dogs there are trained from birth, and once they are about 18 months old, they start getting paired with people. Matches are based on personalities, compatibility, and how well the person and the dog work with each other.

Yes, it sounds exactly like an online dating site. The organizers even compared acquiring a service dog to getting married and having kids simultaneously. None of this was helping me combat the stereotype about my dog being my closest friend or significant other. Hence, the sense of dread surrounding all of this continued to persist.

Yet here I am, 10 years later, and I wouldn’t trade our relationship for anything. Yes, Pandy was a ton of responsibility. And yes, I received numerous cringeworthy statements whenever I was with her in public. Looking after her was exhausting at times. But no matter what, she was always there for me. She challenged me in ways I can’t even put into words, and she helped mold me into a stronger and more empathetic human being.

When we got the news of her illness, I knew that the hardest part would be letting my community know. As I’ve been thinking about all of our times together, particularly at NC State University, where I went to college, I knew many of my friends considered her family as well. Since her passing, old colleagues and professors have sent me messages about how much they adored her.

Things for her haven’t been the same since I graduated from college and started working remotely. Those years were some of the best for both of us.

I know she’ll be sincerely missed. I’m also thankful that these past few months at home inadvertently gave me more time to spend with her. Our final memories include quiet evenings in our front yard, with her at my side while I listened to music.

Ok, that’s enough sentimentality on my end for at least a year. I’ll end this piece with my go-to service dog joke.

“Oh look, it’s a seeing-eye dog!”

“Yeah … I’m blind and in a power wheelchair.”

Service Dogs During Pandemic

During the coronavirus pandemic, it has been a challenge for service dog trainers to properly acclimate dogs during their advanced training.

“It really was a set-back in not being able to get the dogs out and about,” said Peggy Law, Executive Director of Service Dogs of Virginia.

She is currently training six of the program’s ten dogs, and says stay-at-home orders and closures amid the pandemic have caused problems.

“They’re at a stage in their advanced training where what they really need is to be practicing their skills out in public,” Law said.

Getting the dogs acclimated to the general population is a big step in their training.

“There’s just so many sounds and sights that we take for granted but can be very intimidating for a dog,” Law said. “There’s being comfortable, and then there’s also being able to think clearly and to work.”

Typically, a trainer would take a dog anywhere a future owner would take a dog, including the airport. Now, it’s not so easy.

“We have to be able to take them everywhere that their client wants to go,” said Sally Day, Director of Development for Service Dogs of Virginia.

Service Dogs of Virginia’s Albemarle Square location was closed until mid-June, when it reopened part-time. This left future dog owners unable to meet potential future dogs.

“We also want some of these dogs to meet clients and we haven’t been able to invite clients to our facility during the pandemic,” Law said.

A dog typically takes two years to train, but that time line may now be extended.

“Because of the pandemic and because of being home, they may end up being longer than two years, it’s possible,” Law said.
As businesses have reopened, Service Dogs of Virginia has begun taking service dogs out again for training, but trainers are careful about where they go and how long they are out in public.

Service Dog Sobee

After two rough deployments overseas, Jason Howe ended his U.S. Navy career in 2007. However, transitioning to civilian life was anything but smooth.

He has suffered from post traumatic stress disorder. To this day, he prefers not to talk about what he encountered during his service in the Navy.

“I wanted to take the pain away from whatever I was thinking about after doing two deployments,” he said. He turned to drugs. He lost his children, house and car, and he was bouncing from job to job.

“I woke up and wanted to end my life. I didn’t want to be here anymore,” he said. “I felt like the world didn’t understand me.”

He went through a rehab program in Kansas, then moved from Jefferson City back to his native state of Maine. It was there he came across an old friend who had a service dog.

“I asked him if (a service dog) could help me,” he said.

The friend put him in contact with K9s on the Front Line, a nonprofit organization that provides, certifies and trains service dogs for military veterans affected by post traumatic stress disorder and/or TBI at no cost to the veterans.

The organization gave him a dog that was two days from being euthanized in a kill shelter. He named the dog Sobee after a St. Louis Blues player. It changed his life.

“I started getting out of the house. I started walking, people were talking about my dog, asking about my dog, not my issues,” he said.

After attending a K9s on the Front Line event, he was hooked on the organization. After 18 weeks of training, he and Sobee graduated with 340 hours of training, more than twice the required amount.

With the graduation, Sobee officially became a service dog. Among other things, it taught her to sit, lay down, come when called and ignore other dogs and people in public.

Her main job, however, is to watch Howe’s back to make sure he’s safe. If he has a panic attack, Sobee jumps on him to “bring me back” to the present reality, he said.

After going through the program, Howe moved back to Jefferson City, where he now volunteers with K9s on the Front Line as the Midwest coordinator. To date, he’s used service dogs to help more than 50 veterans.

“It’s my way of giving back to my fellow brothers and sisters,” he said.

Last year, Howe delivered dog food donated by Diamond Pets to homeowners who were affected by the May 2019 tornado.

“One of my biggest things is being a voice for veterans or even people struggling, and leading by example,” he said. “It’s not the end of the world. They can overcome it. I like to give back to the same community that’s so loving and caring to us.”

The disabled veteran and his two sons, Alex, 14, and Nick, 12, now have three dogs.

Howe and Sobee are in the running for two categories of the American Humane Hero Dog Award. Of 800 dogs in the service dog category, Sobee is currently in the top three.

The winners, determined by online votes and judges, will get a trip to Hollywood, where they will be honored on Hallmark Channel’s nationwide broadcast of the American Humane Hero Dog Awards in October. “It feels pretty amazing, knowing where I was four years ago, and where Sobee was,” he said. “Both of us were kind of on our death beds, you could say, and we’ve both kind of saved each other. She’s given me a new life, and I’ve kind of given her a new life. She’s a pretty awesome battle buddy.”

Service Dogs Struggle

During the coronavirus pandemic, it has been a challenge for service dog trainers to properly acclimate dogs during their advanced training.

“It really was a set-back in not being able to get the dogs out and about,” said Peggy Law, Executive Director of Service Dogs of Virginia.
She is currently training six of the program’s ten dogs, and says stay-at-home orders and closures amid the pandemic have caused problems.
“They’re at a stage in their advanced training where what they really need is to be practicing their skills out in public,” Law said.
Getting the dogs acclimated to the general population is a big step in their training.
“There’s just so many sounds and sights that we take for granted but can be very intimidating for a dog,” Law said. “There’s being comfortable, and then there’s also being able to think clearly and to work.”
Typically, a trainer would take a dog anywhere a future owner would take a dog, including the airport. Now, it’s not so easy.
“We have to be able to take them everywhere that their client wants to go,” said Sally Day, Director of Development for Service Dogs of Virginia.
Service Dogs of Virginia’s Albemarle Square location was closed until mid-June, when it reopened part-time. This left future dog owners unable to meet potential future dogs.
“We also want some of these dogs to meet clients and we haven’t been able to invite clients to our facility during the pandemic,” Law said. A dog typically takes two years to train, but that time line may now be extended.
“Because of the pandemic and because of being home, they may end up being longer than two years, it’s possible,” Law said.
As businesses have reopened, Service Dogs of Virginia has begun taking service dogs out again for training, but trainers are careful about where they go and how long they are out in public.

Elementary School Service Dog

William and Soya celebrated several milestones together this month as they graduated from fifth grade at Parkwood Elementary School.

The two have grown up together, gone through school together and have been pretty much inseparable for the past six years but will be taking somewhat different paths once the new school year begins.

William Dedmond will be attending New Bridge Middle School and Soya, his service dog, will be retiring from her school duties.

“It will be weird,” William, 11, said when asked how it is going to feel not having Soya with him at school.

He had to think a minute before answering; he’s never really known otherwise. Soya has always been close by, either at his desk or within close range in his classroom.

Classmates asked about Soya when she stayed home for a day and Soya got her own photo in the school yearbook. She was a part of the Parkwood School community.

“When Soya was there I didn’t really think of her as a dog, she was like a student,” William said of having a service dog with him at school.

William, the son of Jason and Melissa Dedmond of Jacksonville, was diagnosed with epilepsy at 9 months old and Soya has been at his side since he was 4 years old and still in preschool.

Soya, a Golden Retriever, is trained as a Seizure Assistance Dog, which alerts others through smell as to when a seizure occurs or is going to occur.

Jason Dedmond said Soya can alert them as early as 45 minutes before a seizure.

The good news is that William had his first normal electroencephalogram (EEG) a year and a half ago and has been able to come off the medications that have long been needed to manage the seizures.

With the latest test results, William is able to head to middle school without needing a service dog with him.

While Soya will still be around to watch over him, the Dedmonds hope William has outgrown the seizures. His last grand mal seizure was at age 5.

Jason Dedmond said that from 9 months old to age 5 William had many types of seizures, at times two or more a week.

“You name a seizure, he’s had it,” Dedmond said.

When the seizures were at their worst and most frequent, the Dedmonds were barely able to sleep as they kept watch.

Jason said his wife began researching service dogs and they found the organization 4 Paws for Ability in Ohio, which trains service dogs for children.

Through a community fundraiser, Wags for William, they raised the $13,000 needed to get a service dog and an additional $7,000 that was contributed to help another family in line for a service dog.

The family traveled to Ohio for two weeks for their part in the training and brought Soya in Jan. 2014 when she was 13 months old. She was named Soyala, which means winter solstice in American Indian because that is when she was born.

Jason said that when William entered kindergarten at Parkwood Elementary, he joined his son at school for a week to help train the teachers and school staff.

The teachers knew what to do if there was a “Code Purple” and Soyala alerted them to a seizure.

It happened often while William was in preschool at First Baptist Church, now Catalyst Church. Fortunately, Dedmond said, there was not a Code Purple for William while he was a Parkwood.

“We were very blessed,” he said.

The school, he said, was always very supportive and as well as the school district, which updated its policies related to service dogs at schools at the time Soya and William began school at Parkwood Elementary.

As William heads on to middle school, one thing won’t change: the bond he has with Soya.

William smiles as he remembers the Halloween costumes they’ve shared.

“She was a super hero for Halloween,” he said.

It seems fitting for a dog he says has super powers.

Soya plans to retire to normal dog duties and will be spending more time with the second K9 in the family. Alexa, a Golden retriever and Labrador retriever mix, joined the family two years ago for William’s older brother, Dylan.

Alexa is also trained but wasn’t quite suited for work as a service dog and was adopted from the same organization as one of their “fabulous flunkies.”

Autistic Service Dog

There is a community effort to help a Fayetteville family with the mounting medical bills for their ailing service dog. Caspian is a six-year-old Goldendoodle trained to detect seizures for their 13-year-old autistic son.

Like the perfect storm, Brooke Wright says her son Gavin’s seizures have been increasing, while the health of Caspian has been failing.

Gavin has a form of non-verbal autism and for six years Caspian has alerted the family to oncoming seizures. The family says those seizures have been increasing at an alarming rate.

Then the Fayetteville family says it awoke one morning recently to blood coming from Caspian’s nose. The start of his own health crisis.

“Just this week they did a scope of his nasal passages and sent the specimens to pathology, so cancer is a concern,” said Wright.

There have been emergency vet visits and veterinary specialists.  Caspian’s medical bills are mounting beyond the capabilities of this single mom.

“We are up to about $2,500 after seeing four vets just this week.” Caspian is not able to alert them to Gavin’s seizures currently but the family is hoping and praying for a favorable diagnosis.

Dolly Pawton

This service dog isn’t just working a “9 to 5!” Dolly Pawton helps her owner, Amy Sherwood, who has medical issues that include mobility, heart and blood pressure complications, as well as emotional complications brought on from years of domestic abuse.

Sherwood taught Dolly how to recognize when she needs assistance or care, and nominated Dolly for Hallmark’s prestigious Hero Dog Award.

Dolly, we’ll always love you!

Dog Rules For Military

Regional and service-specific policies banning aggressive dog breeds on military bases have been a source of consternation and controversy for years. But a new provision in the Senate version of the next defense policy bill aims to clear up the confusion.

An amendment in the fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act passed by the Senate would require the secretary of defense to establish a single standardized policy for the whole military governing dangerous dogs. The new policy, which would be presented within 90 days of the bill’s passage, would be breed-neutral. That’s in contrast with current policies, which tend to focus on certain “aggressive” breeds, such as pit bulls.

The new policy would also need to be “consistent with advice from professional veterinary and animal behavior experts in regard to effective regulation of dangerous dogs,” according to the language of the bill.

The current array of policies governing dogs on base highlights the confusion. According to the Air Force’s standardized pet policy, dogs of any breed deemed “aggressive or potentially aggressive” are off-limits on base unless the animal is certified as a military working dog or has special approval from the base commander.

“For purposes of this policy, aggressive or potentially aggressive breeds of dogs are defined as a Pit Bull (American Staffordshire Bull Terrier or English Staffordshire Bull Terrier), Rottweiler, Doberman Pinscher, Chow and wolf hybrids,” the policy reads. “Prohibition also extends to other breeds of dogs or individual dogs that demonstrate or are known to demonstrate a propensity for dominant or aggressive behavior.”

These behaviors include unprovoked barking and snarling, biting or scratching people, and escaping confinement to chase people.

The Army  has base-by-base restrictions, many of which limit not only the kinds of dog breeds that can be kept but also the total number of pets. The policies typically name the same breeds cited in the Air Force policy as restricted from living on base.

In 2012, Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, moved to end its grandfather policy governing pit bulls, rottweilers and wolf hybrids, requiring base residents to give up these dogs or move off base.

Owners of mixed-breed dogs and breeds banned in some places but not others, like Chows, are especially likely to take issue with current policies, and to face challenges during permanent change-of-station moves to locations with different rules. A 2013 Change.org petition from the organization Dogs on Deployment calling for a standardization of dog policies collected nearly 45,000 signatures but ultimately did not lead to a major policy change.

The initiative apparently got new legs, however, when the president of the American Bar Association, Bob Carlson, wrote to the Senate Armed Services Committee in 2019 about the matter.

“Enacting a consistent pet policy applicable to all installation housing, regardless of service or privatized provider, can balance diverse command interests in safety and security while also improving the morale and welfare of the service members and families affected by the policy,” he said at the time, calling for a breed-neutral, uniform policy for those in military housing.

According to the current legislation, the policy would have to be implemented within 180 days of the NDAA becoming law and would “include strategies for implementation within all military communities, [and] for the prevention of dog bites that are consistent with the following best practices: Enforcement of comprehensive, non breed-specific regulations relating to dangerous dogs, with emphasis on identification of dangerous dog behavior and chronically irresponsible owners.”

It would also provide for “investment in community education initiatives” that would support pet care best practices and owner responsibility.

The House must still pass its version of the defense policy bill and reconcile it with the Senate version before it continues to final passage and goes to the president to become law.

Canine Companions

A group of four-legged companions, trained to make a Positively Jax difference, perform physical tasks for people with a wide range of disabilities.

The pups are trained by handlers at Canine Companions for Independence. Some of the dogs go to children to help them navigate daily life. Others go to wounded veterans or veterans with disabilities to help them enjoy greater independence.

The dogs are expertly trained and partnered with a working professional in health care, visitation, criminal justice or education settings.

After they are trained, they help by turning on lights, picking up dropped keys, opening doors and other simple tasks most of us take for granted.

These canine companions give those with disabilities the independence they may not otherwise have.

A service dog can pull their partner in a manual wheelchair, push buttons for an elevator or even assist with business transactions.

And dogs who help the hearing impaired can alert partners to key sounds with a simple nudge.

They are skilled companions that develop a strong family bond with their human partner.

Police Dog

When not busy catching baddies, police dog Buzz recently found time to stand to attention and bark his thanks outside Coventry’s hospital during the Clap for Carers, reducing some of the nurses present to tears.

That noble vision sums up the dedication, heroism and compassion of the Warwickshire police dog section.

Newly liberated from its ties to the West Mercia division, the WPD is making the most of its fresh start, with new dogs being trained and even establishing its own Twitter account.

The section consists of ten human handlers, who usually look after one or two dogs.

Buzz’s handler, Sgt Andrew Rawson, told the Herald how it worked.

“Every handler has a general purpose dog, which is a big dog, some of which are trained to work with firearms teams – they are called firearm support dogs.

“Generally, the big dogs look for criminals, missing persons, and search for people who have run off crime scenes or burglars hiding in buildings etc.

“They will look for disgarded items, such as weapons at a crime scene or property that’s thrown from a burglary. The dogs will identify people’s scent on items and show the handler where the item is – like thrown into a ditch, or wherever it might be.”

During the coronavirus pandemic, Sgt Rawson says they have also been busy helping people to understand what the lockdown rules are and how to abide by them.

He added: “Unfortunately there’s still a criminal element that are busy.”

As well as the big dogs, which tend to be German shepherds or a hybrid (Buzz is a German/Belgian shepherd mix), most handlers also have a specialist search dog – usually spaniels.

Sgt Rawson said: “All dogs are good at sniffing things out but obviously it’s difficult to hold a German shepherd at head height. Size-wise, if you have a spaniel they are easier to handle if you’re searching for explosives, drugs or firearms.”

As well as big dog Buzz, Sgt Rawson now has black-and-white springer spaniel Bella, who is seven months old and especially adorable. Is it hard not to treat them like pets and become attached to them?

“As I spend more time with the dogs than the wife, then you do get very attached,” explained Sgt Rawson, whose dogs live with him at home but sleep outside.

“But they are not pets, but service dogs, and you work as a team. Ultimately they are there as a tool to do a job, and will if necessary save the life of their handler or a member of the firearms team. You have to judge the risk against the tactics to do the job, and ultimately if they have to save a life, a dog must do its duty.”

Sgt Rawson has been in the force for 27 years, joining WPD five years ago after working in traffic and firearms divisions. What’s required to be a good dog handler?

“Obviously you have to love animals. Everyone else hangs up their keys or their gun when they go home, but these dogs live with you and they need looking after every day of the year. You also have to have the right mindset – the desire to go and catch bad people.

“The animals are tools, like a Taser or any use of force, so you have to justify its use and have that presence of mind to remain calm in any situation.

“You have to be able to work a dog efficiently and effectively before you deploy it on anybody – they have 42 teeth and will cause damage. Most of the time, just because of the size of the dog’s bark, the subject will perceive the risk and behave themselves.”

Sgt Rawson added: “After 27 years, my ability to catch people on a straight chase has been reduced! To catch a 20-year-old in trainers as I approach 50, it’s easier to have a dog!”

PenFed’s Service Dog

There’s a new puppy with a purpose at PenFed Credit Union.

In partnership with America’s VetDogs, Ace, a yellow Labrador Retriever, will be raised to assist a military veteran or first responder with a disability.

Andrea McCarren, vice president and chief content officer for PenFed Digital will raise Ace alongside Maverick, a service dog she began raising last year. Ace also joins PenFed service dogs in training Mission and WestPoint who are being raised by PenFed employees.

“Ace is being raised with the purpose of providing enhanced mobility and renewed independence to veterans, active-duty service members, and first responders with disabilities, allowing them to once again live with pride and self-reliance,” said James Schenck, president and CEO of PenFed Credit Union and CEO of the PenFed Foundation. “We are committed to this program and making it work for our employees who are donating their time to raise these dogs for a very noble cause.”

McCarren will spend the next 18 months raising Ace as part of the PenFed family to prepare him for the next step of his training. He will learn additional tasks that are helpful to a person with a disability. PenFed is covering costs associated with the raising of Ace as he begins his journey to becoming a future service dug.

“As someone who is raising her fourth service dog, I have seen firsthand the powerful impact they have on the lives of wounded service members and first responders,” said McCarren. “The ability to help a remarkable organization like America’s VetDogs while on the job is one of the many things that makes PenFed special.”

America’s VetDogs specializes in placing highly-skilled service and guide dogs to individuals with physical injuries, PTSD, hearing and vision loss, and seizures. All services are provided by America’s VetDogs at no cost. Suly, President George H.W. Bush’s former service dog,  who is currently working as part of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center’s Facility Dog Program, was raised, trained and placed by America’s VetDogs. Ace joins other high-profile VetDogs, including including the Washington Capitals’ Captain, Scout from Monumental Sports, Atlanta United’s Spike, WBAL’s Brooks and New York Islanders’ Tori and Radar.

“America’s VetDogs is excited to partner with PenFed on this life-changing program to raise a future service dog for a veteran or first responder with disabilities,” said John Miller, president & CEO, America’s VetDogs.

You can follow Ace’s journey on PendFed’s social media accounts.

Canine Retiring

A long-serving and furry member of the Ministry of Environment has retired from Conservation Officer duties.

Jaks, a Conservation Officer Service Dog, will be hanging up his collar after an eight-year career.

His handler, Conservation Officer Cpl. Jamie Chartrand, said the 10-year-old Belgium Malinois helped officers with hundreds of investigations.

Jaks’ knack for locating evidence led the ministry and other law enforcement agencies to numerous criminal convictions and fines totalling tens of thousands of dollars.

“One of his favorite parts of the job was tracking,” Chartrand said. “Jaks tracked down numerous criminals during his career. This is often the most dangerous part of the job.”

Chartrand and Jaks also helped educate the public about the use of natural resources at community events, presentations and school visits.

A multiple award-winning canine, Jaks won numerous accolades at the Canadian Police Canine Championships in Alberta, including fourth and second place finishes in the top dog category.

Although he will be off the clock, Jaks has been adopted by Cpl. Chartrand so the pair will be continuing their adventures together.

Jaks is being replaced by a young female German Shepard name Tai, who has recently completed her training.

10-year-old Jaks (left) will be replaced by a young German Shepard named Tai (right).

Service Dog

An Indiana woman’s boyfriend constructed what he calls a ‘wheelchair sidecar’ for her and her service dog.

A viewer submitted a photo to WVLT News of Melissa Morris and her service dog Luna. In the photo, the two are seen sitting in the specially designed wheelchair constructed by Morris’ boyfriend. The wheelchair has an extension on the side where Luna can sit next to Morris.

“Just the kind of god news we could all use,” Nancy Arnett, a viewer out of Sevierville said.

Melissa purchased her dog Luna from Arnett in Sevierville.

Service Dog Program

Puppies Behind Bars (PBB) founder and president, Gloria Gilbert Stoga, created a program that trains prison inmates to raise service dogs for wounded war veterans and first responders. Additionally, the organization trains dogs to become explosive-detection canines for law enforcement. Today, PBB operates throughout six correctional facilities in New York and New Jersey and has raised more than 1,200 dogs. PBB has earned its thirteenth consecutive 4-star rating from Charity Navigator, which indicates that the organization adheres to good governance and other best practices.

When Stoga first opened her organization over 20-years ago, she decided to breed her own Labrador retriever puppies. That decision came from wanting to provide canines that had the best genetic backgrounds and temperaments. All of the dogs enter the program at eight weeks old. Due to the high standards of the program, if a dog is released for either behavioral or physical reasons, the dog is put up for adoption. The explosive detection canine puppies are placed into a one-year program, while the service dog puppies participate in a two-year program.

“They live in the cells with the inmates,” Stoga explains. “The inmates are fully responsible for all of the training, the nurturing, the basic medical, the grooming, and once a week PBB staff goes into each prison for a full day of teaching classes and helps solve problems.” Before starting PBB in 1997, Stoga served as a member of New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s Youth Empowerment Commission, whose mission was to secure private-sector summer employment for New York City’s underprivileged youth. She was responsible for developing and securing corporate commitments to provide training and jobs under the Commission’s initiative. Working for non-profits allowed Stoga to figure out how she wanted to operate her organization when it came time. The initial spark that inspired her to start PBB came after reading an article about Dr. Thomas Lane, a veterinarian running a prison guide-dog program in Gainesville, Florida. She subsequently had the privilege of visiting Dr. Lane and spoke with inmates and program staff in three prisons that hosted his program.

Six months later, she quit her job and approached Libby Pataki, who was then the First Lady of New York State. She immediately garnered Pataki’s support to provide education and rehabilitation for prison inmates and provide excellent quality working dogs for the public. Late 1997, she started her program with five Labrador retriever puppies at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, New York State’s only maximum-security prison for women.

In the beginning, Stoga and her team faced challenges with the unions and was not welcomed at her second prison opening, a men’s medium-security prison. “I wasn’t welcomed by security staff,” she shares. “To show them that I wasn’t just a well-meaning lady from New York City who was coming upstate to say, ‘you should give these inmates something positive to do,’ I went into that prison every single day, Monday through Friday for six weeks. I’d run to the women’s prison for half a day, three days a week, and I’d come back. For six weeks, I more or less lived in that prison…Very slowly, I start talking to some of the corrections officers. I’d always bring my two dogs in, and they’d see how well behaved they were, how friendly they were. I got across to people that I was serious, that the dogs were of high quality and that I wasn’t going anywhere.”

PBB has become a goal for prison inmates. Although the program is volunteer-based on top of the inmates’ mandatory prison job, it does not accept everyone. Stoga does not interview sex offenders, anybody with direct child abuse or animal abuse or anyone with a high mental health issue. Additionally, the inmates have to be ticket free for 12-months meaning that they haven’t received any form of disciplinary action in a year. Having something to strive for keeps the inmates focused on the goal.

“You see people [inmates] change literally before your eyes,” Stoga smiles. “The other end of the spectrum is our [canine] recipients. We work with veterans. We also work with first responders, and to hear from our recipients and their families that they cut way back on their meds, or maybe they’re now med free, that they now go out in public or that they now engage with their families is incredible.”

As Stoga continues to grow the organization, she focuses on the following essential steps:

Clearly define your purpose and what you want to do. If you start to veer away from that, you will stretch yourself thin mentally, emotionally and financially, which will not lead to long-term success.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Being honest when you don’t know something will garner better results than faking your way through; it may hurt you in the long run.

Be prepared to work hard, especially when pivoting. You will work harder than you ever have before. You have to give it your all if you want to achieve your goal.

“When I first started working in prisons,” Stoga concludes, “I was totally completely black and white. There were good guys in the world and there were bad guys. That was that. Very soon on, the inmates taught me there’s gray; that people can do bad things, but they’re not necessarily bad people forever. There are some bad people forever; I’m not naïve. However, some people are gray.”

Virtual Trivia

This coming Friday, June 26, BC & Alberta Guide Dogs is holding its third Virtual Trivia Night fundraiser – this time with a Canada theme.

Six rounds of questions will test players’ knowledge about Canadian music, history, food, animals, geography, and other miscellaneous Canadiana.

The organization would like to invite the public to kick off their Canada Day celebrations with a fun game that also helps raise much needed funds to provide life-changing Guide Dogs, Autism Service Dogs and PTSD Service Dogs to those in need.

Restrictions caused by COVID-19 have prevented BC & Alberta Guide Dogs from holding in-person fundraising events, so the organization has focused its efforts on online initiatives.

“It’s really easy to join the game,” said Joni Wright, Director of Development and Communications at BC & Alberta Guide Dogs. “Register online to receive a link and game guide, and then click on it on game day. No app download is needed and you can play from your desktop or mobile phone.”

Tickets are $20 each and can be purchased online at bcandalbertaguidedogs.com. The game starts at 6 p.m. Pacific Time, so players need to plan their start time based on their location.

This fundraiser is part of the BC & Alberta Guide Dog Virtual Trivia Summer Series, generously sponsored by Ledcor Group. Two additional themed games will take place later this summer: Virtual Trivia Night – Music Fest on July 24and Virtual Trivia Night – Summer Holiday on Aug. 14.

Joplin Service Dog

While they may be cute, they have a very important job to do.

One Joplin service dog handler wants the community to know the do’s and don’t when you see a service dog out with their owner.

Amber Chrystler, Service Dog Handler, said, “My service dogs are actually called psychiatric service dogs so they are different from emotional support dogs. They actaully do more than just comfort and emotional support.”

Amber Chrystler and her two service dogs, Clark and Kent, help her complete tasks in her day to day life.

Chrystler says the jobs of these animals aren’t always understood.

“Clark does deep pressure therapy, he does what’s called crowd control, and that’s when I’m in line and people get really close and it makes me uncomfortable so he’ll do blocks and covers and he’ll stand in front and behind me.”

Businesses are not allowed to refuse service to those with service animals, however there are some questions they may ask.

“Is this dog a service dog due to a disability, and then what work or task is it trained to perform.”

And businesses like Blue Moon Boutique in Joplin are already very familiar with allowing service dogs into their store.

Branden Clark, Co-Owner, Blue Moon Boutique, said, “Make sure employees always know, and typically they do. And just make sure everybody is informed and educated about it.”

Knowing those guidelines are especially important for people like Chrystler, as she needs to bring her dogs everywhere she goes.

“I really think it is important especially because a lot of people unfortunately do fake service dogs and that’s a legitimate concern I have and I run into daily. So, that would be my thing, I think they all need to be educated,” said Chrystler.

Chrystler adds never pet or distract a service animal while they are working with their owner.

Chrystler also runs a Facebook page aimed at informing the public on service animals, called Show Me Your Service Dog.