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Four-Legged Heroes

What front-line heroes have four legs and a tail? Gracie the Goat, Porky the Pig and Dopey the Cat are a few. From farm animals to family pets, local organizations like Hospice of Chattanooga, Alleo Health System, McKamey Animal Center and Erlanger Health System work with volunteers to provide pet therapy in our community.

These stories are a tribute to the furry front-line heroes dutifully serving vulnerable populations during a time when a little unconditional love goes a long way.

Lining the sidewalk of NHC HealthCare, a parade of animals prances around the building smiling brightly at the residents inside. Don’t worry, they aren’t lost; they are front-line heroes.

One of these workers is Maggie, a middle-aged border collie who loves people and playing fetch. She starts her afternoon shift at NHC HealthCare among other four-legged friends.

Instead of pausing its Caring Paws Program, Hospice of Chattanooga took a different route, launching pet parades for the population most vulnerable to COVID-19.

The parades attract pet-lovers and volunteers from across the Chattanooga area, including Kathy Mindel, Maggie’s owner and local chapter leader for Love on a Leash, a national nonprofit that partners with communities to provide volunteers and implement animal therapy services in nursing homes, hospitals, schools and other places.

“The residents are not able to see many people right now, so you can imagine how overjoyed they are. It’s incredibly heartwarming to watch them engage with the animals through the windows,” Mindel says. “Often, we are with people as they undergo scary experiences like making a life transition, waiting on a lab report or spending last moments with a loved one. During these times, animals settle them in a unique way with their touch and gentleness.”

Under Alleo Health, Hospice’s Caring Paws is the only certified volunteer hospice pet program in the area. During regular operations prior to COVID-19, the program welcomes many visitors from Love on a Leash, including a retired veteran and his furry companion.

“When veterans are about to pass away, he actually does pinning services to thank them for their service. The ceremony gives these patients a sense of purpose and closure that they otherwise may not have had toward the end of their life,” says Lily Quinn, Alleo Health’s Strategic Communications Coordinator.

Even amid a pandemic, Hospice of Chattanooga operates with the belief that no one should die alone.

“We just want them to know, ‘Hey, we’re still thinking of you. We still love you. And we’re still here for you. It just looks different right now,'” Quinn says.

Every year, McKamey Animal Center (MAC) serves as a refuge to an average of 7,000 abandoned animals from the Chattanooga, Lakesite and Red Bank areas. During the pandemic, they saw a surge in adoptions.

Some adopters thought quarantine was the ideal time to commit to potty training. Others were looking for a companion who would ease their anxiety and console them during an uncertain time.

“As a social person, I thought to myself, it would be challenging to quarantine alone. Even if you’re not formally adopting an emotional support animal, there’s definitely something to be said about how animals help your emotional state, whether you realize it or not,” says Crystal Evans, MAC’s Executive Assistant and Program Coordinator.

No two work days are the same for Evans. She recently reflected on why she loves her job while driving home from a local nonprofit one Friday afternoon. The day before Evans received a call from Partnership for Families, Children and Adults (Partnership FCA), a local organization specializing in counseling, crisis intervention and prevention services.

Alongside animal adoption, domestic violence reports have spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic. In April, the National Domestic Violence Hotline reported a 15% increase in its contact volume, and 10% of those contacts cited COVID-19 repercussions as a reason for abuse.

One of Partnership FCA’s residents needed MAC resources to vaccinate her beloved cat, so it could live with her in a shelter while she recovered from an abusive situation. Without vaccination, she would have to say goodbye to the 12-year-old best friend who accompanied her down a long, hard road.

“The cat is the one constant thing in her life. More than likely, the abuse was ongoing, not an isolated incident, so I’m sure it brought her countless hours of comfort in a challenging season,” Evans says.

Coming to the rescue, MAC completed the vaccination free of charge through funds it receives from the Angel Fund, which runs strictly on individual grants and donations.

“We don’t just save animals. We help people too. That’s what drives me to go to work every day,” Evans says.

MAC believes that no one should have to surrender a pet because they can’t afford to fit kibble in their budget. To help, it offers a PET Food Bank for people hit hardest by economic challenges.

As coronavirus continues to impact lives, MAC hopes to match more animals with people in need. If you ask them why you should adopt, they present a convincing case.

“Millions of animals are surrendered to shelters and rescues every year, including purebred animals. So, if you are interested in a certain breed, there are numerous breed-specific rescues you can adopt instead of purchase. We here at MAC receive many purebred animals yearly,” Evans says.

Erlanger’s Pet Therapy Program also provides an outlet for dog owners looking to volunteer their pets and time. Many of these volunteers are coordinated through Love on a Leash. Though Erlanger’s program is suspended due to COVID-19, Erlanger continues to raise awareness about its services and prepare volunteers for reopening.

“In the past, we’ve used therapy dogs in various settings, including in our occupational therapy department where they support patients working to recover their balance,” says Samantha Printup, Erlanger’s Ambassador and Pet Therapy Coordinator.

In addition to Love on a Leash, Erlanger partners with Human Animal Bond in Tennessee (HABIT), a program of The University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, which sponsors animal-

assisted therapy programs. To apply for Erlanger’s program, you must attend a HABIT Information Meeting and give your dog a behavior evaluation. After passing, your dog will become an official Erlanger K-9 Ambassador.

“I’ve been in rooms where we have spent a significant amount of time watching people’s heart rates and blood pressures go down on the monitor,” Printup says. “And that’s just one of many examples, showing how animal therapy positively impacts everyone involved at Erlanger.”

Boy In Need Of Seizure Dog

An Old Saybrook woman reached new heights this month, climbing the highest peak in the northeastern United States, Mount Washington. But Paige Marinelli’s path to topping more than 6,200 feet was even more impressive because of whom she climbed for and what she’s been through.

“There was a point where I would’ve never been able to do that,” Paige said.

Paige, now 26, was diagnosed with epilepsy at the age of 10. After college, her seizures got worse so at 23, she chose to have surgery.

“I had four craniotomies in a month, and they removed a piece of my brain that was causing seizures, and I’ve been seizure free for over thee years,” she told News 12. The recovery was long, but worth it. “My life has improved so much.”

That made Paige want to help others struggling with their health. In January, she began leading an epilepsy support group, which Trumbull mom Jennifer Colello joined a few months later.

Jennifer’s 5-year-old son Andrew loves, puppies, wrestling, and superheroes–plus anything his big brother, Trey, does. Andrew has epilepsy, with seizures that increased in intensity this year. He also was born with the most severe form of spina bifida.

“He had to have a lesion, a very large lesion, closed on his spine at just a day old,” explained Jennifer.

Andrew uses a walker, wears ankle-foot orthotics, and does physical therapy four times a week. His parents always dreamed of another form of help–a service dog trained to detect seizures.

“A dog would be able to give him the independence to sleep on his own,” said Jennifer. “It would be able to alert us to things I’m sure we’re already probably missing.”

A dog would also help with Andrew’s stability while walking, but it wasn’t an option right now.

“Knowing how expensive they were, we never thought we’d be able to afford it on our own,” Andrew’s dad, Richard Colello, said.

Then, came a plan from the young woman who’d become a source of support for Jennifer in recent months.

“I got a phone call from Paige saying, ‘You know, I’ve always wanted to climb Mount Washington. I want to do this for Andrew, I want to do this in Andrew’s honor.”

Paige would climb for a cause, raising money to get Andrew his dog.

“Here she is a mom–just like my mom–going through raising a child with epilepsy. How could I not extend my heart to her?” Paige told News 12.

“I was just like dumbfounded in the beginning,” remembered Jennifer. “It seemed too good to be true.”

The fundraising campaign quickly reached–then surpassed its goal. It was up to $24,000 when Paige and her team set off from the base of Mount Washington on Aug. 15.

“It was exhausting and challenging, but it was so worth it in every way,” Paige said. “It was really beautiful and meaningful, and I guess every step meant something. When I did get to the top, I sat down and I had this moment of ‘look at what we just did?!'”

Paige said Andrew was there with her in spirit the entire way up. He was also there in-person at the bottom of the mountain. The Colellos made the drive up to New Hampshire to celebrate Paige completing the climb.

“We had flowers ready for her. Andrew gave them to her,” said Jennifer.

“It was definitely a moment of connection and everyone was just so happy. There’s definitely no question about us being friends for life now,” Paige said.

“I cannot thank her enough for the gift she gave us and our family. Andrew’s going to grow by leaps and bounds with this service puppy. I truly believe that,” Richard told News 12.

The Colellos have been accepted into a service dog program for 2022. Jennifer says it’s a little ways off, but it will be worth the wait. As for Paige, she plans to continue to be an advocate for people with epilepsy and do a new challenge every year to raise money and awareness.

New Four Legged Recruit

The Iowa National Guard has recruited a new member for their team… one with four legs and lots of love to share.

His name is Lincoln, and he’s a 13-week-old English Cream Golden Retriever puppy.

Lincoln, one small dog, with a big job ahead… providing help, hope, and healing at the 185th Air Refueling Wing.

“They are just accepting, they are loving no matter what, and it just brings a different atmosphere wherever he is at, and it really shows,” said Steve Peters, Chaplain/Lt. Col with the 185th Air Refueling Wing.

Lincoln joined the 185th care team nearly a month ago. Right now, he’s being trained to become a therapy dog.

His job will be to offer emotional support for servicemen and women.

“This program for therapy dogs has developed as a tool to help reduce their stress and anxiety and help them focus, and perhaps unlock the abilities to get in touch with emotions and feelings that they are having that are impacting their day to day life,” said Peters.

Lieutenant Colonel Steve Peters said Lincoln helps break mental barriers, making it easier for people to open up and talk about any spiritual, mental and physical health issues.

“Lincoln, or therapy dogs in general, become a barrier breaker. He is the kind of guy that someone comes in and sits down and says I want to come see Lincoln today, and they come in for that purpose, and they are sitting there, and playing and petting them, and then all of a sudden they start talking,” said Peters. “I go, ‘okay I get it,’ and it’s fantastic to see when that happens, and it happens all of the time.”

While Lincoln still has months of training ahead, he’s already won the hearts of his co-workers.

Lincoln came from a kennel that breeds dogs to be therapy dogs. So, he’s been ready for his career as a therapy dog since the day he was born.

Hero Dog Kuno

During a raid, the Belgian Malinois named Kuno tackled a gunman and was hit by bullets in both back legs.

After losing one of his paws as a result, he became the first UK military dog to get custom-made prosthetics.

The four-year-old will receive the Dickin Medal from vet charity the PDSA.

Now retired and rehomed, Kuno – who was trained to detect explosives, weapons and incapacitate enemies – will be awarded the medal for valour at a virtual ceremony in November.

Kuno and his handler had been deployed to support elite Special Boat Service (SBS) forces during a night raid targeting al-Qaeda extremists in Afghanistan last year when they came under attack.

The forces, pinned down by grenade and machine-gun fire from an insurgent, were unable to advance.

Kuno was sent in to break the deadlock. Without hesitation, he charged through a hail of bullets while wearing night vision goggles to tackle the gunman, wrestling him to the ground and halting his attack.

Kuno ultimately changed the course of the mission and helped the forces successfully complete it.

But during the assault he was shot in both his hind legs and was treated by his handler and medics in a back of a helicopter as they made their way to safety.

He suffered severe injuries – including a bullet narrowly missing a main artery – and needed several life-saving operations before he could be flown back to the UK for further treatment.

Vets had to amputate part of one of his rear paws to prevent a life-threatening infection taking hold.

After returning to the UK on an RAF plane, he underwent extensive reconstructive surgery.

Just like injured soldiers, Kuno began a lengthy rehabilitation programme to restore function to his nerves and muscles, and is said to have particularly enjoyed his sessions on the hydrotherapy treadmill.

Within months, he was fitted with a custom-made prosthesis to replace his missing paw and an orthotic brace to help his injured limb.

Kuno, who was on his second deployment when he was injured, is the first UK military dog to be fitted with such devices, which allow him to run and jump unencumbered – giving him many more happy years in retirement.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: “Without Kuno, the course of this operation could have been very different, and it’s clear he saved the lives of British personnel that day.

“This particular raid was one of the most significant achievements against al Qaeda in several years.

“Kuno’s story reminds us not only of the dedicated service of our soldiers and military dogs, but also the great care that the UK Armed Forces provide to the animals that serve alongside them.”

PDSA director general Jan McLoughlin said Kuno’s “bravery and devotion to duty” made him a “thoroughly deserving” recipient of the Dickin Medal.

The prestigious award was first introduced by the charity’s founder, Maria Dickin CBE, in 1943. It is the highest award any animal can achieve while serving in military conflict.

Training Guide Dogs

The Guide Dogs Association is the first NGO in Turkey that helps the visually impaired by providing them trained dogs, who in turn help them navigate their way.

These special pets are free of charge for applicants with more than 90 percent visual loss.

Established in 2014, with the leadership of Maggie Moore, the wife of the then UK ambassador and lawyer, Nurdeniz Tuncer, the association is a member of the European Guide Dog Federation (EGDF) and a candidate for the International Guide Dog Federation.

There are only five guide dogs in Turkey, and they have each been trained and brought up to be a companion for the visually impaired. All their expenses, such as food and veterinary care, are taken care of by the Guide Dogs Association (Rehber Kopekler Dernegi). The number will one day be added to, not least because currently, more dogs are undergoing the necessary and unique training.

The President of the Guide Dogs Association, lawyer Nurdeniz Tuncer, lives a less complicated and less impaired life thanks to Kara, Turkey’s first guide dog, whom she calls “my two eyes” and “my best friend”.

Kara, a purebred female Labrador, was born on May 21, 2015 in Istanbul. She had a year of training with a foster family in Ankara, then received further education from Alan Brooks in England for twelve weeks so that she could successfully go on to deftly guide the visually impaired in any kind of environment.

After this long and arduous education, Kara became a guide dog who could assist those with little sight in all scenarios, allowing them safe and independent movement, and help them carry out their daily tasks.

The first licenced guide dog in Turkey, Kara knows and understands the English and Turkish languages and is President Nurdeniz Tuncer’s dog. She calmly accompanies Tuncer to concerts, exhibitions, theatre productions and similar cultural, artistic and social events. She travels, the NGO materials say, comfortably and without any problems from mass transit to airplanes. During busy meeting schedules, she likes to lie down under her owner’s feet. In her free time, she likes to run, play, be petted, be brushed, sleep, and snore. She loves social activities but is a bit shy when being photographed.  Kara has been commemorated by the Turkish Postal Service (PTT), who placed her on a stamp in March 2020. The commemorative envelopes were typed with the Braille alphabet and were added to the collection within Ankara’s PTT Stamp Museum. This marks the first time guide dogs were officially recognised with a commemorative stamp in Turkey. The Guide Dogs Association in Turkey has prepared the Guide Dog Accessibility proposal for the Turkish assembly (TBMM). This law would allow guide dogs and their owners to easily walk around in social spaces and enter public and private institutions. If this law passes, the visually impaired will have more mobility, assisted by guide dogs, on many levels – from using public transport to enjoying public spaces. The law would also allow veterans with special needs to take advantage of all a guide dog can offer, and will facilitate the establishment of a school in which to raise and train these unique animals of service.

Nacho, a golden retriever born in May 2019, has been living with the Beydagi family since she was three months old. She has been with them for the past eighteen months, receiving basic training and socialising skills. After that, she will begin her twelve-week training to become a guide dog for the visually impaired. “It takes time and patience,” says Ece Beydagi, about raising a dog from being a puppy, especially one selected to become a guide dog. “She has made great strides, and now understands basic commands like sit, stay, wait, and the like.”

Beydagi says these special animals are usually golden retrievers and labradors, breeds that take well to training. If they are for some reason deemed unfit for being a guide dog, they make a ‘career change’ and become service dogs, where they are paired with differently-abled people (such as people on the autism spectrum) or become animals that help with therapy (visiting nursing homes, for example).

Nacho will now be going from the Beydagi home to her trainers. There, they will teach her how to be a responsible guide dog. “There are other dogs, who are also being raised to be guide dogs, in Istanbul, Izmir and Ankara,” Beydagi says.

Overall, Ece Beydagi and her family have had a positive experience as a foster family. “We’ve already put in our application to be a foster family again,” she says, “if the association can find us a puppy once more.”

Companion Dogs For Veterans

FOR THE past 15,000 years, dogs have been considered man’s best friend.

Like us humans, dogs are social animals that seek affection and attention. Dogs have long been our companions, co-workers, guards, protectors and helpers.

It is mental health service dogs which are a rising profile in the veterans’ community as their value in the assistance to those with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), panic disorders, anxiety, and major depression is becoming more and more apparent.

On August 5, the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs (DVA), Darren Chester, announced an increase in the availability of psychiatric assistance dogs to veterans with the addition of two new providers to the Government’s Psychiatric Assistance Dog Program, the Royal Society for the Blind of South Australia and Integra Service Dogs Australia. The Minister said this was an important program to help veterans manage their PTSD, with feedback received so far from veterans and their families that it is making an amazing difference.

“We have seen the positive outcomes from this program with veterans already sharing a special bond with their psychiatric assistance dogs, making a remarkable difference to their everyday life. These dogs are specially trained to perform specific tasks to help their owner when experiencing symptoms of PTSD, such as a night terror, and helping veterans to reach their clinical recovery goals.” Mr Chester said.

The DVA Psychiatric Assistance Dog Program began in 2019 to provide assistance to eligible veterans in the treatment and management of PTSD. Through this program contracted providers are able to supply specially trained dogs to perform tasks contributing to a veteran’s recovery.

While service dogs are not a ‘silver bullet’ in the treatment of PTSD and other mental aliments. there is evidence these dogs can help the sufferer achieve greater self sufficiency, reduce levels of anxiety and stress and assist them to cope better with day to day situations.

The body of research into the use of mental health service dogs is growing and DVA is continuing to evaluate the effectiveness of psychiatric assistance dogs in the treatment of PTSD through a partnership with La Trobe University.

Early feedback from veterans who have trialled the dogs has been overwhelmingly positive. While many other countries identify the value of mental health service dogs, Australian veterans are better supported in this area than their counterparts in many countries.

If eligible and accepted for this program, DVA will cover most of the costs through the program including the training and supply of the psychiatric assistance dog.

The United States has been using service dogs since the end of World War I, initially as guide dogs for the blind, however soon expanding into the area of mental health assistance. Although in the US the use of mental health service dogs is widespread, the US Veteran’s Administration does not cover the cost of the dog or for boarding, grooming, food or other routine expense associated with owning the dog however it does cover veterinary expenses.

Integra Service Dogs Australia’s chair, Brigadier Mark Holmes AM MVO (Ret’d), said Integra has a proud history of delivering one of the highest quality assistance dog programs to veterans and first responders in Australia.

“This initiative announced by Minister Chester in 2019 is a great step forward in allowing more veterans to gain access to professional and accredited assistance dog services. We look forward to expanding our service to continue our mission of supporting those who serve,” Brigadier Holmes said.

Future Service Dogs

Yonder, 11 weeks old and 15 pounds, had two choices. In a white-walled room at Duke University, the wiggly Labrador mix faced a neon green squeaky squid toy and an upturned bowl topped with a piece of kibble. “OK!” a researcher said perkily, and the puppy didn’t hesitate — she scurried straight toward the treat. Yonder was bred for an exceptionally difficult job: to become a service dog for a human who needs her — by alerting to a doorbell or pulling a wheelchair while remaining composed and quiet, in crowds or on trails, and never chasing squirrels. Whether she’s capable was being gleaned in this room, with tests aimed at measuring her problem-solving, self-control and communications with people.

That was the hope, at least, for Yonder and her six furry cohorts. Early this year, they were the newest subjects of a $1.6 million study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, to help untangle a question long asked by breeders and trainers and now increasingly scrutinized by scientists: What makes a successful service dog — and can it be predicted in a puppy as young as Yonder?

At stake are a lot of money and a lot of dogs. Our expanding understanding of canines’ unique skills has fueled interest in service dogs among people with disabilities and the military, but it has also spawned scammers and years-long wait-lists. Although large organizations have honed the use of breeding and training to produce calm and obedient dogs, only about 50% make the cut. By that time, nearly two years and as much as $50,000 have been spent on one dog.

That is where another booming field — canine science — is coming in. Over two decades, the study of dog minds, genetics and behavior has given rise to laboratories at universities around the world. And in service dog organizations, with their controlled breeding and noble missions, canine researchers see ideal study populations.

“We’re trying to understand the dog side of the leash and how we get more dogs helping more people,” said Brian Hare, an evolutionary anthropologist who is co-director of the Duke Canine Cognition Center, which is studying puppies bred by the California-based Canine Companions for Independence (CCI).

Some discoveries have already been made. Hare and a colleague found that successful service dogs more often make eye contact with a person when facing an unsolvable task and use inferential reasoning to find a hidden reward. Another study concluded that puppies with “helicopter moms” are more likely to fail as guide dogs, while young dogs that quickly solve a multistep problem are more likely to succeed. A neuroscientist who scanned the brains of service dog candidates found that washouts had higher activity in the area associated with excitability.

Other revelations are farther off, but potentially revolutionary. One canine geneticist is collecting thousands of DNA samples in a bid to pinpoint the genetic markers of star service and working dogs.

“It’s huge, huge,” Brenda Kennedy, CCI’s director of canine health and research, said of the impact the research could have on a donor-funded group like hers, which provides dogs at no cost. “It really comes down to numbers. Every time we increase the percentage of dogs that succeed in our program, the more we’re going to be able to have an impact.”

That is why Yonder and her peers — Arthur, Aurora, Westley, Wisdom, Zindel and Zola — were enrolled in a sort of boarding school for future service dogs on the campus of one of the nation’s elite universities. Duke calls it “puppy kindergarten.”

Pups that make it will become one of the five kinds of service dogs CCI provides, which include hearing dogs and assistance dogs for veterans with PTSD. Washouts might be “released” to another organization for a different job, but often they become pets.

In March, the spread of the novel coronavirus forced Duke to close, and Yonder’s cohorts were sent to live in private homes. But the research has continued with puppies being raised off-campus, and Hare said he expects the kindergarten to resume at the university in 2021.

In normal times, this is how it works: A new group of puppies arrives each semester and bunks, for 12 weeks, in the brick biological sciences building home to the Canine Cognition Center or in dorms with students. During the day, all romp together around a linoleum-floored room that amounts to a puppy daycare, with plush dog beds, soft lighting, birch tree decals on a wall and a white noise machine playing forest sounds. Outdoors is an artificial turf play area, where the sight of tussling puppies regularly stops passersby in their tracks.

The puppies are cared for and cuddled by student volunteers, who were, unsurprisingly, eager to help. (About 600 — one-tenth of the undergraduate student body — responded to a call but were winnowed down to 150 after being required to take a five-hour online course about dog cognition and attending a meeting, Hare said.) The pups face 14 cognitive tests every two weeks from the time they are 8 weeks to 20 weeks old, the most rapid period of brain development. At 16 weeks, Hare said, their brains are the equivalent of a 6-year-old child’s.

Hare has been working with CCI for about a decade, since, he said, he was shocked to learn at a conference that behaviorism — the idea that a person or animal’s behavior can be explained or altered by conditioning — was still canon among dog trainers. He and other canine scientists had known since the 1990s that dogs have different individual cognitive abilities.

Sitting in his office down the hall from the puppy daycare in February, Hare described a test his laboratory gives to gauge a dog’s tendency to rely on its memory or a human’s gesture: A person hides a reward under a box as a dog watches. Then the human points to a second box, and the dog makes its choice.

“There is no right answer. And what you find is some dogs really rely on their memory, and they completely ignore you, and other dogs really listen to you. So it’s not one dog is smarter than the other,” Hare said. When testing service dog candidates, he added: “Our challenge now is even more specific, which is, can we figure out which outcome is best for you, given your cognitive profile?”

Hare said he and other scientists have already found, for a study not yet published, that puppies’ performance on some tests at 10 weeks mirrors how they do at 18 weeks. The Duke project aims to get even greater “resolution” on when these skills develop, Hare said, and how early they predict later success.

Innate skills are not everything. To an unknown degree, environment matters, too, and another side of puppy kindergarten is a socialization experiment. Might an increased social environment in these formative weeks provide a sort of “head start,” as Hare puts it?

Before starting training at 18 months, most service dogs are raised in homes by individual or family “puppy raisers.” The Duke puppies are being raised around one another and a stream of humans. Any student can visit the nursery and cavort with puppies, and 4,000 did so last fall. The puppies visit pediatric patients at Duke University Hospital. Medical students perform exams on the pups, as practice for interacting with nonverbal young children.

“When we see him starting to get frustrated, we can just re-engage him,” Margaret Gruen, an assistant professor at North Carolina State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, said as she held Zindel, a yellow Lab, on an exam table in the Duke cognition lab. Next to Gruen, who is co-directing the research at Duke, medical student Laura Noteware gently felt for Zindel’s lymph nodes.

“Good boy! Good job! Lovely lymph nodes,” Noteware said. Zindel, sitting calmly for the prodding, eagerly gobbled a treat. Service dog providers have long used behavior and temperament tests — to measure fearfulness, say, or aggression — during puppyhood and training. But there has been little large-scale data collection or consistency, researchers say. “There are programs that change their policies with the wind — this year it’s Test A, and this year it’s Test B,” said Evan MacLean, who directs the canine cognition center at the University of Arizona and frequently collaborates with Hare. He said he’s optimistic the wave of research will boost providers’ success rates, but he warned that it will take time. Some providers that breed puppies also use genetics, analyzing pedigrees to estimate the likelihood that a breeding pair will pass along certain traits, such as hip dysplasia or fear of thunder. By collecting this information over three decades, the New York-based Guiding Eyes for the Blind, which provides seeing-eye dogs, has raised its success rate from about 20% of puppies born to nearly 40%, said Jane Russenberger, its senior director for breeding and genetics. (Dogs’ most common reason for failure, she said, is not being able to bounce back into work mode after something alarming occurs.) But each year, about 170 puppies graduate from the program, and about 400 applications for dogs come in, she said. Its wait list is about 150 people long. That is why Guiding Eyes is now working with Elinor Karlsson, a geneticist at the Broad Institute of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard. Karlsson studies the genetics of dog behavior, and she sees working dogs — a group that includes service dogs and those that do jobs like drug detection — as key subjects, because they are mostly selected for behavior, not looks. By sequencing working dogs’ DNA, she hopes to discover patterns that correlate with success. She figures she needs samples from 10,000 dogs to make this work; she has about 1,600.

“If you had a predictive test that would be able to tell you whether a dog is likely to be successful, you could do that as a puppy and decide whether you want to invest the resources,” or even test shelter dogs, Karlsson said.

Russenberger’s bar is lower. Her hope is that Karlsson’s work will help Guiding Eyes hone its selection of breeding dogs, leading to higher graduation rates.

“I’m not out to breed couch potatoes, even though they’re lovely pets. It’s really that we want as many guide dogs as possible,” she said. “Just think of the years of savings by being able to serve more people who are blind and visually impaired.”

Back at Duke’s test room in February, Anya, a 7-month-old giant compared with little Yonder, spilled over the black floor mat. The Labrador-golden retriever mix was a member of the puppy kindergarten’s fall cohort. She then lived off-campus with a puppy raiser, but the lab was still following her progress.

Ahead of her was a transparent tube covered in an opaque sheath, open at both ends, with a treat inside. In this warm-up portion of the test, she was figuring out how to get it. Next, research coordinator Kara Moore removed the sheath, and Anya watched as Moore placed a treat inside.

What Anya did next would be a measure of her inhibitory control, known as an “executive function.” Would she ignore her impulse to go straight for the treat, which she could now see, or use the information she already had and detour to the end of the tube?

Hare and others have done this test on many species. Lemurs, Moore said, “just cannot do it at all,” and bump into the tube repeatedly. Detection dogs Hare and MacLean tested did poorly, perhaps because their search tasks require a go-get-it lack of inhibition, Hare surmised. But successful CCI dogs did well.

Anya chose the detour. She was still many months away from starting service dog training, but on this small measure, she performed like a pro.

Retired Guide Dogs

At the Shanghai Guide Dog School in Pudong New Area, Zhang Wenbo, 30, gently pats Ta Zhang, a 14-year-old guide dog, and takes him for a short walk.

After many years of faithful service, two aging guide dogs who have been waiting four years for warm-hearted owners to take care of them in their twilight years finally have a home.

The life span of Labradors is about 14 to 15 years, affecting the decision of adoption for most.

“I have a very complicated feeling,” Zhang told Shanghai Daily at the school in Lingang area. “I am very excited and happy to adopt Ta Zhang, but I am very frightened when thinking of his approaching departure given his age.”

Fang Yun (female) and Ta Zhang (male) are both 14-year-old Labradors, and both have assisted visually impaired people for almost a decade. Since their retirement, they had been waiting nearly four years for someone to adopt them.

They were among the first batch of guide dogs which started service in Shanghai back in 2008. Some of these dogs remain with their service persons; others have died. Only Fang Yun and Ta Zhang were without homes.

Adoption agreements were signed on Sunday at the school. “It is very different from raising a pet and I struggled psychologically for a long time over the adoption decision because I know I am the person to accompany him to spend the last moment of his life,” said Zhang.

“It will be hard to say goodbye when we have a very deep bond,” he added. Zhang rescues a number of stray dogs.

“Company is the most important thing for Ta Zhang, and he appreciates it when I touch him,” he said. “Other pet dogs and cats have a lot of attention and care, which are taken for granted, but guide dogs like Ta Zhang devote most of their life to humans, and nobody cares for them after they retire. It is a pity.

“I was in tears when I learnt he needed adopting and saw his photos. “I feel very sad because they deserve love and care and they should not be forgotten after loyally fulfilling their duties.” Zhang is starting up his own business in advertising in Ningbo City, neighboring Zhejiang Province. He said he has a flexible schedule. “I will take Ta Zhang to my work place and accompany him 24 hours,” he said. The working studio also has a garden for Ta Zhang.

“As a work dog, Ta Zhang is not as vigorous and active as pet dogs and he tends to be quieter,” he said.

“I will give him care and love in the last period of his life and makes him happy.”

Fang Yun has been adopted by 33-year-old Shanghai resident Alex Liao. It was his second visit to the school.

“When I read the adoption news, it touched my heart,” Liao recalled.

“Fang Yun served people most of her life, now, I want to give her a family and makes her happy and enjoy her final days.”

Liao said he was moved by the life of guide dogs.

“l know she will have many problems as an aging dog and her remaining days are counting down, but I am fully prepared for anything as the adoption decision was not made out of impulse,” he said.

“I will treat Fang Yun like a family member.”

Liao said he would take Fang Yun to work in Baoshan District.

“Our company colleagues love dogs as well and Fang Yun needs company all the time,” he said.

At night, Liao said he will take Fang Yun back home.

“I am a very sensitive person and I think I will cry when she departs, but it will not affect my decision to adopt,” said Liao.

“I am more determined when seeing Fang Yun and I will take good care of her.

“Fang Yun has a very mild temper and she can not walk fast like young dogs due to aging. I will hold her when climbing stairs and take her for a short outings on weekends if her health permits.”

Zhu Jun, a guide dog training teacher at the school, had mixed feelings about the adoptions.

He has cared for the two dogs for two years, nicknaming Ta Zhang “old grandpa Ta Zhang.”

“It is a departure for me and I am sad,” he said. “But I am happy they will have a warm home at the same time. The adopters have a good family environment and a strong sense of responsibility. They will care for Ta Zhang and Fang Yun from the heart, which made me relieved.

“I told them the eating habits and schedules of the duo in detail and we will keep contact with them over the remainder of their lives in their new homes.”

He said the school had received many gifts from warm hearted people for Fang Yun and Ta Zhang, including food, beds and other products.

The owners of Fang Yun and Ta Zhang could not accommodate them after they retired. Their days at the school were mostly spent resting.

Fang Yun served a visually impaired person for eight years until he started moving slower when clambering up stairs and became short of breath when walking. With these health problems, he was taken out of service.

Ta Zhang was also retired due to age and poor health. Most retired guide dogs are either fostered by their service persons, adopted by the families who assist in their training, or return to training centers for adoption, said Zhu.

There are currently 37 guide dogs in service in Shanghai, and there are dogs retiring every year. Guide dogs serve as “eyes” for the blind. About 45 days after birth at training bases, they are placed with families who acclimatize them to domestic life and interaction with humans. When they are 1 year old, they return to training centers, where they receive four to six months of professional training. They need to pass a series of exams before they are allowed to start work. Eight guide dogs are being trained at the school at present.

Autism Companion Dog

In May, Good Dog! Autism Companions expanded services to help more children and families – they are now providing programs for autism and other related disabilities – and they are now doing business as Good Dog! Service Canines.

In an emotional and unique graduation ceremony, four families with special needs children received service dogs trained and placed by Good Dog! Service Canines Friday, Aug. 14. The graduates are the first to don the new name and logo on their service vests.

The celebration was restricted to graduating families and members of the Good Dog! staff due to the social mandate restrictions. Good Dog! was also able to share the event online with friends, families, donors and volunteers via Zoom. The rebrand was the first step in the organization’s plan to serve more of those in need. The plan is to one day have a facility in Fallbrook where team trainings can be held; but primarily be a location where persons with disabilities can help train dogs while learning about the canine/human bond. The graduation was the culmination of a two-year process that starts with Good Dog! identifying pups that have the intelligence, compassion and energy for service work. The pups are trained to respond to over 50 commands, After about 16 months, they are carefully matched with their forever families. In the final week leading up to graduation, a parent from each family is required to attend Good Dog! Team Training Week. The students learn approximately 10 commands per day of team training. The commands lists are taped to the wall after each lesson so they can be viewed by the students. In this graduate class, four mothers were taught everything they need to know to be the dog’s leader and handler. Helping fund this year’s Team Training Week for Good Dog! was the Elizabeth Wilson Endowment of the Legacy Endowment.

Brave Army Dogs

A pair of army dogs, honoured with the army chief’s commendation card on Independence Day for their heroics, found a special mention in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Mann Ki Baat address on Sunday, with the PM hailing them as “bravehearts” who performed their duties diligently to protect the country.

While Vida, a black Labrador, sniffed out landmines and grenades during a de-mining operation in Jammu and Kashmir and prevented army casualties; Sophie, a Cocker Spaniel from a bomb disposal unit, helped avert a tragedy by detecting explosives in Delhi, two army officials said. Their names and unique service numbers will be put up on roll-of-honour boards at their respective units.

Army dogs have contributed to a raft of successful operations during the last one year — they helped recover 30 improvised explosive devices (IEDs), played a key role in tracking and locating five terrorists who were later eliminated and facilitated the recovery of soldiers stuck in avalanches, the officials said.

“Our armed forces and security forces have many such brave dogs, who not only live for the country but also sacrifice themselves for the country. Such canines have played a very important role in thwarting numerous bomb blasts and terrorist conspiracies,” the PM said his in his monthly radio address, referring to the outstanding contribution of dogs to military service alongside soldiers.

Five Labradors were awarded commendation cards on Army Day 2020 for helping soldiers track down terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir and sniffing out deadly explosives in the North-east last year. The army has more than 1,000 dogs trained for a variety of roles such as detecting mines and explosives, tracking, assault, infantry patrol, and search and rescue.

“Army dogs and their handlers perform dangerous tasks but they receive little attention. Many of them have been killed in the combat zone. The PM has thrust them into the limelight by highlighting their contribution in his address,” said a senior army officer, asking not to be named.

Mansi, a Labrador, was posthumously “mentioned in dispatches” (the highest honour that a dog can get in military service in India) four years ago for her role in a counter-infiltration operation in north Kashmir. Her handler, Bashir Ahmed War, was posthumously awarded Sena Medal for gallantry.

The army’s Remount and Veterinary Corps (RVC) pioneered war dog training in India in the late 1950s. “RVC trained dogs are in demand in countries such as Bangladesh, Myanmar and Cambodia. Also, South Africa, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Seychelles are getting their dog handlers trained in India,” the officials said.

In his address, the PM also talked about the gallant actions of Balaram, who detected explosives on the Amarnath Yatra route and Bhavana, who sniffed out an IED many years ago but was killed as terrorists managed to trigger the explosive.

“Two or three years ago in Bijapur, Chattisgarh, a sniffer dog Cracker of the CRPF also attained martyrdom in an IED blast. You might have seen a very moving scene on TV a few days ago in which the Beed Police were giving their canine colleague Rocky a final farewell with all due respect. Rocky had helped the police in solving over 300 cases,” the PM said. The PM said indigenous dog breeds such Mudhol Hound, Himachali Hound, Rajapalayam, Kanni, Chippiparai and Kombai were “fabulous,” cheaper to raise and better adapted to the Indian environment. He said the security forces were increasingly inducting these local breeds. The PM said, “The next time you think of raising a pet dog, consider bringing home one of these Indian breeds. At a time when Atmanirbhar Bharat is becoming a mantra of the people, how can any domain be left untouched by its influence?”

Stolen Service Dog

A Navy veteran says he is beside himself after his service dog in training was stolen earlier in the week.

Brett Hart is asking people in Denver’s Capitol Hill neighborhood to keep an eye out for his dog Millie, a young brindle-colored Boxer with a chipped left front tooth. Hart says he got Millie from a homeless man just weeks ago after finding her in bad physical shape. He says he recently lost his previous service dog, and had already enrolled Millie in classes to become certified.

“I have PTSD and the dog keeps me mellow, keeps me in check. I just feel like I have to be a better person when I’m around the dog,” said Hart.

Hart says late Tuesday night, the man he bought the dog from approached him while he was walking near East 13th Avenue and North Logan Street, and wanted to see the dog. Hart says he offered to walk Millie down to the homeless camp nearby to allow them to see her. He says that’s when several people attacked him and ran off with Millie.

Hart filed a report with the Denver Police Department. He says the past few days without Millie have been difficult.

“It’s been horrible. I look over and there’s an empty food dish and everything else. It just makes me weak,” said Hart.

Hart says Millie also responds to the name “Audi.” He advises anyone who spots her, do not approach the people she’s with. Instead, call police.

Denver police do not have any suspect information to provide at this time.

Police K-9 Mousse

An Iowa Division of Criminal Investigations recruit is making an immediate impact in the fight against cybercrime.

Mousse, a female chocolate Labrador retriever, joined the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force this spring after starting her life as a service dog with the national organization Paws With A Cause, according to a news release from the Iowa Department of Public Safety.

Operation Underground Railroad, a nonprofit organization that assists in the rescue of human trafficking and sex trafficking victims, donated Mousse to the Iowa task force. She’s the state’s first electronic detection K-9 trained for field work at search warrant sites, according to the release, and spends her days sniffing out evidence such as SD cards, thumb drives, external hard drives, tablets and cell phones.

The agency says Mousse and her handler, Special Agent Mike McVey, play a key role in keeping children safe from sexual predators.

“She is an absolute vital tool, probably almost a necessity for every ICAC around the country to have at least one in their unit to use during warrants, especially on a search warrant conducted, and no evidence was found on scene,” said Nate McLaren special agent in charge.

McLaren said youth-related cybertips submitted to the task force have increased more than 1,200% from 2008 to through July 2020.

“Cybercrime tips reached all-time highs of 274 and 284 in the months of March and April, respectively, at a time when school-aged children were idled with the pandemic,” McLaren said in the news release. McLaren also noted that special agents reviewed more than 98,000 gigabytes of evidence alone in March 2020.  Mousse assisted in the execution of six search warrants in June and July that resulted in four arrests and the rescue of three children.

Mousse was introduced to the public on Thursday during an open house in Des Moines and demonstrated some of her skills, which include such a keen sense of smell that she can find electronic devices underwater. During the event, the task force also showed off its mobile digital forensics laboratory, a vehicle specially designed and equipped to provide its agents an on-site setting where they preview electronic evidence.

Canine Companions Saving Lives

Two years later, Pet Blood Bank UK was established in Loughborough with the aim of collecting blood from canines all over the country.

It was founded by a veterinary nurse, Wendy Bennett, who previously worked with Vets Now which runs out of hours and emergency services across the UK, including Scotland.

With Vets Now lending its premises for collection sessions, the charity has grown every year since.

Today, blood is collected at sessions all over the UK with five centres in Scotland – St Clair Vets in Glenrothes; the University of Edinburgh Small Animal Hospital (Dick Vet); the University of Glasgow Small Animal Hospital in Bearsden and Vets4Pets in East Kilbride.

The only stipulations for doggy lifesavers is that they must be aged between one and eight, over 25kg and fit and healthy.

Much like the human service, dog owners kindly bring along their canine companions to give blood.

It is then transported to the processing centre in Loughborough where it is separated into red blood cells and plasma products and stored ready for dispatch.

Larger veterinary practices in Scotland will order and store stock to ensure a ready supply is quickly available to vets across the country who need it in emergencies.

Just like human blood, it does have a shelf life – six weeks for red blood cells and five years for frozen plasma.

So there is a constant need to replenish supplies. And the need has never been greater for Pet Blood Bank donations have not been immune to Covid-19, as Nicole Osborne, the charity’s marketing manager who is based in Dunfermline, explained.

“We had to stop accepting new registrations when lockdown began in March,” she said, “because things were so uncertain.

“Back then we thought it would just be temporary but, as lockdown continued, we made the decision that we needed to start accepting new registrations again. We started in June but it meant more discussion with owners.

“What we need now are dogs who are happy and confident enough to come into sessions on their own.

“Usually, owners would be able to accompany their pets for the sessions. However, as we run them in veterinary practices we have to adhere to their Covid-19 restrictions.

“That means we collect the dog from the owner in the car park and take them into sessions alone. Therefore, we need dogs just now who are confident enough to do that.”

Veteran doggy lifesavers love donating for they know how much attention and treats are lavished on them.

They also get a special “I’m a lifesaver” bandana and have their picture taken for use on social media.

Nicole said: “Returning dogs love coming to sessions because they remember how well they’re treated!

“There’s usually a team of five – a vet, a veterinary nurse and three assistants.

“When dogs first come in, they get a health check from the vet to make sure they are fit and healthy.

“They are then lifted onto a table and lie on their side so we can take the donation from their jugular vein.

“We take about 450ml of blood each time, which takes about five to ten minutes during which they get lots of praise and tummy rubs.

“Once they’ve donated, they get a bowl of water and a lot of treats, as well as a goody bag with toys and treats for them to take home.

“Dogs who have donated lots of times even know what pocket we keep the treats in!

“We then take a photo of them in their lifesaver bandana to share on our Facebook page.”

Dogs will be invited to give blood between one and six times a year, depending on their blood type.

At the moment, the Pet Blood Bank needs both positive and negative donors.

Nicole added: “We hold three to four sessions every month in Scotland but owners need to register on our website or call to book in.

“We’ve not seen a huge drop off in Scotland but we need donors of both blood types to stock up the bank.

“We’re getting almost as many registrations as normal now but we’d love to welcome new lifesavers.”

In 2019, more than 3000 units of blood were collected and more than 5000 products sent out to vets across the UK.

Like human counterparts, dogs have specific blood groups – positive and negative.

Seventy per cent of dogs are positive blood types but it is, in fact, the negative blood that can be used for any animal.

So while Pet Blood Bank is keen for donations from both, it is particularly keen to recruit more negative donors.

Happily, the team have been able to identify breeds which are more likely to have negative blood.

And they are appealing for owners to consider their pet as a lifesaver.

The breeds are Airedale Terriers, American Bulldogs, Border Collies, Boxers, Dobermans, Dogue de Bordeaux, English Bull Terriers, Flat Coated Retrievers, German Shepherds, Greyhounds, Lurchers, Old English Sheepdogs, Pointers and Weimaraners.

A Fife dog, Izzy, retains the record as Scotland’s highest donating dog – despite retiring a few years ago.

A German Shepherd, she is also the highest donating negative blood type donor. She donated 29 times before retiring.

Nicole said: “Izzy was an incredible donor and we’d love to recruit more dogs just like her, who might even be able to top her record!”

The most common reason for dogs needing blood is Immune Mediated Haemolytic Anaemia (IMHA), a condition where the body attacks its own red blood cells.

A red blood cell transfusion is used to treat it. Trauma is another factor.

Nicole added: “Before Pet Blood Bank, vets had to find a donor while the animal waited for treatment. Now they have access to blood, day and night.” Since 2007, more than 11,000 dogs have registered but many have now retired. There are 4000 active donors today.

Ruger The Rescue Dog

Ruger is an all-American dog with a billboard to prove it.

The 5-year-old Belgian Malinois-pitbull mix from Bentonville is trained in search and rescue, specializing in finding missing pets. Recently, she was selected as one of 10 winners among about 16,000 applicants in the Early Times All-American Dogs social media campaign.

Early Times Kentucky Whiskey has honored Ruger and nine other “All-American” dogs from around the country with a photoshoot, a billboard and a whiskey barrel doghouse. Ruger’s billboard is in Stephens City near U.S. 11 and Va. 37.

“I was super surprised,” said Ruger’s owner, Lisa Jones, who submitted Ruger’s information in March.

Considering the thousands of submissions, she said, “I was just blown away.”

Jones, who operates the business Full Tilt Tracking LLC, got into search and rescue after she hired Dogs Finding Dogs out of Baltimore to track down her son’s missing dog in Front Royal.

“We didn’t eat, we didn’t sleep. We looked for that dog around the clock,” she recalled.

Afterward, she realized that she wanted to help others find their missing pets, too.

“That was a job I could really wrap my heart around,” said Jones.

Ruger finds lost animals by sniffing their scent from a household item. She narrows down the area where the pet is hiding, and Jones might then either set out a trap for the animal or lure it using its owner’s scent.

“People want to be found, but animals don’t,” she said. “You’re trying to trigger that recognition in them.”

In one of her favorite memories, Ruger helped find a lost dog named Willie in the George Washington National Forest. She located the area where Willie was hiding, and his owners walked the trail before Jones directed them to return to their car and leave all the doors open — “so that their scent would blow out into the night.” This left Willie “a scent trail to follow,” she said, and a few minutes later, he came bounding down the trail to the car. “It’s a rewarding job, I love it,” said Jones.

The 2021 calendar is Early Times’ second All-American Dogs calendar, said Robert Trinkle, partner and senior vice president at PriceWeber.

“We have a great team that goes through all of the entries,” he said in a Tuesday phone call. “Really, what we’re looking for is dogs that are All-Americans.”

What that indicates, he said, is a dog that exemplifies the core values that have kept the Early Times brand alive since 1860 — hard word and dependability.

Other dogs featured in the calendar hail from Kentucky, Alabama, Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee, Maryland, Ohio, Indiana and Nevada. They’re military dogs, rescue dogs, therapy dogs and companion dogs who help others, spread joy or simply have an inspiring “All-American” redemption story.

The idea for the yearly calendar grew from a partnership the company has with K9s for Warriors, a nonprofit that trains service dogs for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury, and other trauma resulting from post-9/11 military service, an Aug. 17 company release states. “To date, Early Times has donated $200,000 to K9s For Warriors,” the release states.

Canine Companions

It’s a dog’s life for Megan Koester. The mother of twin sons owns a pet but she also works with them.

Koester has worked for six years as Canine Companions For Independence (CCI) north central region executive director. She said she has witnessed a lot of growth in the region, which spans 14 states and includes Western Pennsylvania.

“It is so amazing to see how quickly dogs and people bond together,” Koester said. “To watch the work they do is magnificent.

“It’s magical,” she added, “to see individuals for the first time feeling comfortable.”

Koester said the goal is for people to be able to go out in the community by themselves without a caregiver or to watch a community interact more frequently with somebody with a disability.

“It’s incredible to see how many different ways these dogs help adults, children or vets do what they want to daily but independently and at the same time be in a place where they can comfortably interact with the community,” she said.

Animals lovers and others can see for themselves when the organization conducts its annual DogFest from 12 to 1 p.m. Sept. 13.

According to Koester, the national event brings awareness to what CCI does.

It also helps share the group’s mission and raise important funds while engaging local communities in activities with their families and dogs.

“We want this to be an event that everyone can participate in,” Koester said. “We are encouraging folks to engage with their pets and also spending time to show why CCI dogs are so different and the tasks and the skills that they provide to children and adults and veterans with disabilities.”

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s event will be held virtually.

“We want to keep people safe,” Koester said. “This was the best way to get information out and the best way we knew how to share with others and keep everyone safe because some of our populations fall into the high-risk category.”

Dogfest is the major fundraiser for CCI. The nonprofit owns the dog from birth through its entire time working with its client. The value of the entire partnership is $50,000 per dog.

This year’s fundraising goal is $255,000.

“The organization was founded on the fact that we wanted to help with individuals with disabilities to make this tool and relationship as easy as can,” Koester said. “So part of that was taking away that financial burden that can be placed on something. So it is important to us to place this dogs free of charge.”

During DogFest, participants can chat and ask questions. CCI will provide resources for them to learn more about what the group does.

There will be contests, prize incentives and tools provided to share emails or post pictures of people and their pets on social-media platforms.

“We want to keep it fun and an enjoyable event,” Koester said.

“You don’t even need a pet to participate.”

That’s one big advantage of the event being virtual this year. Anyone can participate and it doesn’t matter where they live.

“That’s a huge benefit,” Koester said. “In a small amount of time, people can get a taste of what we do and see how they may want to engage with us. It’s easy to do from home and doesn’t take much time.”

Working Service Dogs

More videos have surfaced of people being inconsiderate and discourteous towards not only the owner of service animals, but the dog as well. Someone might be distracting the dog by cooing at it or asking if they can pet the dog. In some cases, parents, who should know better, do not tell their children to leave the dog alone. This type of event happens more often than not and oftentimes it is simply because the people around the dog do not know how to behave around them. They might also simultaneously not understand what the dog is meant to be doing. Understandably, most people see a dog and think “Puppy!” However, this “puppy” is actually doing their job, just like any other human.

There are many different kinds of service dogs that help so many people with a variety of different mental and physical disabilities. The task that a dog is trained for is what constitutes a service dog, as they are specifically trained to perform a task for someone with a disability. There are Guide or Seeing dogs, Hearing or Signal dogs, Psychiatric dogs, Sensory or Social Signal dogs and Seizure Response dogs. All of these dogs are labeled as service dogs and are allowed in public and social spaces where animals might not usually be allowed. Emotional support dogs are more meant to comfort and support their humans, and do not fall under the same rules and regulations as service dogs. An important distinction between an emotional support dog and a service dog is the training that the two undergo. Emotional support dogs are also simply called support dogs, as they are there for their humans more as comfort than to perform a specific task. However, both types of dog are trained to assist their humans and should not be distracted from their primary job.

What could happen if someone distracts a service dog? It depends on the disability that the dog is trained for. Distracting a Guide or Hearing dog can be especially dangerous in that their human has one less sense than the people around them. Their daily lives have been affected by their disability and their service dog might be the only thing that helps them get around. Some of the most dangerous places to distract a service dog are crosswalks and sidewalks. A service dog can get distracted anywhere and that can lead their human to getting injured.

If you can’t pet or acknowledge them, what do you do when you see a service dog? You leave them alone. They’re working after all, and their primary job is to keep their human safe. Guide dogs are their humans eyes, Hearing dogs are their humans ears and if they are distracted from that job, their human can get hurt very easily. You can admire the dog from a safe distance and quietly say to yourself or your friends that the dog is doing a very good job. It isn’t recommended to speak to the human about their dog either, but that is a case-by-case situation Some humans of service dogs love to talk and boast about them, and others like to be left alone unless they ask for help. The overarching thing to know about service dogs is they are not there for other people, they are there for their human and to keep them safe.

How do you even spot a service dog in the first place? Luckily, a service dog is usually found wearing a black and vibrant red vest, although they can be found in different colors like purple and blue. The different colors indicate different types of service dogs, but the most common vests are black and red. There are two standard patches on the vest, one on each side of the dog, that states that they are a service dog and they are written in big bold white letters. Some owners will put a variety of patches on the vest of their dog to express their disability as well as let people know that they should not distract their service dog. Some of these patches might explicitly say not to pet or acknowledge the dog. Some may say that the dog is working. Some may have a picture of the caduceus sign, which is often seen on ambulances and EMT uniforms. These are easy to see signs that inform an outsider not to pet, interact with or make eye contact with a service dog as those actions can distract the dog from their job.  Service dogs can be young or old, fluffy or skinny, friendly or shy, and can be any breed. They might be super tempting to pet and fawn over but at the end of the day, that dog is an extension of their human. They are doing their best to keep their human safe and they’ve trained long and hard to do so. The best thing that outsiders and bystanders can do is let the dog do their job and educate those in the area that the dog should not be distracted. You can be rest assured that the dog is being cuddled and fed well at home, wherever that may be.

LeeLee The Service Dog

A fresh and fluffy face will greet students at Stephens Elementary School this year and provide an added layer of comfort to improve the children’s daily lives.

LeeLee the facility service dog is trained to sense anxiety, concern and behavior changes to ease the minds of students and teachers.

“She can help with social and emotional issues or just bring good vibes,” director of elementary schools Ellen Martin said. “She is precious and we’ve been wanting a service dog in the school system for several years.”

Teachers submitted applications to be the chosen handler and Stephens science, technology, engineering and math teacher Leanne Waldrop qualified to train with LeeLee the labradoodle for a week in Hope Hull. Waldrop and LeeLee stayed in a hotel for a week to practice basic commands and spent time training with Service Dog of Alabama in a school to get familiar with hallways and classrooms.

LeeLee has been training for this work since she was born so the week in Hope Hull was mainly for Waldrop and to establish that bond between her and the dog.

“The week of training was the week before spring break,” Martin said. “So on our way down on Friday for (training) graduation is when we got the announcement that the governor shut down schools.”

Therefore, LeeLee has not actually met any students yet, except for Waldrop’s three children, ages 4 and 6. LeeLee will live with Waldrop and get to be a family dog while at home. Waldrop will be her guardian until the current 3-year-old pup retires. Most service dogs retire after six to eight years.

“It’s going to be really interesting when school starts back to see what the kids have to say and how they react,” Martin said.

Martin submitted a request letter in the fall and sent in the application to Service Dogs of Alabama shortly after.

“The application was detailed and we had to describe the people we serve and how the service dog will improve their outcome,” Martin said. “One of the main reasons I think we were selected was based on our need for a service dog.”

The service dogs are trained to keep students calm, serve as a deterrent for bad behavior, act as a therapist for children not comfortable talking directly to an adult and many other situational responses.

“I’m excited for all the positive benefits our students will have with her,” Waldrop said. “She will be shared with the counselors and is trained to sense stress issues and go to children who need it.”

Alex City Schools paid $6,000 for LeeLee and is responsible for all vet costs, regular medication and crates for both Waldrop’s classroom and at her home. LeeLee wears a service dog vest and an Alexander City Schools employee tag as she is considered part of the staff.

“I am excited for the opportunity to provide the students a service dog,” Stephens principal Ivy Pike said. “We don’t know what they’ve experienced for the five months they’ve been out of school so this will add another emotional layer of support.”

Waldrop will be transitioning to all classrooms at Stephens throughout the day, so all the children will be introduced to LeeLee. 

“It also teaches children responsibility,” Waldrop said. “They can walk LeeLee, with supervision, and there will be rules and guidelines for students to follow during the school day when it comes to her.”

Students will get to greet LeeLee each morning as they enter school to start everyone off on an enthusiastic note. A letter will be sent home to parents of Stephens’ students before school starts to let them know LeeLee will be a part of their daily routines.

During the first three years, Waldrop and LeeLee have to attend Service Dogs of Alabama trainings twice a year and once a year after that.

“It’s a big deal and a very great responsibility to be a handler,” Martin said.

Alex City natives Ann Goree and Carol Lee were two driving forces behind Alex City receiving a service dog. Lee is on the Service Dogs of Alabama board and the two made it their mission to make this dream become a reality. They also hosted a fundraiser last fall that helped with the funding.

Martin hopes to get service dogs for Jim Pearson and Radney elementary schools in the near future as well.

“Anyone wanting to donate to that cause can do so with the Alexander City Schools Education Foundation,” Martin said.

Service Dog Attacked

Paul Rocha and his service dog, Comet, are best friends and have been inseparable since Rocha received him almost 13 years ago to be his service dog and help him get through his day to day.

The routine is much the same every day for the two best friends who live in Temple in a small one bedroom apartment, but last Friday was anything but routine following a vicious attack, unprovoked and one that Paul didn’t see coming.

“I noticed in the parking lot area there was a running truck,” he told me Thursday afternoon, Comet sleeping close by on the couch. “I didn’t think anyone was in it.”

Rocha said he was taking Comet out for a walk and to use the bathroom, it wasn’t too hot yet, so he decided to keep Comet outside a little longer and allowed him to sniff around and take his time.

“There was a car, a space and a truck,” he told me, remembering the scene as he began to take Comet back inside the cool apartment. “I remember there being a lot of barking and these dogs, with their paws, hit the button and lowered the window and jumped out.”

Rocha said he tried to pull Comet away but his collar broke off and as he tried to get it back on him, both dogs attacked.

“They were circling around like wolves,” he said. “The pitbull mix just started biting Comet and I did everything I could to save him.”

Paul said he struck the pitbull three times in the skull, whacking the dog as hard as he could in an emotional rage he could only compare to wartime in Desert Storm.

“He’s saved my life many times, I have PTSD and I’m a diabetic,” he explained, choking on his words. “Excuse me, I’m sorry, I get emotional.”

Paul said the very thought of losing his best friend is unbearable and he’s angry at the man responsible who gathered his dogs and ran away. A man of God, Paul knows that the young man was probably scared and said he couldn’t be more than 20-something years old.

Comet was left with multiple puncture wounds that, he said, were not stitched up but will heal on their own. The unexpected vet bill was $210 and while he said money isn’t what he’s after from the man responsible, an apology is.

Rocha said he believes someone in the apartment community he lives in is protecting him and he’s asking around every change he can get. He remembers the truck he drives and knows what he looks like. At the same time he’s angry, Rocha said he can and will find room in his heart to forgive the man responsible but not without an apology. “Be a man and come tell me you’re sorry,” he said. “Don’t be a coward and just run away.”

Until then, and even if that day never comes, he is focused now on making sure Comet heals physically from his injuries. He admits the mental anguish for his best friend won’t probably go away for a long time.

“Wounds will heal, it’s the emotional part of being attacked. But we’ll do okay, we’ll get through it.

Missing Service Dog

Sargent JR Luis is a Marine veteran from New Jersey who is missing his service dog in training, Apollo. JR believes his puppy Apollo, training to be his service dog, was stolen from Ideal Beach in Middletown on August 9. He lives an hour away from where the puppy was taken and has been traveling one hour to sleep in his car, trying to find his dog in the shore area. JR has been all over the news begging for the safe return of his precious Apollo. Apollo. There is a $2500 reward for the three month old Belgian Malinois. He is much more than a pet and his loss has been devastating for Sgt. Luis. See the missing poster here.

If you’ve ever lost a treasured pet, you know what pain and anguish it can cause. It’s been over two and a half weeks and his search is getting desperate. If you notice someone with a new Belgian malinois puppy that suddenly appeared two weeks ago, contact the police. The dog is pictured here in the flyer. They’re beautiful dogs that resemble a German Shephard. For those of you that live in Monmouth County, please keep an eye out. For the rest of us around the state, we can be on the look out as well. If it’s the reward money you’re after, that’s fine, but the good that you will do by helping in the return of this service animal to a brave Marine veteran is far more valuable. Let’s hope we can reunite Apollo and Sgt. Luis by the end of the week!


Tallulah And Khari

This update on Tallulah is long overdue. It was delayed, like so many things, by the pandemic. Tallulah is the golden doodle service dog that was raised by the WBRC newsroom as a puppy. Through Service Dogs of Alabama, she was matched with 17-year-old Khari McCrary, who suffers from severe seizures. Tallulah is trained as a seizure alert dog and has been a great help to Khari over the past year.

In the first week of March, I visited Gardendale High School to see how Khari and Tallulah were doing in the classroom. Exceptional Education Teacher, James Storie, explained that fellow students had become accustomed to their four-legged classmate. He says they realize Tallulah is, “Just part of Khari. They understand the dog is there to help Khari; not a classroom pet.”

Within two weeks of my visit, the school was shut down due to the pandemic. Months later, Khari and her family were surprised to learn the Gardendale High School yearbook had been dedicated to Tallulah. She touched the hearts of everyone at school, but she is a game changer for Khari. Khari’s condition had improved greatly over the past year as Tallulah sensed her seizures coming on and could calm her, sometimes even stop seizures from happening. If the two were ever separated, Khari would become anxious and miss having her best friend by her side.

However, much of that progress has disappeared as Khari has been isolated during the pandemic to protect her from COVID-19. She’s missing friends and the classroom experience. Khari’s mom, Moniqueca Barfield says, “I think she’s just losing a lot of her motor skills. Now it’s all just wheelchair. So it’s difficult physically and mentally for her and myself. So, it’s just hard.”

Tallulah is a bright spot for them, as she is still by Khari’s side alerting everyone to oncoming seizures and easing some of the stress brought on by the pandemic. Barfield says, “We are so thankful to have Tallullah because Khari still has a friend.”

Khari can count on all of us here at WBRC as friends, too. We wish Khari and Tallulah the best as we all work through the pandemic together.