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Chaise Gets A Service Dog

An “outpouring of love from our community” has resulted in a Shelocta family’s success in quickly raising $18,000 for a trained autism support dog for their son.

The story of the Clouser family — parents Ashley and Justin and sons Chaise, 6, and Conner, who turns 2 in October — was featured in the Sept. 13 edition of the Gazette, where they described their journey to fundraise for a dog from 4 Paws For Ability, a nonprofit organization that provides service dogs.

The dog would assist Chaise, who has a diagnosis of autism and ADHD, as the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the behaviors associated with his condition and turned his world upside down, they said.

The Clousers thought the fundraising journey would be a long one.

According to 4 Paws For Ability, an autism assistance dog costs $40,000 to $60,000 to train. Because the organization is nonprofit, the cost to the family is about $17,000.

But an unexpected donation, coupled with a few fundraisers and community support, ended their fundraising journey in just a few weeks.

“My initial thought was that we would be planning fundraisers and events for at least six months up to a year to raise money for Chaise’s service dog,” Justin said.

“It has always been evident that we live in a very uplifting community, but never in my wildest dreams did I envision the fundraising process to last less than three weeks,” Ashley said.

Donations came from family, friends and “even strangers that took the time to donate and share our story on social media. That allowed for more awareness and ultimately us meeting our goal rather quickly,” Ashley said.

There were more than 110 donors for the effort.

Jeff Duffner and wife Angela, of Horizon Stables in Apollo where Chaise receives horses therapy, “worked tirelessly with Debbie Schultz at Schultz’s Sportsman Stop in Apollo to help organize three gun raffles that has helped us raise over $2,500,” Justin said.

A Facebook fundraising page listed $5,470 in donations as it closed.

Then, on Sept. 16, there was a phone call from someone interested in the status of the fundraisers and how much had been raised.

“Thinking that this person was just trying to figure out a fundraiser that would suit their needs, I provided all the information requested,” Ashley said. “This amazing couple then asked how much we still needed to raise. I explained a rough estimate and they indicated they needed a final amount as they were writing a check for the rest so we could focus on raising our boys rather than raising money.

“I honestly was like, ‘Wait, what?’ And as they continued to explain to me that this is happening, Chaise is getting his dog, I couldn’t help but fall to the floor in my kitchen and begin crying. This amazing couple just gave my son the lifeline we have been waiting for, and we feel so blessed.”

The Clousers said the donors wish to remain anonymous.

Once the pandemic has eased, the family plans to meet the couple and introduce them to Chaise and Conner.

“I explained that they are now considered part of our family and we are looking forward to getting to know them,” Ashley said.

Now that the money has been raised, Chaise can be added to a waiting list for his dog, as the canines are bred and trained on demand once fundraisers are complete. The waiting period is estimated at two years, they said.

After that, the family will attend a two-week training on handling the dog.

Prior to the pandemic, Chaise’s behavior was manageable, but the disruptions from the pandemic amplified incidents of biting, hitting and kicking to the point where Chaise was hospitalized at UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital for the safety of himself and his family.

“We are confident that this new chapter in Chaise’s life will provide him with the coping skills to live his best life and honestly that’s all we want for him,” Ashley said.

Ashley said their family had reservations about asking others for help.

“We kind of felt guilty starting this journey, but with God’s guidance we have realized that this was not something we could handle on our own and set our pride aside to accept the generosity of our community in assisting Chaise,” Ashley said. “This couple and all our donors really have been amazing angels sent from God to help our son.”

Seizure Alert Dog

One girl’s journey to get a service dog ends on a happy note. Addi Lewis, 7, lives with epilepsy. As we reported in November 2019, the Tri-Cities community rallied behind her with fundraising efforts. It costs $20,000 to get a medical alert dog. Generous community donations of roughly $10,000, a $2,500 grant and a $15,000 scholarship from Eyes, Ears, Nose and Paws got Addi past her goal. This week, she finally matched with her new companion, Bear. The original plan was to name it Tinkerbell, but that quickly changed after seeing how large and cuddly Addi’s match truly is.

Addi’s family is beyond grateful for the incredible show of support, like from the Bristol, Tennessee and Haynesfield Elementary School communities.

“Our village, before we even asked for one, came to us. And we can never we can never repay them for it,” said Beth Lewis, Addi’s mom.

Bear is trained to alert the family or those around Addi before she has a seizure. This measure is potentially lifesaving, especially with Addi’s condition.

“There are so many risks with seizure patients, any type of epilepsy, falling and of doing more damage than what the actual seizure did to them,” said Beth.

This summer, the Lewis family moved from Bristol, Tennessee to Navarre, Florida. A community there also helped fundraise.

Addi is still training with Bear at the Eyes Ears Nose and Paws training center in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. She will get to take Bear home early next month.

Four-Legged Friends On Campus

A yellow English Labrador is among the newest members of the Loras College campus community this fall.

Toksi, a service dog in training, goes to class with sophomore Ciera Hansen to help her classmates adjust to seeing service animals at the school. That will come in handy as students start to take on an active role in training service dogs on campus.

“A lot of people think that it’s just a pet, (that) you can go up to her and talk to her, pet her,” Hansen said. “Seeing the vest, I think it starts to click with them (that) this isn’t a regular dog.”

Hansen is the president and founder of DuDawgs, a Loras club through which students raise and train service dogs and spread awareness of the roles the animals play.

Eventually, students will start training dogs on behalf of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, nonprofit Deafinitely Dogs! Their efforts will help the nonprofit serve more people, while helping community members understand the impact that service dogs can have, said Sherry Steine Ross, a co-founder of the organization.

“It’s just an amazing service that (students) can offer to the community,” she said.

Hansen started raising and training service dogs with her mother when Hansen was in high school. During Hansen’s freshman year at Loras, she established DuDawgs to continue her efforts.

This year, students in the group are raising funds to support their efforts to bring dogs to campus. They also are talking to the Loras community about how to act appropriately around service dogs.

Hansen worked with Deafinitely Dogs! to host Toksi at Loras so people can get used to having a service animal on campus. Toksi’s presence also serves to help the wider Dubuque community learn more about service animals, Hansen said.

“A lot of people just love seeing her,” she said. “I’ll walk in a class, and I’ll just see everyone brighten up.”

DuDawgs members plan to bring three or four dogs to campus next year. Each dog will have a student as a head trainer, and other members of the group will help with the process.

Deafinitely Dogs! will provide the students with puppies to live with on campus and will visit with students to give training classes and provide instruction so students have the skills to work with the dogs, Ross said. The animals eventually will be placed as post-traumatic stress disorder dogs, hearing dogs or professional facility dogs.

“It takes two years, but beginning to end, (students) will be part of the process, from the potty training to the placement,” Ross said.

College campuses can serve as valuable training grounds for service dogs because the animals are exposed to diverse environments with people from different cultures and with different abilities.

“They have to be exposed to as many things as possible because it’s all new to them if they haven’t seen it,” Ross said.

The students’ efforts allow Deafinitely Dogs! to train more service animals and, in turn, place them with more people, she said.

While they are raising dogs, DuDawgs members also will assist with efforts such as marketing, fundraising and outreach, said Jake Kurczek, an assistant professor of neuroscience and psychology who serves as DuDawgs’ adviser.

Those efforts, in turn, allow students to significantly impact the life of whoever eventually receives the dogs, Kurczek said.

“I think it’s a good highlight for showing students who are dedicated to taking their learning in the classroom and applying it in the community,” he said.

PTSD Service Dogs

esearch has shown that support dogs can speed up recovery from PTSD. Yet the cost of purchasing a service animal can be out of reach for many veterans. KMOX News discovered one local group that provides support dogs at no charge.

Nicole Lanahan sits on a chair and pretends to sob. “Recon,” a German Shepherd rescue demonstrates one of the techniques used to help alert and calm someone suffering from PTSD. He climbs on her lap and nudges her face.

Lanahan is founder and executive director of Got Your Six Support Dogs – military jargon for “got your back.” A professional dog trainer for nearly 20 years, she started getting calls from veterans desperate for help, but unable to afford a fully-trained animal. It was one phone call in particular that moved her. “And they just started crying on the phone and they told me, ‘look I can’t afford $20,000, I can’t leave my house, I can’t do anything, my life is this shadow of what it was’ and they just started sobbing and they’re like, ‘I just don’t understand why you can’t help me!'” Lanahan says.

“All of our dogs are in training for over 300 hours. 50 of those are public access,” Lanahan says. “They have specialty training. They are trained to alert to anxiety, interrupt nightmares, retrieve items, remind the recipient when it’s time to take medication.”

We met at the group’s training facility in Maryville, Illinois — a room ringed with chairs, dogbeds, medical equipment, even a platform with rows of airline seats that were donated by Southwest Airlines.

“I think what never fails to stun me or surprise me is how the dogs know, almost instantly, that this person is now their person,” Lanahan says.

The main requirement for veterans or first responders who apply for a dog – they must be willing to continue therapy. The goal is that the animal will ultimmately assist them in recovery nand someday retire to just be their pet.

“We hope that this will be the last service dog you ever need,” says Lanahan.

Paws Of War

War is hell. And puppies are swell.

Take one-year-old Harley, who became best friend to a team of U.S. servicemen during their recent stint inside a Middle East combat zone. When Amjad Kerrish and his fellow Air National Guard fighters were shipping out, they were too enamored of Harley to leave the dog behind. But a paperwork snafu left Harley in limbo, with the lovable rescue pooch now stuck at John F. Kennedy International Airport awaiting imminent deportation and likely euthanasia if returned to the Middle East. “It breaks my heart, it really does,” said Kirrish, a California firefighter who was battling the state’s raging wildfires when he received word of the snag. “I thought the hardest part of this was over.”

Harley was brought to the United States from Jordan by Paws of War, a Long Island-based organization that matches rescue dogs with American veterans experiencing the emotional effects of war.

For Kirrish, Harley was the source of endless smiles no matter the horrors of life in a war zone — and he vowed the dog would accompany him home when his tour ended this past spring.

“Seeing Harley was the one thing everyone could look forward to at the end of the day,” recalled Kirrish, 30. “All she wanted was love. Love and treats, of course … I knew we couldn’t leave her behind. We had to bring her back home.”

The mission of mercy to get Harley to safety in the U.S. appeared to reach the home stretch last week after Paws of War arranged for the pooch to be flown on a rare repatriation flight. But a paperwork snafu left Harley in limbo. The lovable rescue pooch is now stuck at JFK, still under a federal deportation order and likely euthanized if returned to the Middle East.

Hoping to tilt the odds toward Kirrish and Harley are all five members of Long Island’s congressional delegation. The quintet signed a rare bipartisan appeal to the Centers for Disease Control asking for a reconsideration of the deportation order and granting an exception for Harley to head west.

They have yet to hear back, and the CDC did not immediately comment.

Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.) of the Veterans Affairs Committee sang the praises of Paws of War and its mission of linking up veterans with emotional support animals.

The pets can help veterans readjust to civilian life stateside and prevent trauma from combat, she said. They also can help maintain bonds between service members who become scattered across the country after being together virtually 24/7 for weeks or months while on duty.

Kirrish said his fellow service members had planned to link up for reunions if Harley wins her life-and-death battle.

“It goes without saying that if any of them come to southern California, they’re going to come by to see Harley,” Kirrish said. “She kind of became a dog for all of us.”

Members of his unit first spotted Harley while on patrol last winter. She was easy to notice: Harley was the only puppy from her litter to survive in the harsh battle zone of an undisclosed nation.

The puppy was soon sharing a cot with Kirrish inside his tent. As the unit bonded with Harley, the dog provided a welcome diversion from fears about COVID-19 and their loved ones back in the states.

Kirrish recalled talking to his wife regularly about the pooch’s latest antics to avoid the rising coronavirus toll or her worries about the economic collapse.

“My wife grew to love her as much as I did,” he said, choking with emotion. “It is just heart-wrenching to know that this is happening.”

Service Dogs

September is National Service Dog Month and this week a veteran from Central Texas began training with his own new helper.

Rhea Hambright and Beatrice are spending the week training at Service Dogs Incorporated in Dripping Springs.

Hambright is a Marine and was injured during the Vietnam War. He and his new service dog are getting to know each other after meeting for the first time on Monday.

Living alone on a farm in Fayetteville, Hambright says Beatrice will not only be a great companion but she’ll also be able to help him around the house by doing things like retrieving dropped objects, opening closed doors, and even helping him with his jacket.

“The way she looks at me. It’s just – to have an animal look you straight in the eye and concentrate there – it’s unbelievable. It’s a great feeling,” Hambright says.

“This is going to turn my whole life around. Everything I do – is going to be for that dog now. Not only is that dog helping me – I hope I’m helping that dog,” Hambright adds.

After 13 weeks of in home training, Hambright and Beatrice will be on their own. The cost of training a service dog is about $50,000 but there’s no charge for the dogs.

Service Dog Awareness Month

September is Service Dog Awareness Month, a time when we honor the contributions and loyalty of some amazing animals that serve our nation’s military heroes.

Bobby Bones, Radio and TV personality, joined us today to share about how he’s teaming up with Purina Dog Chow for their third annual service dog salute campaign.

For many U.S. military veterans with PTSD, service dogs are providing remarkable life-changing benefits that no other therapy can. That’s why Purina Dog Chow and our Service Dog Salute program are committed to supporting the care and training of more service dogs for veterans — so that every military hero in need can find a canine hero of their own.

Bones is a military advocate who hosts a top nationally syndicated country music radio show. He is also New York times best-selling author, a mentor on American Idol, he recently won an ACM Award for national on-air personality of the year and he’s working on a new show on national geographic.

Trainers With Guide Dogs

The coronavirus has no boundaries and has the potential to sideline the guide dog business that transforms the lives of those visually impaired and blind.

When the virus spread uncontrollably across the country in March, Sylmar-based Guide Dogs of America carefully moved forward with a plan to secure its future against the possibility of shutting down leaving a void of available service dogs.

“If we were to shut down, we’d see the effect of that in two years when there wouldn’t be enough of-age, highly trained guide dogs for people who are blind or visually impaired,” said Puppy Program Coordinator Stephanie Colman. “There wouldn’t be any breeding, no training.”

When the pandemic first brought the state to its knees and stay-at-home orders were enacted, Guide Dogs of America had a nursery full of puppies and several dogs due to give birth. It was impossible to shut down.

“We made changes to the campus environment to enact physical distancing and put several health and safety measures in place,” Colman said. “We also quickly figured out how to pivot from in-person puppy training classes where our volunteer puppy raisers learn how to teach the pups in their care the skills they’re expected to learn in puppyhood to Zoom-based learning. We also turned out puppy pick-up process into a curbside drive-thru affair, passing puppies through car windows like Happy Meals.”

A majority of the guide dogs are Labradors followed by a Labrador/golden retriever mix breed and German shepherds.

Labradors are mainly used because they are adaptable. They have a willingness to work for food and are flexible given the variety of people they live with over the years.

“They love the one they are with, so they handle that transition very well,” Colman said.

It takes about two years and $60,000, at no cost to the blind person, to raise and train the dogs and their future owners. The organization is primarily funded by International Association of Machinists local across the country.

When a dog is about eight weeks old it is given to a puppy raiser.

Raisers teach them to be obedient in a variety of environments and follow commands.

“And most importantly, they are going to get that dog out into the world and incorporate the dog into every facet of their life so the dog learns to be civilized, calm and competent in all the different possible settings it might find itself in later once it is a guide dog with a world view,” Colman said.

Puppy raisers keep the dogs for a little more than a year before they return to Sylmar for an additional four to six months of training with professionals who teach them highly complex guide dog skills.

During months of coronavirus restrictions, the organization is experiencing an uptick in puppy raisers, but there are still chances for anyone interested in pursuing the job. A call for volunteers to raise puppies is in full force during September, national guide dog month.

The coronavirus outbreak has also presented challenges for puppy raisers as well as those who eventually receive a dog. Raisers haven’t been able to get the dogs out as much.

Those outdoor training sessions are an important part of the puppies’ socialization and exposes them to many situations they may encounter later in life as working guide dogs.

Dogs are matched with their partners throughout the United States and Canada.

Before COVID-19, qualified clients stayed at the 7.5-acre Sylmar campus to learn about how to team up with their dogs during a three-week, in-residence program. Those vitally important classes have been canceled.

And while post-coronavirus days can translate into more isolation for the dogs and their owners, one skill harnessed guide dogs don’t learn is how to keep socially distanced while working outside in their communities.

The ability to judge 6 feet for the dog is impossible and is especially challenging for their blind owner.

“Please if you see someone with a guide dog or anyone with a disability walking down the sidewalk, don’t make the decision for them that they are not going to get 6 feet between you,” said Lorri Bernson, a blind spokeswoman for Guide Dogs of America. “Please make the decision for them by taking yourself and moving around because many times I can hear someone coming down the sidewalk and I can tell the sound isn’t moving around me but it’s still coming at me. Unfortunately, I don’t have the ability to go off the curb (quickly) and take the direction on my own to get away to make that 6-foot barrier.”

Bernson, 58, is teamed up with her third guide dog, Captain, a happy-go-lucky 2-year-old yellow Labrador.

She has been visually impaired for 25 years due to complications with diabetes and admits to feeling isolated the past six months in her Encino home especially since she is working from home.

“(The isolation) is a little more elevated because of not being with others and I miss being out there with Captain,” Bernson said. “Many people with guide dogs will say their dog is the bridge to their social (interactions) and can be the magnet that draws a stranger into a conversation that otherwise might not have happened. Captain and I are a team; we go everywhere together. I trust him with both of our lives in his paws. I trust him more than myself because he has all of his senses and I know his role. He’s selected to be that dog, the dog that takes the challenge on and is going to succeed. In training, we give them many opportunities to show us that this isn’t their thing.”

Not all of the 150 puppies born and bred annually in Sylmar go on to be guide dogs. Guide dog work is complex and not the right job for every dog. About 60 are eventually matched with blind clients.

There are many reasons some dogs don’t make the elite job of being a guide dog including hip, eye, elbow and medical reasons. Those dogs that don’t make it may become other types of service dogs and could be paired up with a veteran with post-traumatic syndrome or someone with autism for example.

And if the dog is not eligible to be a service dog of any capacity, then the volunteer puppy raiser has a chance at adoption.

Retired K-9 Mani

The Defenders of the 8th Security Forces Squadron hosted a retirement ceremony Sept. 17, to honor Mani, a beloved military working dog.

Mani began his career in 2011 here at Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea, where he accumulated more than 1,500 hours of law enforcement patrols.

His last active-duty partner, Staff Sgt. Zachary Kunkler, 8th SFS MWD handler, reminisced on his times with Mani.

“During this past year, every morning I would come into work and start my routine with his one raspy bark,” Kunkler said. “[He was] always eager to get away from his younger colleagues for some peace and quiet. He would trot to the exit of the runs and patiently sit, waiting for me to open the door.

“When we got outside, he would make his way to this specific spot and make sure it was marked while trying to catch his breath,” Kunkler said. “Mani was always the first one to go to bed, and the last one to wake up. I couldn’t imagine this year without the old man. He knew every day was going to be a good day. If anyone was feeling down, he’d sprawl across your lap and make sure you had a friend.”

Mani will retire to Charleston, South Carolina, where his former handler Staff Sgt. Jake Mikell, 628th SFS, will look after him.

“Ever since I left Korea, I knew I wanted to adopt Mani,” Mikell said. “Korea is very unique in the sense that we are allowed to bring our dogs back to our dorm rooms as much as we want. Mani spent practically every night in my room and got me through some hard times while I was in Korea toward the end of my time there.

“I was there from May 2016 to May 2017, and my flight always loved having him around,” Mikell said. “He took his job very serious.”

Mani’s last patrol was during the 8th Fighter Wing’s recent 9/11 memorial ceremony. He spent a lot of the time laying down, but when it was time to move, Mani was ready, like always.

As attendees said their goodbyes to Mani at the end of the ceremony, they had the opportunity to both pet and give dog treats to Mani.

He received his final salute from the squadron and, after 9 long years, Mani was on his way to his forever home.  It was clear that the 8th SFS and MWD section will miss him dearly.

“I’m gonna miss the old pup,” Kunkler said. “But the couch life was a long time coming and be deserves it after his time serving in the world’s greatest Air Force.”

Farewell, Mani. Thank you for your service.

Guide Dogs Partnership

Countryfile star Adam Henson took time out of a busy day on his farm to meet buddy dog owner Evie Gormley in a new heart-warming video from charity Guide Dogs.

Sixteen-year-old Evie, from Aberdare in Mid-Glamorgan and her buddy dog, Uma, met Adam at his Cotswold Farm Park near Cheltenham to chat about sight loss and their shared love for animals.

Buddy dog Uma is a partner and friend to Evie, helping her to overcome barriers around her vision impairment. This is something that Adam has a very personal connection with, having lost his nephew Ben, who had sight loss, to cancer at a young age.

Adam said: “When my late nephew Ben lost his sight at five years old, it brought home to me the challenges facing families with a visually-impaired child. Animals had a wonderfully calming and therapeutic influence on him, dogs in particular, so I fully understand the incredible impact that Uma has had on Evie.

“It was delightful to meet them both. She’s a wonderful person and listening to her explain how Uma has given her back her confidence was inspiring.”

Evie, who has Ramos-Arroyo Syndrome, a condition which affects both her eyesight and hearing, first applied to Guide Dogs’ Buddy Dog scheme in 2016, when she was 12. She was soon matched with Uma, a black Labrador x Retriever cross.

From that moment, Uma hasn’t left the side of the aspiring young judo star, giving her the confidence to make friends and train for her goal of joining the Paralympic judo team.

Evie explained: “Before I had Uma, I didn’t talk or play much, and I didn’t have many friends. Now I have her, people come up to me to say hello and I’ve made a lot more friends.

“She also loves helping me with my training, sitting with me while I do push ups and running alongside me when we’re in the park. She’s amazing!”

Buddy Dogs is a service designed to specifically help children and young people with sight loss, by providing them with a friendly dog.

Project Manager for the Buddy Dogs service at Guide Dogs, Verity De Winton, said: “Buddy dogs are wonderful for children and young people with sight loss. They are not guide dogs, but they help to develop self-confidence, improve relationships and have a hugely positive effect on the child and family’s well-being”.

Evie added: “I don’t see myself as having a ‘condition’, I just have to do things differently to achieve my goals. Uma is always with me and has helped me so much with my confidence. I’m starting college in September and she’s helped me realise that one day, I will definitely be applying for a guide dog.”

Jordan And Service Dog Vargas

Life for a family in Greencastle, Franklin County has been changed, as they’ve welcomed their first service dog into their home.

They say it’s all thanks to the community who helped fundraise.

Back in 2017, abc27 brought you to the bingo fundraiser for the Woodruffs.

They were thrilled when they hit their $17,000 goal for a service dog, but they could’ve never imagined the difference Vargas would make as he entered their home, three years later.

The bond between Vargas and Jordan Woodruff is one you just have to see for yourself.

Eight-year-old Jordan is the happiest he’s ever been, now that Vargas is by his side.

“He does great work for Jordan,” said Jeffrey Woodruff, Jordan’s brother.

Jordan has autism.

“He’s an eloper,” said Jacqueline Woodruff, Jordan’s mom. “He will actually take off and run, and he (Vargas) is actually trained to find him. He can find him based on his cells, the dry cells that fall to the ground. He can actually track him.”

The two are attached at the hip, literally, whenever they’re out.

“If he tries to run away, we can just put Vargas in a down, and he will just sit there and Jordan won’t be able to go anywhere,” said Joshua Woodruff, Jordan’s other brother.

Jordan’s parents used to always have to physically hold onto him.

Now, they can enjoy the little things.

“Going out to eat was a thing that did not happen,” said Aaron Woodruff, Jordan’s dad. “Now we go pretty much every Sunday after church.”

They go every Sunday since the spring, which is when Vargas came into their lives.

The pup is a calming presence, who helps Jordan focus.

“Within days, Jordan was talking more,” said Aaron Woodruff.

“He fell in love with the dog, and the dog fell in love with him,” said Jacqueline Woodruff. “It was amazing.”

Jordan and Vargas have a new morning routine, as they head to school together.

They both love the bus.

Once Jordan gets on that bus, his parents are confident he’ll be noticed by kids at school in a positive way. They say Vargas broke the social barrier.

“It’s just amazing to see that, that someone sees my child,” said Jacqueline Woodruff.

“He’s not invisible any more,” said Aaron Woodruff.

The Woodruffs got Vargas through the nonprofit 4 Paws for Ability.

Healer Service Dog Makes Difference

“The healing power of dogs is incredible,” Jill Kesler said. The Draper art teacher and cancer survivor adopted her English Cream Golden Retriever, Gus, shortly after she was diagnosed. Not only did the then 8-week-old puppy bring some much-needed joy to Kesler’s family, but Gus seemed to intuit when Kesler wasn’t feeling well and would sit with her and comfort her.

That intuitive nature and sensitivity is characteristic of the dogs at Golden Healer Service Dogs who are bred and trained to become therapy and service dogs. Some, like Gus, become beloved pets. Kesler adopted Gus from Golden Healer Service Dogs founder Mike Carlson last year. “Mike’s program is amazing,” Kesler said.

“There is no other organization like ours in the area,” explained Carlson. “There are organizations that help vets and people who train dogs, but no group that breeds and trains therapy and service dogs.”

Carlson started breeding and training Labrador Retrievers as pets over 25 years as a hobby. In 2008, during the economic downturn, he lost his business and had to regroup. “That was the only time in my life I didn’t have a dog,” he said. “Roughest years of my life.”

In the ensuing years, Carlson held various jobs, including one in the field of behavioral health which he found rewarding. “It’s a great field to really help people,” he said. “I asked myself, ‘What’s my passion?’ I wanted to do something that had more meaning in life. I love animals and really enjoy being around them. I thought about what I could do to bring that to others.”

Back in the business of breeding Golden Retrievers, Carlson came across the English Cream Golden Retriever breed in 2014. He learned that many of them are used as emotional support and service dogs due to their temperament and disposition.

Golden Healers Service Dogs was officially founded in 2019 and the nonprofit’s first batch of puppies was born in February of that year. Currently, the program has around 30 dogs in various stages of training.

According to their website, Golden Healers can offer clients service dogs to assist them with a variety of issues. There are dogs that are specifically trained to help people of all ages with autism, PTSD and mobility issues. Dogs can be trained to alert family members when someone is about to have a seizure or experience changes in blood sugar levels due to diabetes. There are also emotional support and therapy dogs.

Carlson explained that emotional support dogs are trained in basic obedience while service dogs receive an additional six to 12 months of training in performing specific tasks. “There is no one size fits all scenario in this business,” he said. The needs of each individual are taken into consideration.

Golden Healers relies on volunteers to help with everything from puppy sitting and raising to training. Raquel Mills became a puppy raiser last spring during the quarantine. “We were home and had an older dog. That cute puppy just brought life to our whole house and joy in the midst of uncertainty,” she said.

The family named the new pup Chrystal and Mills decided to train her to become a therapy dog. She was inspired by the story of a woman in Las Vegas who brought her dog to visit first responders in the aftermath of the 2017 mass shooting. The power of animals to calm anxiety in humans is well established by science.

“We’re going through the training to be on a pet therapy team,” Mills explained. “We’ve visited hospice patients and nursing homes.”

Utah State University student Kiara D’Amico also started out volunteering as a puppy raiser in December 2019. “Puppy raisers basically take the dog everywhere,” D’Amico explained. The idea is to thoroughly socialize the puppy.

“Every month we have a big group training which all the dogs come to,” she said. “We take the dogs different places. Last time we went on TRAX to get them used to trains. We’ve been to the mall. The goal is to keep the dogs focused in different environments.”

D’Amico enjoys taking her dog, Violet, to interact with people living in nursing homes. “That’s really rewarding,” she said. “It’s the best part.”

Around the same time that she started working with Violet, D’Amico was diagnosed with POTS (postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome) which causes problems with breathing and other serious symptoms. D’Amico has decided to train Violet as her service dog.

“Violet has made me realize how lucky I am, that I am still able to get around,” she explained. “It helps to have the responsibility of caring for someone else. Having to take her out gets me out of the house.”

D’Amico also suffers from a failing kidney and will learn in September if she is a candidate for a transplant. “If I get the transplant, I’ll need Violet a lot more because I’ll be bedridden,” she said. D’Amico plans to start training her dog to do tasks such as bringing her medication and alerting family members if she needs help.

Volunteers such as Mills and D’Amico are central to the success of Golden Healers. Mike Carlson explained that it can cost between $30 to $40K to care for and train a service dog. “We don’t ask the client to pay that, just assist with fundraising,” he said.

WCC For Future Service Dogs

Maryland Sen. Douglas J.J. Peters (D-Prince George’s) has made serving military veterans a major part of his mission as a public servant.

It has won him countless plaudits and awards through the years. Now he’s getting a most unique tribute for his advocacy.

Peters himself was deployed in Saudi Arabia from 1990-91 and was awarded a bronze star for his meritorious service in the transportation corps during Operation Desert Storm. He left the Army Reserve as a captain, but continues serving veterans as a legislator and in his community.

After moving to Bowie, Peters joined his local American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts, working with those organizations to help veterans in their civilian lives. Members of each organization elected Peters to serve as their group’s commander.

“Anything a vet needs, they provide,” said Peters. “The goal initially was, and always will be, to serve the veterans.”

In Annapolis, Peters served as co-chairman, then chairman of the Veterans Caucus from 2007-2017, working to create policies and programs that benefit veterans. And he continues to work with Secretary of Veterans Affairs George W. Owings III to help veterans get jobs, maintain their businesses, and ensure they live comfortably.

As chairman of the Senate’s Capital Budget Subcommittee, Peters has worked to secure funding for projects that benefit veterans and their families, such as Patriot Point, a retreat in Dorchester County, where fishing, hunting and other activities are available to recovering veterans.

He also secured a grant for the Warrior Canine Connection (WCC), a non-profit based in Boyds. There, and at other service locations, veterans who have suffered physical or psychological trauma have the opportunity to spend time with and train future service dogs.

The veterans help teach the dogs to assist them with tasks such as opening and closing doors and retrieving items. They also teach the dogs that the world is safe, and, in doing so, they must convince themselves. In turn, the dogs support and comfort the veterans when they feel anxious or have other psychological struggles.

Sen. Brian J. Feldman (D-Montgomery) called on Peters earlier this year to help the Warrior Canine Connection get a state grant to improve their facilities for their program.

Peters, with a background in business administration, arranged to visit the non-profit, “rather than just looking at a spreadsheet.”

At the WCC’s Healing Quarters, on 80 acres within Seneca Creek State Park, about 100 veterans and service dogs welcomed Peters. Seeing the veterans’ rehabilitation process with the dogs was a “great experience,” he said.

One veteran, Peters recalled, explained how the responsibility of caring for and walking the dog had helped him out of a heavy depression and said his service dog really saved his life.

“It was just an incredible sight to see and hear the stories of all the veterans who came to talk to me about how the dogs got them back on their feet,” Peters said.

Since the WCC’s Healing Quarters stands on state-owned land in Boyds, Peters said that “putting some money towards improving the property with the veterans involved, was really a win-win scenario.”

With a grant of about $500,000, the WCC will restore a large dairy barn on the property giving them more space for raising and training service dogs.

Every WCC service dog is named after a former or current military service member.

In nominating Peters to have a service dog to be named after him, Feldman said, “Senator Peters’ lengthy military service…his position as the Senate Chair of the Veterans Caucus in the Maryland General Assembly, and the critical role he played this year in securing a bond initiative to support the work of the Warrior Canine Connection, made him an ideal choice for the nomination to have a service dog named in his honor.”

Last month, the Warrior Canine Connection announced the naming of Dougie, a Labrador retriever born in March and named after Peters.

Dougie is in the care of WCC volunteer Ashley Poindexter-Tarmy. She says Dougie is an attentive and calm puppy who, when he sees new people, “doesn’t pull the end of the leash, he sits down, and waits for permission to say hello.”

Dougie is also good at recognizing facial cues, a skill which will come in handy as he trains to become a service dog.

Peters has yet to meet Dougie but said he is eager to and hopes to introduce his own rescue dog Sierra to his new furry friend.

“It’s interesting,” Peters said. “Normally we get plaques or awards, but I think it’s one of the most unique honors I’ve ever had, to have a dog named after me. I’m very humbled.”

Service Dogs Visit Patients

OU Children’s Hospital just got another service dog to help kids battle illnesses.
Two-year-old chocolate lab, Litta, just joined the team as part of the Dunkin’ Joy in Childhood Foundation’s ‘Dogs for Joy’ program.

The programs goal is to increase the number of service dogs nationwide.

Litta is skilled a teaching kids how to take medicine or how to put on a hospital gown. She is a stylish pup, too.

“She loves to wear bows – she wears a different bow everyday,” Bailey Wetzel, A child-live expert and Litta’s handler said.

Litta’s got a lot of fans at the hospital and the feeling is mutual.

“We call her wiggles and she wiggles her whole body – so we know she just loves to be here,” Wetzel said.

Litta’s even taking COVID-19 precautions. Hospital workers ensure that everyone must wash their hands before touching her and sheets are cleaned too.

Durham K9

Police Service Dog Six was No. 1 in nabbing a suspect over the weekend in Oshawa.

Durham Regional Police were called around 10 p.m. Sunday to the Simcoe St. and Rossland Rd. area for reports of a man with a gun.

Cops say a member of the K-9 Unit located a suspect, who fled on foot but was quickly caught by Police Service Dog Six.

The man was bitten during the takedown and was treated in hospital for minor injuries, police say.

A starter’s pistol was allegedly located on the suspect along with about $2,000 worth of cannabis.

Lucais Dayron, 18, of no fixed address, has been charged with possession of cannabis for the purpose of selling and fail to comply.

Anyone with new information is asked to call police at 1-888-579-1520 ext. 5100 or Durham Regional Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477).

Pawfficer Sage

Entering her second year as Illinois State University’s favorite ‘pawfficer’ from ISU’s police department, Pawfficer Sage and the Community Engagement unit is taking advantage of connecting with students, faculty, staff and community members as much as they can amid the pandemic.

Despite the spring semester being cut short and students being sent home due to the coronavirus, Sage’s first year as ISUPD’s new recruit was successful for her and the department.

She attended over 100 events and bonded with about 9,000 students, faculty, staff and community members since joining the team last fall. Additionally, ISUPD officers have handed out over 5,000 Sage badge stickers at these events.

However, bonding with the ISU community has been harder for the pawfficer with the virus and health guidelines in place.

“When she was brand new, our unit was brand new. We just had request after request after request [and] we have had some [this year],” Sergeant of the Community Engagement unit Mike Gardner said.

“Because of COVID, frankly, a lot of the [residential assistants] and people that will call us, they’re unsure about what they can do within the university’s safety guidelines regarding COVID-19.”

After students were sent home and the department reduced the number of staff members coming into its location in the Nelson Smith building, Sage was able to stay with the deputy chief for some time.

“The deputy chief has two dogs. She would also go home with one of our detectors or even meet here with his dog who is also a black lab. They really love each other, so she’s had a few playdates [as well],” Gardner said.

Since Sage has come back to the Nelson Smith building from her stay with the deputy chief, Gardner explained the steps and guidelines put into place when the Community Engagement unit and Sage attend events and socialize with members of the community. He put emphasis on how the unit wants to avoid using Sage as a transmission device.

“We also have a request from her vet that when we go to these events now before somebody pets her, they sanitize their hands before they pet her. [This] way, we don’t use her as a transmission device,” Gardner said.

Initially being trained as a service dog through Supporting Independence through Teamwork Service Dogs, Sage made the transition to her job with ISUPD after trainers thought she was too social.

ISUPD Chief of Police Aaron Woodruff said that she’s continuing to live up to her mission of helping officers with educational programs and students adapt to campus and offering comfort and support to crime victims and students at various on-campus programs.

“If there’s some housing events, things where the group sizes [are small and] smaller group events is what it will come down to,” Woodruff said.

“I know [in previous weeks, we have] had some impromptu meetings with students just out on the Quad, so those things can still happen. They may not be formal events, but you know you still have interaction, some positive interactions and in other venues.”

Support For Service Dogs

September is National Service Dog Month, a month to raise awareness, appreciation, and support for service dogs in the United States.

Edmond resident Lee Parker sustained a low spine and hip injury, which causes him to have limited mobility and pain. He applied for a service dog to receive help with practical everyday tasks so he could be more independent.

Lee received Service Dog Farley, a yellow Labrador/Golden Retriever cross, from Canine Companions for Independence. Lee spent two weeks at Canine Companions’ Southeast Regional Center in Irving, TX, completing an intense residential Team Training course where he was matched with Service Dog Farley. Farley has been professionally trained in over 40 commands and assists Lee by picking up dropped items, turning on and off lights, pushing buttons to open doors, opening and closing doors and drawers, and other tasks that will enable him to live a more independent life.

Though costs to breed, raise, train an assistance dog, and provide ongoing support to the team are estimated at $50,000, Canine Companions service dogs are provided free of charge to recipients.

“I never knew how wonderful a service dog could be, and change my altered life in such a positive way,” says Lee. “Farley and I became immediate friends while I was at Canine Companions and that bond has grown exponentially over the last year.”

“Farley stays right at my side with his full attention waiting to help me. He opens my lower drawers, turns my house light on/off, he is learning to assist me out of a chair and he retrieves my dropped items which is huge for me. Farley is a hit anywhere we go that people realize and understand he is a true service dog. What a companion I have, when I get in a crisis Farley has the most amazing deep bark that lets someone know I need help,” said Lee.

Lee and Farley make a perfect team!

PTSD Service Dogs

Science has shown that service dogs can benefit some veterans with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). But the exact role they play in the day-to-day lives of veterans—and the helpfulness of the tasks they perform—is less clear.

The new study explores what trained tasks service dogs perform the most often and which ones are the most helpful to veterans with PTSD.

“There has been some debate on what kind of training PTSD service dogs need to be effective and how their assistance may be different than what a pet dog can provide,” says Kerri Rodriguez, a human-animal interaction graduate student at Purdue University and a lead author of the study in the journal Frontiers in Psychology. “This study suggests that veterans are, in fact, using and benefiting from the specific trained tasks, which sets these dogs apart from pet dogs or emotional support dogs.”

‘The study, conducted in conjunction with K9s For Warriors, is preparation for an ongoing large-scale clinical trial studying veterans with and without service dogs over an extended period of time.

The findings show, on average, the dog’s training to both alert the veteran to any increasing anxiety and provide physical contact during anxiety episodes is the most important and the most often used in a typical day. Veterans with a service dog also rated all of the service dog’s trained tasks as “moderately” to “quite a bit” important for their PTSD.

Some trained tasks include picking up on cues veterans display when experiencing distress or anxiety and consequently nudging, pawing, or licking them to encourage the veteran to focus on the dog. Trainers also teach the service dogs to notice when veterans experience anxiety at night and will actively wake the person up from nightmares.

The dogs also learn to perform tasks in public—such as looking the opposite way in a crowded room or store to provide a sense of security for the veteran.

Veterans use trained service dog tasks an average 3.16 times per day, with individual tasks ranging from an average of 1.36 to 5.05 times per day.

Previous research stressed the importance of the bond between a service dog and the veteran when considering untrained behaviors. Although veterans report all trained tasks to be important for their PTSD, those with a service dog actually rated the importance of untrained behaviors higher than the importance of trained tasks.

This suggests some therapeutic aspects of the service dog’s companionship help just as much, if not more, than the dog’s trained tasks, Rodriguez says. “These service dogs offer valuable companionship, provide joy and happiness, and add structure and routine to veterans’ lives that are likely very important for veterans’ PTSD.”

The study surveyed 216 veterans from K9s For Warriors, including 134 with a service dog and 82 on the waitlist. The study complements a previous study published last year that focused specifically on the service dogs’ training, behavior, and the human-animal bond.

While veterans reported service dogs help cope with a number of specific PTSD symptoms such as having nightmares, experiencing flashbacks, or being hyperaware in public, they did not help in other areas, such as amnesia and risk-taking.

“Both this research, as well as other related studies on PTSD service dogs, suggest that service dogs are not a standalone cure for PTSD,” says Maggie O’Haire, associate professor of human-animal interaction. “Rather, there appear to be specific areas of veterans’ lives that a PTSD service dog can help as a complementary intervention to other evidence-based treatments for PTSD.”

Veterans on the waitlist to receive a service dog expected the service dog’s trained tasks to be more important for their PTSD and used more frequently on a daily basis than what veterans who already had a service dog reported.

“Veterans on the waitlist may have higher expectations for a future PTSD service dog because of feelings of hope and excitement, which may not necessarily be a bad thing,” Rodriguez says. “However, it is important for mental health professionals to encourage realistic expectations to veterans who are considering getting a PTSD service dog of their own.”

Retriever Helps Firefighters

Firefighters battling wildfires in Northern California have an unusual friend to help keep their spirits up.

Her name is Kerith. She is a two-year-old golden retriever who recently returned home to San Rafael after working the Creek Fire near Fresno.

Before that, Kerith and her owner were up at the Woodward Fire near Pt. Reyes displaying her special talent for helping front-line firefighters cope through these hard times.

“You go through a dark smoky day where you don’t get to see any sunlight. It’s people’s worst days. Kerith shows up with that sunlight. It really rubs off,” says San Rafael fire engineer Jimmy Alvarez.

Kerith is a licensed therapy dog. She started going to hospitals, then fire stations. Now Cal Fire calls and requests her to come to base camps where firefighters have firefighters are coming back from or heading to the fire lines.

“It just gives them a chance to be present in the now and not think about all the stress they are about to endure while they are fighting the fires,” says Kerith’s owner Heidi Carman.

Kerith was first trained as a guide dog for the blind. But her skill set seemed to lean more toward therapy.

Carman says Kerith has a certain knack even other friendly dogs don’t quite possess.

“She knows how to be quiet and present with someone who is having a hard day. And she will just sit with them and let them be with her,” says Carman.

That seems to be a morale booster for firefighters.

“She does this thing where sits down, especially with firefighters, she’ll sit on their feet, flip her head and look straight into the firefighter’s eyes. Numerous times the firefighter will say, ‘Kerith is looking into my soul,'” says Carman.

Kerith is taking a break from breathing all that smoke.  She and Carman are volunteers. But Carman says they will be back in action as soon as Cal Fire calls.

“It kind of reboots you. Charges those batteries. Reminding you there is still happiness out there,” says Alvarez.

Paws For Ability

Life for a family in Greencastle, Franklin County has been changed, as they’ve welcomed their first service dog into their home.

They say it’s all thanks to the community who helped fundraise.

Back in 2017, abc27 brought you to the bingo fundraiser for the Woodruffs.

They were thrilled when they hit their $17,000 goal for a service dog, but they could’ve never imagined the difference Vargas would make as he entered their home, three years later.

The bond between Vargas and Jordan Woodruff is one you just have to see for yourself.

Eight-year-old Jordan is the happiest he’s ever been, now that Vargas is by his side. “He does great work for Jordan,” said Jeffrey Woodruff, Jordan’s brother. Jordan has autism.

“He’s an eloper,” said Jacqueline Woodruff, Jordan’s mom. “He will actually take off and run, and he (Vargas) is actually trained to find him. He can find him based on his cells, the dry cells that fall to the ground. He can actually track him.”

The two are attached at the hip, literally, whenever they’re out.

“If he tries to run away, we can just put Vargas in a down, and he will just sit there and Jordan won’t be able to go anywhere,” said Joshua Woodruff, Jordan’s other brother.

Jordan’s parents used to always have to physically hold onto him.

Now, they can enjoy the little things.

“Going out to eat was a thing that did not happen,” said Aaron Woodruff, Jordan’s dad. “Now we go pretty much every Sunday after church.”

They go every Sunday since the spring, which is when Vargas came into their lives.

The pup is a calming presence, who helps Jordan focus.

“Within days, Jordan was talking more,” said Aaron Woodruff.

“He fell in love with the dog, and the dog fell in love with him,” said Jacqueline Woodruff. “It was amazing.”

Jordan and Vargas have a new morning routine, as they head to school together.

They both love the bus.

Once Jordan gets on that bus, his parents are confident he’ll be noticed by kids at school in a positive way. They say Vargas broke the social barrier.

“It’s just amazing to see that, that someone sees my child,” said Jacqueline Woodruff.

“He’s not invisible any more,” said Aaron Woodruff.

The Woodruffs got Vargas through the nonprofit 4 Paws for Ability.

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