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This is my boy Ace

Ace was born 7/11/2014. He is a very calm and happy dog. He loves kids and is not and was not raised to be aggressive. I suffer from social and self contained anxiety and depression. Ace helps me by keeping me calm when there are too many people around or not anyone around at all. He doesn’t just help me but he also helps my daughter whom resides with me who also suffers from anxiety and depression.

Lexi is my Chiweenie service dog.she helps keep me calm and not to panic in public.

Lexi helping me to shop at Walmart. She is a very smart well mannered service dog. She knows what to do if I feel panicky or sick.

Bears new sweatshirt

My Bear dog got a new hoodie for the upcoming cool weather. He loves to play in the snow, and chase snowballs. He’s a good boy!

Zeus in July 4th

This was last four of July. After we set the flag in the front of the house, Zeus went and stood in from of it.

I think you can say he is a real patriot!

My dog Snoop Rocha

Snoop is like my Son. Before Snoop come to my life I was sad and Snoop bring a lot of good feelings to my heart. Snoop recognize when I am feeling upset and He is With me all time. I am another person after Snoop come to me.

Valentina at her best

Valentina likes to keep me on my toes, she also likes to spend time with me and get very happy when I’m able to take take her for a walk!

Corbi On Alert!

This is Corbi at about one year old.  She is always on alert and ready to assist me.  She watches for signs of mobility issues which could lead to falls.

Aspyn is a sweet and very intelligent dog who understands and tends to my support needs.

Aspyn is a sweet and very intelligent dog who understands and tends to my support needs.  The photo shows her ability to recognize situations and react.

Walking Zeus in the park

Every afternoon I take Zeus to a Dog Park around the corner. Yesterday he made a new fried.

Here they are chilling together.

Taking a nice bath

In the condo we live there is a pod in one of the play fields. I took Zeus there and he went into the water!

I guess it was too hot

Zeus in the beach

I took Zeus to the beach last weekend. He enjoyed walking in the sand along the beach shore. I was really sunny and he loved it

Service Dog Walkathon

On Saturday, October 3, hundreds of walkers from across 15 states joined the path to bettering the world for children with autism and their families as part of BluePath Service Dogs’ fourth annual walkathon. The family-friendly fundraiser – this year held virtually – raised more than $120,000 to further BluePath’s mission of providing autism service dogs, offering safety, companionship and opportunities for independence.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, one out of every 54 children born today will develop an autism spectrum disorder. It is the fastest growing developmental disability in the United States. Walkathon participants had the opportunity to learn more about how the nonprofit is unlocking life’s potential for children and families touched by autism during an online kick-off event before heading out to walk in their own communities.

“Like many nonprofits, our mission must continue – even in these uncertain times,” said Tricia Zarro, BluePath’s Board Chair. “We forge ahead, safely and thoughtfully, with the help of hundreds of dedicated volunteers and supporters. To all those who took part in our walkathon, you have made a meaningful difference in the lives of others and we are immensely grateful.”Founded in 2016, BluePath has established a robust network of supporters throughout the country. Individuals and families serve as puppy raisers, fosters and administrative volunteers and comprise more than 95 percent of the organization’s workforce. The generosity of donors, volunteers and industry partners allows BluePath to provide its service dogs to families free of charge.

Gold Sponsors: AvalonBay Communities, Elite Carriers, The Goldfarb Makkar and Brown Family, The Neva and Howard Goldstein Family Charitable Fund, Ingersoll Auto, Suzanne Hatfield Philanthropy Fund, Team Ali

Silver Sponsors: 3 Up 3 Down Organization, Bedford PBA, CareCredit/Synchrony, City of Rye Police Association, Empire BlueCross BlueShield, G.S. Bounce, Kolmar Americas Inc., Peekskill Rotary Club, PCSB Bank, Quinn Law Firm, Regeneron RISE, Shrub Oak International School, State Farm – Ken Lemenze, Volz Auto Group

“BluePath dogs provide hope and the opportunity for the whole family to thrive,” noted the nonprofit’s President and CEO Jody Sandler. “I have witnessed firsthand the incredible connection that a service dog can have with a child on the autism spectrum. We thank all those who walk the path with us and make these life-changing connections possible.”

Police Welcome New Canine

After the unexpected passing of longtime Police Service Dog Zeus earlier this week, Kingston Police are welcoming a new member to the Canine Unit.

Police Service Dog Bask, also known as K9-8, is a Dutch Shepherd and Belgium Malinois mix, and will be patrolling the streets of Kingston with his handler Constable Jeff Dickson.

Bask was born May 10, 2019 in Poland and is trained in tracking, article searches, apprehension/handler protection, building searches, and drug detection.

According to a release from Kingston Police, dated Friday, Oct. 9, 2020, Constable Jeff Dickson spent four weeks training with Bask in the United States. Bask and Constable Dickson have since continued their training in Canada.

“Although Zeus has left incredibly large paw prints to fill we are excited in welcoming this newest addition to our Kingston Police family and look forward to the continued success of the Canine Unit program,” Kingston Police said in a statement.

Service Dog Helps Firefighters

Firefighters battling the Archie Creek and Thielsen fires have had some long, exhausting days.

But for some, their troubles seemed to melt away once they got back to camp.

Why?

Meet Ralph Colombo. He hauls oversize loads.

And joining Ralph is his service dog, Cowboy – the morale boosting, firefighting puppy.

“He just keeps my life together, helps keep it together, and why not share? And the firefighters, you should see the smiles,” says Colombo.

Cowboy is a three and a half month old Labrador retriever.

As Colombo’s service dog, they go everywhere together.

So when Colombo started working on the fires in Douglas County, naturally Cowboy came with him.

And the firefighters are happier for it.

“One of the leaders says he hasn’t seen this high of morale on any fire, and he’s been doing it 40 years,” Colombo says.

Besides the cuteness, one thing you’ll notice about Cowboy is his bandanna made of Nomex.

“[I] made him a bandanna so that he can wear his Nomex up on the fire line,” Colombo explains, “because everyone’s got to wear Nomex. And a fella from South Carolina, he said you ought to have everyone put their state initials on there. So we’re up to about 16 in three days.”

He has signatures from Alaska to Kentucky, Florida and beyond.

Cowboy has become a bit of an internet sensation.

He has over 48,000 views on Facebook.

And sometimes his fame precedes him.

“All the firefighters know Cowboy,” says Colombo. “They have no idea what my name is. I’m the guy with Cowboy; that’s all there is to it.

Unfortunately, Cowboy and Colombo are heading back home soon, so the firefighters are sad to see them go.

But they’ll never forget the puppy who kept their spirits high when times were tough.

A Service Dogs Place

A new Pineville nonprofit that helps people with disabilities obtain service dogs has made its first match.

The Saber Life Foundation was started in March by Danea Key and her husband Joel. They provide people with trained service dogs, paying 51 percent of the cost, with the client paying the other 49 percent. Service dogs can be very expensive, with their training costing up to $25,000 to $30,000 and the dogs themselves costing $3,000 to $5,000.

Danea said they have received several grants and had several fundraisers, as well as going to events where they sell dog treats. Clients fill out an application and then go on a waiting list, she said. The trainer they use is Tim Franks of On Command Canine Training Academy in Joplin. Caden Ogden, 19, of Carl Junction, was certified with his service dog, Thorn, on Oct. 2, making him the nonprofit’s first match.

Caden’s mother, Rona Ogden, said before they got Thorn, “(Caden) didn’t really go out in public much. He very much stayed in his room and didn’t come out. He didn’t have really a life at all. Severe anxiety. PTSD. No friends. When he did have to go out in public it was very, very hard for him just to walk into a store. Just to go into a store and pay for a gallon of milk was a big feat for him, especially if the store was busy. If it wasn’t for him living at home, he probably would have just gone without.”

The family has had Thorn for two months.

“He’s a completely different kid,” Rona said. “He’s able to go into a store; he’s even went into a store by himself. He’s started applying for jobs on his own. He’s started talking to people. I’m excited by the idea he’s going to make friends soon. His personality is starting to change for the better. It’s amazing to watch him blossom every day. It’s incredible to see what he can do right now. And I have very high hopes for where we’re going to go with this. For the first time, I see him living on his own and being safe. I see him having friends and having a life just like you and me. My only regret is we didn’t find Thorn sooner in Caden’s life.

She went on, “He didn’t believe he had any rights before, and now he’s starting to stand up for his rights and advocate for himself. He’s confident and he’s starting to see himself as an adult. He wants to go vote this year. He was afraid to go vote before because there were too many people. Now he’s excited to go vote.

“He’s starting to talk about a future for himself and, before, he couldn’t see a future for himself. I’ve always been proud of my son, but the obstacles he’s been overcoming in a short time — I wish every person with a disability could have a dog like Thorn. It would change their life.”

Rona added she has worked in the disability community off and on for the past 23 years, and Thorn has made a greater difference than any medication or therapy she has seen.

“The Saber Foundation, those people are God-sent angels walking this earth. They are the most amazing people and loving and kind. I can’t say enough about the Saber Foundation,” she said.

She said before the family knew about the Saber Life Foundation, they got a service dog and started training it for Caden, but the dog had an accident and died.

“Without the Saber Foundation, we never would have had the ability to get a service dog again. Because we put everything into (the first dog). They gave us hope. It just happened so quick and it was amazing to watch it. Without them, we could have never got (Thorn) because service dogs are very expensive.”

Danea said the idea for the nonprofit started after the Key family got their daughter, Gracie, her first service dog, Saber. Gracie suffered from anxiety and other issues and knew she needed a service dog for a few years before she was able to get one. Gracie is now a sophomore at McDonald County High School, and she has just been certified as a team with her service dog, Amos.

“We got started with Saber, but now she has Amos; that’s a whole other story,” Danea said. “Saber was not able to certify because there were some things he was panicky about like wheelchairs and crutches. The trainer didn’t feel really good about that. About a month ago she got Amos and the trainer got Saber a different job. We felt he still needed to be able to work because he is a working dog, so he is working with another man.”

Since Gracie got a service dog, she is a “totally different child than she ever was,” Danea said.

“She can walk through a store by herself without being close to Mom and Dad. She has so much more confidence in herself. She’s gone off over half of her medications. Amos picked up where Saber left off. She’s able to focus more. The biggest thing is her confidence. Not having to worry about her anxiety being what it was. She’s a lot more outgoing and making friends and keeping friends,” she said.

Danea added when the family got close to having Saber’s training paid off, they decided to start the nonprofit because they knew other people who needed service dogs.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” she said. “We’ve met a lot of people. Being a nonprofit has opened up a lot of doors to a lot of opportunities to a lot more than we were able to do before. We have an amazing board. They want to help everyone they can. It’s a vision coming to life that’s reality now. It’s been quite amazing, that’s for sure.”

She added, “These dogs aren’t a want; they’re a need. It’s educating and advocating about these dogs. The transition that Gracie has had in the past year speaks for itself.”

Service Dog Month Ending

September was designated as National Service Dog Month, and one Berks County native is working hard to ensure that the public is informed about what that means.

Susan Focht owns and operates Dogs In Service Project, a nonprofit that teaches individuals about the different types of Assistance Dogs, laws surrounding Assistance Dog ownership, and provides advice to people with disabilities looking for an Assistance Dog.

Focht also helps individuals assess which type of Assistance Dog is best for their particular needs. Dogs In Service is named after three of Focht’s own dogs that helped her over the years: Daisy, Isabella, and Shadow.

According to Focht, there are three main types of Assistance Dogs: Service Dogs, Emotional Support Dogs, and Therapy Dogs. Different laws apply to each different type of dog–for example, a Service Dog is legally allowed to go everywhere that their owner goes, whereas both Emotional Support Dogs and Therapy Dogs have different restrictions.

In addition, if a Service Dog is harassed or harmed by either humans or other animals, that can result in a hefty fine for the perpetrators.

Focht’s passion for working with Service Dogs and educating the public about them began in the 90’s when she was in high school. As a teenager who struggled with focus issues and possible autism, her German Shepherd, Daisy, helped her focus on her schoolwork by providing comfort, and even helping her find her place in a textbook if she got lost.

Focht also mentioned her dog Isabella, who was a “glorified Emotional Support Dog” with an uncanny ability to detect her sister’s pregnancies, miscarriage, and even cancer, and Shadow, who assisted her recovery from a debilitating car accident in 1999. Focht works hard to teach the public the difference between types of Assistance Dogs so that their owners can understand their (and their dogs) rights. “When you see a dog with a vest on, respect their space, said Focht, noting that certain Assistance Dogs wear a badge on their vest detailing whether or not they can be approached by strangers.

Service Dog Organization

In 1962 when Marybeth Hearn was 10 years old, she convinced her parents to let her volunteer to raise a puppy for the California-based nonprofit Guide Dogs for the Blind. She wasn’t sure what to expect when they brought home a black Labrador Retriever named Lepta, but she knew one thing for certain.

“I do remember my dad constantly reminding me that the puppy wasn’t mine and that we just had temporary custody of it,” she says. “You know from the beginning that you’re not going to be able to keep that puppy, that they’ve got another purpose in life.”

Though it was hard to relinquish Lepta when it was time for her advanced training, Hearn had found her life’s passion. She’s currently raising a yellow Labrador Retriever named Barley—the 55th dog she’s raised for Guide Dogs for the Blind.

Needless to say, she now knows exactly what to expect.

“You take that goofy little puppy when they’re about 8 weeks of age and keep them about 14 to 16 months usually,” she says. “Then you see them graduate and become somebody’s eyes. It’s just absolutely amazing.”

So what does it take to raise a successful guide dog from puppyhood to graduation?

The first step is, of course, getting the dog—either picking it up in person from the organization’s headquarters in San Rafael, California, or gathering with other puppy raisers to meet a “puppy truck” that drops off pups at a predetermined location. Puppy raisers don’t know the name of the puppy they’ll raise, just the first letter of the dogs in the litter and the breed—typically a Labrador Retriever or Golden Retriever.

“There’s always a lot of guessing that goes on before we get them of what the name might possibly be, which is kind of cool,” she says with a laugh. “It’s a little game that all puppy raisers play.”

Meeting a new puppy is joyful and involves a lot of cuddles to promote bonding, particularly in the first two weeks together. They often cry while spending the first night away from their litter, so the raisers help them through it.

Training starts immediately. Raisers teach the pups their names and the word nice, which they say whenever the dog presents good behavior.

For instance, when Barley lies quietly on the floor chewing a toy—instead of, say, the couch—Hearn will say nice and reward him with a piece of his kibble.

“I have little Dixie cups of food all over the house,” she says. “So when I catch him being good, I’m marking that behavior. I’m encouraging him to be good.”

It’s critically important for guide dogs to be well-behaved at home, rather than jumping on furniture, snagging remote controls, getting into garbage, zooming from room to room, or barking when the doorbell rings.

To establish good practices, Hearn will ask her granddaughter to ring the doorbell while she waits with Barley inside, quickly treating the pup when he doesn’t bark.

It’s also imperative that puppies learn a “relieving protocol”—being able to go to the bathroom on leash, on a variety of surfaces, on command, and without accidents in between.

“We teach them to relieve on all sorts of different surfaces, not just grass, because as a working guide, they may not have grass available,” she says. “So I always start my puppies out on asphalt or concrete, and that means getting them out at two o’clock in the morning, putting them on the leash, taking them out, and rewarding them when they’ve done their business.”

Hearn meets with her local puppy-raising group weekly and will puppysit or trade dogs with other handlers to expose the canines to spending time with different people in diverse situations.

As the puppy’s confidence grows, Hearn teaches him basic cues like sit, stay, down, and come, and gradually builds upon socialization. For example, Hearn will start by taking a puppy to sit outside a big box store, feeding treats as people walk by. When ready, they’ll pop in and out of the store before taking longer shopping trips. The same goes for a restaurant: On a first visit, Hearn will ask Barley to settle under the table, then just drink an iced tea instead of lingering over a meal.

When a puppy is 5 or 6 months old, she takes him to church. They’ll sit in the back pew and if the dog is quiet, she’ll slip him treats periodically. Around 7 to 9 months—when there’s no risk of an accident—they’ll try a grocery store. Along the way, they’ll stay in a hotel, watch a movie, ride the train, visit bustling Christmas-tree lots, and attend holiday concerts. She’ll even attend pep rallies—seated near the door so she can quickly exit if the dog seems uncomfortable.

“It’s a building block: If a dog is successful at one step, then you add to it,” she says. “We do not know what the lifestyle of their future partner may be. So the more varied experiences I can give a puppy, the better their chances are of being successful.”

Hearn, a teacher at Lemoore High School, also brings her puppies to school with her. They proved so popular that she created a Future Farmers of America program at the school so that students can raise guide dogs as a recognized project.

“I think youth raisers are going to make great parents someday because they’re learning to be consistent,” she says. “They’re learning to set guidelines and they’re learning to do it in a very positive way.”

Hearn and her students have raised 186 puppies for Guide Dogs for the Blind, including Ale, a black Labrador Retriever who partnered with San Francisco resident Mary Cruz in 2017.

“Ale is the most laid-back, wonderful, sweet dog you’d ever want to know,” she says. “He walks at my pace. He is not in a rush. It’s like we’re out for a Sunday stroll.”

Ale’s controlled pace has been life-changing for Cruz. Over 10 years ago when she and her daughter were in a crosswalk—without her second guide dog—an elderly woman plowed into them with her car, breaking both of Cruz’s legs and permanently affecting her gait. Her dog, Greeley, adjusted to her slower pace because of their close connection, but when the Golden Retriever needed to retire, she feared she wouldn’t find a guide dog who could walk as slowly as she needed.

As luck would have it, Ale almost couldn’t find a partner because of his own slow pace. Cruz says he helps keep her safe in crosswalks and from falling off curbs or running into poles. She’s grateful to puppy raisers like Hearn and her student, Jordan Lee, who raised Ale.

“As far as I’m concerned, all the puppy raisers are God’s gift to the world,” she says.

There are many opportunities to volunteer as a puppy raiser. For instance, around 2,000 people volunteer for Guide Dogs for the Blind—which, thanks to their help, partners dogs with their handlers for free.

On the East Coast, the renowned guide-dog school The Seeing Eye  has had a puppy-raising program since 1942, and nonprofits throughout the country depend on volunteers to raise future service dogs for a variety of roles, such as assisting the deaf, detecting impending seizures or blood sugar fluctuations in people with diabetes, mobility assistance, and support for those with PTSD or autism.

Canine Companions for Independence, a nonprofit that places service dogs for people with disabilities free of charge, has over 1,500 volunteer puppy raisers in the United States. Ohio resident Jerry Amos and his wife, Jerri, have raised puppies for the organization for nearly 30 years.

They enjoy welcoming pups into their home—which includes Hugo, their beloved Coton de Tulear —and helping socialize the dogs. They take them to local festivals and to meet veterans with PTSD for win-win socialization.

While they say it’s hard returning a puppy for their advanced training, it’s worth it for the best part: an emotional graduation ceremony, in which they hand over the leash of the dog they raised to a person with a disability.

The couple has presented dogs to many people, including a boy with autism, a young man with cerebral palsy, and a nurse injured in a motorcycle accident.

“It’s just a joy to do it,” Jerry Amos says. “A lot of our dogs are going to children. You see their eyes and how happy they are and what a difference it makes to them. To me, that’s what it’s all about.”

Puppy raisers are also critical to smaller organizations like the nonprofit Good Dog ! Autism Companions, which raises service dogs for children with autism. The dogs provide calming pressure when a child becomes overstimulated and act as a social bridge to other kids.

The organization currently has about a dozen puppy raisers and is expanding the program in order to serve more families, according to Laura Sylvester, co-founder and executive director.

“Puppy raisers are an essential part of our organization. They make things happen,” she says. “My favorite quote is, ‘Inside every service dog is the heart of a puppy raiser.’ ”

Military Working Dogs

The Army is developing high-tech augmented reality goggles for dogs that eventually could allow handlers to give them directions from afar, the service said.

Military working dogs are directed via hand signals, speaking or laser pointers, which require the handler to remain close by. That can potentially endanger soldiers on missions that involve finding explosives and hazardous materials, or assisting in rescue operations, the Army statement said Tuesday.

The goggles developed by the Army and the Seattle-based company Command Sight show dogs where to go using a simulated laser pointer.

Initial feedback indicates “the system could fundamentally change how military canines are deployed in the future,” said A.J. Peper, the founder of Command Sight, as quoted in the Army’s statement. Peper founded his company in 2017 and built his first prototype augmented reality glasses for military working dogs after conversations with current and retired handlers.

Much of the research has been conducted on his own rottweiler, named Mater, the statement said.

The goggles have a lightweight camera, which sends everything Mater is seeing to a laptop. The handler can click on a spot where Mater should go, and the simulated laser point appears to the dog.

The technology allows handlers to be very specific while directing their dogs and opens up new possibilities for research, said Stephen Lee, a senior scientist at the Army Research Office, which managed the project.

“The research demonstrates that a dog can recognize things in an augmented reality world,” Lee said in a phone interview Tuesday.

The prototype is wired and keeps the dog on a leash, but the next step is making a wireless version that would allow the soldier to direct a dog via a handheld device, while staying far away and out of sight.

The project was funded by the Small Business Innovation Research program, and additional money will come through the Pentagon’s Rapid Reaction Technology Office to fund the next phase of development.

This includes working with Navy special operations over the next two years to build prototypes for their military working dogs.

“This technology really cuts new ground and opens up possibilities that we haven’t considered yet,” Lee said in a statement.

Bella And Her Service Dog

Gisele James has seen the difference.

The superintendent of Par Excellence Academy watched a service dog in the Newark community school help change the life of one of her students, and positively affect other kids in the building. Now, that student, in turn, wants to make service dogs available to other students with social and emotional disabilities who may need one, but may not be able to afford it.

“It (student Isabella, better known as Bella, and her service dog Zoey) has made people so enthused about overcoming the struggles they’ve had,” James said. “Because Zoey is in the building, people come out of their shell. The entire sixth grade class last year flourished. The students focus on the dog, and it alleviates the stress and anxiety they may have gone through. The longer they’re with the dog, the more relief they feel.” Bella, who will turn 13 in November, was inspired to launch I Am Courage, a non-profit. Although held back by COVID-19, it will soon have an application process for parents/children to submit for review by the I Am Courage board for dog training and placement. Until then, they continue to fundraise, and Sunday, Oct. 11 marks a major fundraiser: a poker run that will go through Licking and Muskingum counties.

The first bike out is at 10 a.m. at Mill Dam Grille near Hebron, and the last bike out is at 11 a.m. It will also go to Jugz in Newark, then to Zanesville for The Barn and American Legion, before returning to the Newark Hub on West Church Street by 4 p.m. “It’s not just motorcycles. Anyone can be a part of it,” said Bella’s mother, Lillie McGaha. Cost is $25, which includes dinner at the Newark Hub. Doors open at The Hub at 3 p.m. for non-riders, costing $10 with good and $5 without food.

Along with dinner there will also be a silent auction and 50/50 drawing. Donations have been received from Jugz, Empire Tattoo, Blue Bug Candle Company, Texas Roadhouse, T&T First Aid, Colgate-Palmolive and The Barn in Zanesville. Donations can be dropped off at The Hub or made through the I Am Courage Facebook page. Lillie McGaha, a Tri-Valley graduate and a teacher’s aide at Par Excellence, said her daughter’s story has been inspirational. Bella suffered a trauma and began her recovery, As part of the recovery, she was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and it was recommended she get a service dog. Zoey was trained by Jensen McVey of Fetch Dog Training in Zanesville. “She got attached to me very fast,” Bella said.

The dog also quickly affected not only Bella at Par Excellence, but other students. “Normally, students come to us because we’re smaller, do one-on-one and are more nurturing to our students and families,” James explained. “We bring in families, not just the student, and sometimes employ family members.”

Zoey became a mainstay at Par Excellence, with her own Par Excellence shirt and Facebook page. She adjusted very quickly to the class routine and even knew when the kids needed to line up or be quiet. “You could tell Zoey felt like she was part of the class,” Bella said. “She owns the classroom.” Zoey has helped Bella overcome anxiety and now she and Isabella do public speaking on the subject of service dogs and the stigma of mental illness.

“Her first year at school, Bella did not get good grades, and did not talk much,” Lillie said. “But then last year, when she came in with Zoey, she started raising her hand and giving answers. And she stood up in class and gave a presentation.”

Lillie said at first, the other students were uncertain about having the dog around. “But then, everyone started to warm up,” she said. “We had a student last year, even spending 15 to 30 minutes with Zoey helped him. My son has disabilities, and she helps him if he is not having a good day. We want to teach people about service dogs and how they can help. Not all disabilities can be seen. Bella sees the service dog as an extension of herself.”

“My first year, I didn’t talk a lot, but now, I have something to say,” Bella said. “We want a lot more dogs to be available to people.”

She sat in the car one day, thinking about that very thing, then decided to put her thoughts into action. Bella’s parents supported her, and they went to James and Par Excellence administrative assistant Paige Cashdollar Anderson. They were fully onboard with starting I Am Courage. In fact, Anderson, who died in July, was one of Bella’s biggest supporters. “This meant a lot to her,” Lillie said. “She had a lot of struggles of her own, and knew how it felt to have that security blanket.”

Bella then formed a small group of teachers with other members of the community, meeting after school once a month to start fundraising, selecting board members and registering the nonprofit. COVID-19 prevented them from having a fundraiser at the start of summer but a bank account has been started.

“Even with COVID, we’ve stayed focused on Bella’s goal,” James said. “The first place we went to (to get the dog training) was like $3,000,” Lillie said. “We ended up paying up between $800 and $900, by making some sacrifices, but we realized not all families with children recovering from trauma could make those financial sacrifices.”

A big part of I Am Courage’s mission is to educate the public and schools about service dogs.

“People knowing that service dogs are available, is so important,” James said. “And not everyone knows about it,” Lillie added. “It’s such a good comfort zone, having that social emotional support,” James said. “It makes people more social and want to talk to other people.”

More dogs are already being trained by Fetch Dog Training to be ready for use by I Am Courage recipients. “I’m so excited about it,” Bella said. “The feedback we’ve been getting is amazing,” Lillie said. “I was crying the other day, after talking to a woman at the store. You don’t realize how much other people are going through.”

Lillie considers her daughter a superhero. “To have that power from within, from something that happened to you,” she said. “You might have disabilities, but you have that superpower inside, that you can use to change the world. If you follow your dream, it will happen.”

MTSU’s Police Dog

For MTSU Police K9 handler and patrol specialist Zachery Brooker, the loyalty he receives from his K9 Bobby “can’t be compared.”

This month marks the anniversary of the dog’s first year of service for the campus police department. Bobby and Brooker have been “very fortunate to have a really good first year” and the other officers “love having Bobby here,” Brooker said.

Bobby is a 2-year-old German shepherd and Belgian Malinois mix.

Brooker, originally from Michigan, joined the MTSU department in May 2017. He had been a member of the military and graduated from the Walters State Police Academy before meeting Bobby, but K9 training was “seriously the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”

In addition to the dog’s capabilities of tracking others and alerting to the presence of illicit substances, the K9 adds an important safety aspect to the community: suspects are more compliant because of Bobby’s presence, and he can “defend and protect both officers and civilians,” Brooker said.

He encourages the other officers to get to know their furry coworker. They’re always welcome to play and spend time with Bobby because the stronger the relationships are between Bobby and his human team, the more successful they’ll all be in the field, he said.

The dog feeds off of everyone’s energy. “It’s what he lives for,” said Brooker, “that ‘good boy,’ that praise, and his toys, of course.”

One winter night, Bobby’s keen sense of smell and training helped to safely reunite a child, wandering out in the cold, with his mother. Most recently, he tracked down and apprehended a suspect.

Bobby also has helped the Murfreesboro Police Department and the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office.

Brooker’s job doesn’t stop when he clocks out. Bobby comes home with him. The dog’s lifestyle is like that of an athlete’s: healthy treats like carrots and apples, hydration, rest and recovery and plenty of training and exercise. Brooker starts each morning by taking Bobby out for a 30-minute game of fetch.

Being the department’s sole K9 handler also means long hours at work.

“There are days when it’s tough, you’re tired,” said Brooker. “There’s been more times than not with him where because of his capabilities, he’s had to stay late. It’s always worth it to see the officers’ reactions to him doing his job well.”

Bobby has been out to several campus events where people “love on him,” and all of his interactions have been positive, Brooker said.

“We work really hard together, and we do it for the campus community,” said Brooker. “I can’t express enough that it’s for them. This department really cares about the community it serves.”