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Nonprofit Soldier’s Best Friend

Staff Sgt. Terry Stallings served in the Army for 23 years. He was stationed across the globe, including posts in Iraq, Balad, Kuwait, Desert Storm, Mexico, Central America, Alaska, Portugal and Germany.

After six combat deployments overseas, he returned home and was diagnosed with post- traumatic stress disorder.

Veterans often rely on medications, therapy, sports and other treatment options for PTSD relief. Stallings looked toward companionship.

“He’s basically my battle buddy,” Stallings said. “Wherever I go, he follows me. If I’m laying down, he lays down at the foot of our bed. If I’m in the living room, he lays down next to my chair. He’s always ready to help me.”

“He” is Stallings’ service dog, a 135-pound Anatolian shepherd named Koda.

“Koda’s learned when I’m having nightmares, he’ll come up and he’ll comfort me,” Stallings said. “He’ll put his wet, cold nose on me at night when I’m sleeping and wake me up because he knows I’m having a bad dream or an episode or something like that.”

“So he’s always there.”

Stallings and his wife, Debbie, picked up two Anatolian brothers with the intention of eventually training one or both as service dogs.

“I thought it’d be nice to have one. We actually weren’t even sure what a service dog would do for us,” Stallings said, “but we decided to look around and do some research.”

The Mesa residents turned to Soldier’s Best Friend,an Arizona nonprofit that trains dogs to work with veterans with PTSD – or a combat-related traumatic brain injury – as service dogs. The organization either pairs the veteran with a dog adopted from a local shelter, or they train a dog already owned by the veteran.

“One thing we did notice was everywhere we looked and all the inquiries that we did, everything was leading us towards Soldier’s Best Friend as being the best (organization) out of all of them,” Stallings said.

Soldier’s Best Friend has been a nonprofit since 2001. Its program comes at no cost to the veteran. It has nearly 40 contributors – including volunteers and organizations – and is entirely funded through donations, grants and fundraisers.

“We go in, and we give back,” Stallings said. “Because it’s a nonprofit, they have to do fundraisers and stuff. And because (Koda’s) so well-trained, we don’t have a problem going out and helping or being the poster dog.”

Soldier’s Best Friend has helped hundreds of veterans, with nearly 300 dog-veterans teams that have graduated, according to its website. The group has five locations: Phoenix, Tucson, Prescott, Sierra Vista and Flagstaff.

Its staff is made up of war veterans, practicing PTSD therapists, professional service dog trainers, veterinarians and nonprofit professionals.

Not all dogs at Soldier’s Best Friend start out like Koda, already belonging to the veteran; many come from local shelters around the Valley.

Sarah Eccleton, the organization’s dog adoption and placement coordinator, has been working with dogs since she was a child.

“I actually would go and watch my mom do dog training classes, and by age 6, I was done watching,” she said. “We’ve got pictures of me, 6 years old with my first toy poodle, training it.”

Eccleton said because of her closeness with breeders, competing and training her own dogs, and understanding ATC (“authority to compete” referring to the guidelines to compete in the international dog show Crufts), she was prepared to deal with dogs of every personality type.

“I did a lot of behavioral training at a boarding facility that took all the reject (puppies) with temperament issues from everybody,” Eccleton said. “So that’s where I learned a lot of aggression and behavior training. That’s what made me a candidate for this position.”

Her current job is to understand the veteran’s lifestyle and needs and pair them with a dog to complete the training program at Soldier’s Best Friend.

“I get an understanding of what they’re capable of training and working with,” Eccleton said, “how active they are, how much grooming they’re willing to do, what needs they have for their TBI (traumatic brain injury) or PTSD.”

After her conversation with the veteran, she reaches out to shelters and describes what sort of dog she wants. Eccleton said she relies heavily on the kennel aides at shelters to help with the pairing process.

“They are hands-on with all their dogs, so they have a better insight of, ‘Well, I think this will fit,’” Eccleton said.

Shelters provide five to 10 dogs for Eccleton.

“I evaluate them for temperament, good with people, good with dogs, good with other animals, trainability and if they’re food or toy motivated,” Eccleton said.

Soldier’s Best Friend uses B.A.R.C. – Behavior Assessment Reactivity Checklist – to evaluate a dog’s interactions with humans and their reactions to such things as people in public or sounds. The nonprofit has rescued more than 165 dogs, according to its website.

The adopted pup moves into the foster period, which typically takes a few weeks to a month. The adopted dog is fostered by volunteers, and they work with a trainer from Soldier’s Best Friend to break some of their shelter habits, teach them basic skills and prepare them to enter into the training program alongside their veteran.

“That’s one of the requirements at Soldier’s Best Friend,” Stallings said. “If (Soldier’s Best Friend) provide a dog … they require that the dog has a certain amount of skills already trained in him so that they can see if the dog is trainable.”

Whether a dog goes through the adoption process or is brought in by a veteran, the dog must know how to perform basic commands, Stallings said. If the dog can sit, shake and/or lay down, staff members know the dog is teachable.

All dogs are spayed, neutered and vaccinated, and they have received all recommended preventative medications before placement, according to the organization’s website.

Veterans who are paired with rescue dogs will not be charged for veterinary services and most supplies during the training process, the organization says, and veterans who own dogs will get veterinary services at a reduced rate during training.

Each veteran and dog go through a six- to nine-month training program. The program’s teaching is aligned with the Canine Good Citizen training – a 10-skill program that teaches dogs the basics of manners and obedience – and requires a minimum of three personal service tasks.

The veteran also is given a written test that covers proper care and training techniques for their dogs.

Allison Walker, a lead trainer at the nonprofit, said they focus on training the veterans – the handler – how to train the dog themselves.

“Every trainer is assigned teams, and the teams do one group lesson and one individual lesson every week,” Walker said. “Every trainer is taking their teams through from day one through graduation.”

The primary focus of Soldier’s Best Friend is to train the dogs to be service animals, but the program is equally as rigorous for the veterans. Because of their PTSD symptoms, everyday tasks such as going to a store or attending a crowded event can become nearly impossible for some.

“We tell them that this program is going to push their boundaries and test their limits,” Walker said, “because although we don’t want to overwhelm anyone, we want them when they are in the real world to know how to respond to things.”

Stallings said the training program changed his mind about repetitiveness and perseverance. Because of his military background, he liked to give a command and see it performed right away. He also was quick to get frustrated and react.

“There’s a saying in the program: It only takes a couple of weeks to train a dog; it takes six to nine months to train the veteran,” Stallings said. “The dog will usually get it before the veteran gets it. You learn patience really quick, which is a skill that when you go back into the civilian world, it’s really hard to have patience.”

Anatolian shepherds, like Koda, are livestock guard dogs and trackers – dogs that can detect, recognize and follow a scent. Stallings said this trait is most beneficial for him when he’s in crowded places and begins to feel anxious.

“If I’m looking in one aisle and she’s in another, and I kind of feel like I’m getting amped up – my PTSD or whatever – and I need to get back to my wife, I can tell Koda, ‘Find Mom.’ And what he’ll do is he’ll immediately go into track mode, and he’ll take me back to her,” Stallings said.

The nonprofit’s main goal is to train each dog to fit the veterans’ unique and specific needs.

“Every dog is a little bit different, and every veteran needs something different from their dog,” Walker said. “We do a lot of talking and deciding what tasks the veteran is going to teach the dog because the task work is so personal.”

Koda has graduated from service dog training, but he and Stallings now attend advanced training classes at the nonprofit. The tasks mastered at this training level have made Stallings feel more at ease. Koda is his second set of eyes.

“I’ve always worried about people being behind me where I can’t see,” Stallings said, ”so I taught him to watch my back.

“He would sit on my right side and look behind me. He’ll actually nudge me, letting me know there are people behind me, that he can see them and it’s OK.”

Koda is there to lend a helping paw when Stallings needs help up.

“If I was sitting on the floor or sitting in a chair and I needed him,” Stallings said, “he’ll come to me and I’ll tell him to brace, and then he locks his front legs up. Between his shoulder blades, I can apply all my body weight on him and stand up basically like a cane.”

Koda also “has learned to turn on light switches, to open up all the doors in the house and close them,” Stallings said.

At the beginning of the program, however, Stallings was skeptical.

“I know when we first started it, I was like, ‘There’s no way this is going to work,’” he said.

He could tell that Koda did not understand why he was training or going through such repetitive motions, but it didn’t take long to see a change in himself and his dog.

“All of a sudden, the light would kick on, and he’d understand,” Stallings said. “It’s kind of cool to see him get it. It’s almost like he’s smiling, he’s figured it out. ‘I know why I’m doing this.’”

Walker said she, too, can see a dog’s mentality change throughout the training.

“One day they come in, and they realize they are no longer just a pet,” Walker said.

But the veterans also go through a big change as well.

“They see all of a sudden how their life is opened up,” Walker said, “because they have a service dog, and they see now that they are going to be able to do things that they thought they never would be able to do again.”

Eccleton compares the veterans to the newly adopted dogs: timid and anxious when they first enter the program.

“When you’re working with a fearful dog, you’ve got to have them be exposed to that fear, right? Because you can’t conquer the fear if you just avoid it,” she said. “Once you conquer it, and then you see, ‘OK, I survived that.’ That’s a reward in itself, so I think that’s the same kind of therapeutic effect for our veterans.”

Walker said she began at Soldier’s Best Friend with the intention of learning to train and educate, but seeing the difference a service dog can make on a veteran is the most rewarding part.

“Being able to help veterans achieve that sense of independence again,” Walker said, “especially helping them communicate with their dogs more effectively and connect with their dogs … because they do come to trust each other.”

Stallings said Koda’s brother Kacey has been able to pick up on some of the skills Koda has learned. But they still get to spend their time together playing and being normal pets.

“One of the things I noticed a lot is when he’s not suited up, he’s just a dog,” Stallings said. “I watch him play in the backyard and when the mailman comes … he’s barking out of the window, ‘I see you, I see you,’ but as soon as I put the vest on him, it’s like flipping a light switch. It’s like, ‘OK, I’m working now.’”

Stallings said Soldier’s Best Friend only strengthened the bond between him and Koda, and now they’re more than just pet and owner.

“He acts like he has a purpose,” Stallings said.

Jimmy The Officer Service Dog

Upon a first meeting, Jimmy rushes over to a stranger, bestowing incessant kisses before setting himself down to cast an intent stare, seemingly into the person’s soul.

Jimmy’s deep brown eyes send a message that he cares; the premature grey on his face signals he understands what you’re going through, despite how terrible it is.

After all, he’s been there himself. Abandoned at a young age and later found emaciated, Jimmy narrowly escaped death at a high-kill animal shelter in Missouri.

Now, Jimmy has a new life and purpose, bringing comfort to crime victims and their survivors at the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office.

Jimmy is a 3 1/2-year-old hound mix who is one of the prosecutor’s newest staff members, assigned to the victim-witness unit. As a therapy dog trained to sense when a person is under stress, his job is to put crime victims at ease when they come into the prosecutor’s office to talk about their cases.

“If you sit on the floor with him, he will lick you and just love you all up,’’ said Carol Froberg, Jimmy’s co-handler and victim-witness director for the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office.

In that capacity, Jimmy will be blazing a trail in New Jersey.

While other prosecutor’s offices in the state sometimes contract with outside agencies to bring in therapy dogs to work with crime victims, Jimmy is believed to be the first canine assigned to work full-time as a therapy dog at a prosecutor’s office in New Jersey, Froberg said.

As such, Jimmy joins more than 200 therapy dogs working in courthouse settings or at prosecutor or district attorney offices nationwide, Froberg said.

“I’m happy to be breaking this ground in victim-witness advocacy,’’ said Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley D. Billhimer, adding that on his second day on the job as prosecutor in October 2018, Froberg approached him about getting a dog for the victim-witness unit.

“Working here for so long with victims, we wanted to do something extra for them and make the process a little bit less difficult for them, if that’s even possible,’’ Froberg said.

“You’re starting to see therapy dogs everywhere in schools,’’ she said. “Any time there’s a mass shooting, they bring in therapy dogs just because of the impact that they have on victims. We wanted to do something like that here and make the process a little bit easier for (victims.) It opens up communication. It’s a distraction for people. It lets them be a little less nervous and, that way, they can tell their stories better if they’re a little more calm.’’

Gabe “Griffins sweet boy “

Gabe is Griffins emotional support dog. He is loving and sweet and can sense when Griffin is having a rough day. He sleeps with him at night and gets so excited when Griffin comes in the door so much that he has learned to smile so Griffin knows he is happy.

Jep & Trace Graduation Day

Photo taken the Day we were issued our Certification. Certificate by Northedge K9, Officer Christian Stickney Director, and Embrace A Vet.

Beaker @ Coeur D’Alene

Beaker is a fully trained and certified registered service animal for medical purposes needing to go anywhere and everywhere with me. I’ve been traveling as my service animal since he was a puppy.

Beaker @ Coeur D’Alene

Beaker is a fully trained and certified registered service animal for medical purposes needing to go anywhere and everywhere with me. I’ve been traveling as my service animal since he was a puppy.

Emotional support

A pet is more powerful then any medication when it comes to comforting, soothing and distracting when you are in pain.

Being supportive

Calming energy,  sitting beside me with his arm around me.. after a traumatic experience.  His love knows no end,  I can’t deal with life without him..

Soldier’s Best Friend

Staff Sgt. Terry Stallings served in the Army for 23 years. He was stationed across the globe, including posts in Iraq, Balad, Kuwait, Desert Storm, Mexico, Central America, Alaska, Portugal and Germany.

After six combat deployments overseas, he returned home and was diagnosed with post- traumatic stress disorder.

Veterans often rely on medications, therapy, sports and other treatment options for PTSD relief. Stallings looked toward companionship.

“He’s basically my battle buddy,” Stallings said. “Wherever I go, he follows me. If I’m laying down, he lays down at the foot of our bed. If I’m in the living room, he lays down next to my chair. He’s always ready to help me.”

“He” is Stallings’ service dog, a 135-pound Anatolian shepherd named Koda.

“Koda’s learned when I’m having nightmares, he’ll come up and he’ll comfort me,” Stallings said. “He’ll put his wet, cold nose on me at night when I’m sleeping and wake me up because he knows I’m having a bad dream or an episode or something like that.”

“So he’s always there.” Stallings and his wife, Debbie, picked up two Anatolian brothers with the intention of eventually training one or both as service dogs.

“I thought it’d be nice to have one. We actually weren’t even sure what a service dog would do for us,” Stallings said, “but we decided to look around and do some research.”

The Mesa residents turned to Soldier’s Best Friend, an Arizona nonprofit that trains dogs to work with veterans with PTSD – or a combat-related traumatic brain injury – as service dogs. The organization either pairs the veteran with a dog adopted from a local shelter, or they train a dog already owned by the veteran.

“One thing we did notice was everywhere we looked and all the inquiries that we did, everything was leading us towards Soldier’s Best Friend as being the best (organization) out of all of them,” Stallings said.

Soldier’s Best Friend has been a nonprofit since 2001. Its program comes at no cost to the veteran. It has nearly 40 contributors – including volunteers and organizations – and is entirely funded through donations, grants and fundraisers.

“We go in, and we give back,” Stallings said. “Because it’s a nonprofit, they have to do fundraisers and stuff. And because (Koda’s) so well-trained, we don’t have a problem going out and helping or being the poster dog.”

Soldier’s Best Friend has helped hundreds of veterans, with nearly 300 dog-veterans teams that have graduated, according to its website. The group has five locations: Phoenix, Tucson, Prescott, Sierra Vista and Flagstaff.

Its staff is made up of war veterans, practicing PTSD therapists, professional service dog trainers, veterinarians and nonprofit professionals.

Not all dogs at Soldier’s Best Friend start out like Koda, already belonging to the veteran; many come from local shelters around the Valley.

Sarah Eccleton, the organization’s dog adoption and placement coordinator, has been working with dogs since she was a child.

“I actually would go and watch my mom do dog training classes, and by age 6, I was done watching,” she said. “We’ve got pictures of me, 6 years old with my first toy poodle, training it.”

Eccleton said because of her closeness with breeders, competing and training her own dogs, and understanding ATC (“authority to compete” referring to the guidelines to compete in the international dog show Crufts), she was prepared to deal with dogs of every personality type.

“I did a lot of behavioral training at a boarding facility that took all the reject (puppies) with temperament issues from everybody,” Eccleton said. “So that’s where I learned a lot of aggression and behavior training. That’s what made me a candidate for this position.”

Her current job is to understand the veteran’s lifestyle and needs and pair them with a dog to complete the training program at Soldier’s Best Friend.

“I get an understanding of what they’re capable of training and working with,” Eccleton said, “how active they are, how much grooming they’re willing to do, what needs they have for their TBI (traumatic brain injury) or PTSD.”

After her conversation with the veteran, she reaches out to shelters and describes what sort of dog she wants. Eccleton said she relies heavily on the kennel aides at shelters to help with the pairing process.

“They are hands-on with all their dogs, so they have a better insight of, ‘Well, I think this will fit,’” Eccleton said.

Shelters provide five to 10 dogs for Eccleton.

“I evaluate them for temperament, good with people, good with dogs, good with other animals, trainability and if they’re food or toy motivated,” Eccleton said.

Soldier’s Best Friend uses B.A.R.C. – Behavior Assessment Reactivity Checklist – to evaluate a dog’s interactions with humans and their reactions to such things as people in public or sounds. The nonprofit has rescued more than 165 dogs, according to its website.

The adopted pup moves into the foster period, which typically takes a few weeks to a month. The adopted dog is fostered by volunteers, and they work with a trainer from Soldier’s Best Friend to break some of their shelter habits, teach them basic skills and prepare them to enter into the training program alongside their veteran.

“That’s one of the requirements at Soldier’s Best Friend,” Stallings said. “If (Soldier’s Best Friend) provide a dog … they require that the dog has a certain amount of skills already trained in him so that they can see if the dog is trainable.”

Whether a dog goes through the adoption process or is brought in by a veteran, the dog must know how to perform basic commands, Stallings said. If the dog can sit, shake and/or lay down, staff members know the dog is teachable.

All dogs are spayed, neutered and vaccinated, and they have received all recommended preventative medications before placement, according to the organization’s website.

Veterans who are paired with rescue dogs will not be charged for veterinary services and most supplies during the training process, the organization says, and veterans who own dogs will get veterinary services at a reduced rate during training.

Each veteran and dog go through a six- to nine-month training program. The program’s teaching is aligned with the Canine Good Citizen training – a 10-skill program that teaches dogs the basics of manners and obedience – and requires a minimum of three personal service tasks.

The veteran also is given a written test that covers proper care and training techniques for their dogs.

Allison Walker, a lead trainer at the nonprofit, said they focus on training the veterans – the handler – how to train the dog themselves.

“Every trainer is assigned teams, and the teams do one group lesson and one individual lesson every week,” Walker said. “Every trainer is taking their teams through from day one through graduation.”

The primary focus of Soldier’s Best Friend is to train the dogs to be service animals, but the program is equally as rigorous for the veterans. Because of their PTSD symptoms, everyday tasks such as going to a store or attending a crowded event can become nearly impossible for some.

“We tell them that this program is going to push their boundaries and test their limits,” Walker said, “because although we don’t want to overwhelm anyone, we want them when they are in the real world to know how to respond to things.”

Stallings said the training program changed his mind about repetitiveness and perseverance. Because of his military background, he liked to give a command and see it performed right away. He also was quick to get frustrated and react.

“There’s a saying in the program: It only takes a couple of weeks to train a dog; it takes six to nine months to train the veteran,” Stallings said. “The dog will usually get it before the veteran gets it. You learn patience really quick, which is a skill that when you go back into the civilian world, it’s really hard to have patience.”

Anatolian shepherds, like Koda, are livestock guard dogs and trackers – dogs that can detect, recognize and follow a scent. Stallings said this trait is most beneficial for him when he’s in crowded places and begins to feel anxious.

“If I’m looking in one aisle and she’s in another, and I kind of feel like I’m getting amped up – my PTSD or whatever – and I need to get back to my wife, I can tell Koda, ‘Find Mom.’ And what he’ll do is he’ll immediately go into track mode, and he’ll take me back to her,” Stallings said.

The nonprofit’s main goal is to train each dog to fit the veterans’ unique and specific needs.

“Every dog is a little bit different, and every veteran needs something different from their dog,” Walker said. “We do a lot of talking and deciding what tasks the veteran is going to teach the dog because the task work is so personal.”

Koda has graduated from service dog training, but he and Stallings now attend advanced training classes at the nonprofit. The tasks mastered at this training level have made Stallings feel more at ease. Koda is his second set of eyes.

“I’ve always worried about people being behind me where I can’t see,” Stallings said, ”so I taught him to watch my back.

“He would sit on my right side and look behind me. He’ll actually nudge me, letting me know there are people behind me, that he can see them and it’s OK.”

Koda is there to lend a helping paw when Stallings needs help up.

“If I was sitting on the floor or sitting in a chair and I needed him,” Stallings said, “he’ll come to me and I’ll tell him to brace, and then he locks his front legs up. Between his shoulder blades, I can apply all my body weight on him and stand up basically like a cane.”

Koda also “has learned to turn on light switches, to open up all the doors in the house and close them,” Stallings said.

At the beginning of the program, however, Stallings was skeptical. “I know when we first started it, I was like, ‘There’s no way this is going to work,’” he said.

He could tell that Koda did not understand why he was training or going through such repetitive motions, but it didn’t take long to see a change in himself and his dog.

“All of a sudden, the light would kick on, and he’d understand,” Stallings said. “It’s kind of cool to see him get it. It’s almost like he’s smiling, he’s figured it out. ‘I know why I’m doing this.’”

Walker said she, too, can see a dog’s mentality change throughout the training.

“One day they come in, and they realize they are no longer just a pet,” Walker said.

But the veterans also go through a big change as well.

“They see all of a sudden how their life is opened up,” Walker said, “because they have a service dog, and they see now that they are going to be able to do things that they thought they never would be able to do again.”

Eccleton compares the veterans to the newly adopted dogs: timid and anxious when they first enter the program.

“When you’re working with a fearful dog, you’ve got to have them be exposed to that fear, right? Because you can’t conquer the fear if you just avoid it,” she said. “Once you conquer it, and then you see, ‘OK, I survived that.’ That’s a reward in itself, so I think that’s the same kind of therapeutic effect for our veterans.”

Walker said she began at Soldier’s Best Friend with the intention of learning to train and educate, but seeing the difference a service dog can make on a veteran is the most rewarding part.

“Being able to help veterans achieve that sense of independence again,” Walker said, “especially helping them communicate with their dogs more effectively and connect with their dogs … because they do come to trust each other.”

Stallings said Koda’s brother Kacey has been able to pick up on some of the skills Koda has learned. But they still get to spend their time together playing and being normal pets.

“One of the things I noticed a lot is when he’s not suited up, he’s just a dog,” Stallings said. “I watch him play in the backyard and when the mailman comes … he’s barking out of the window, ‘I see you, I see you,’ but as soon as I put the vest on him, it’s like flipping a light switch. It’s like, ‘OK, I’m working now.’”

Stallings said Soldier’s Best Friend only strengthened the bond between him and Koda, and now they’re more than just pet and owner.

“He acts like he has a purpose,” Stallings said.

Support Dog For Officers

Pd Cindy retired as a bomb sniffer dog in October, but has decided she is not quite ready to hang up her leash with the police just yet.

The spaniel has now been re-recruited by Humberside Police as a stress dog, supporting officers on their toughest days.

So far in Cindy’s nine-year career, she has assisted officers at visits from the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and HM the Queen, with other highlights including attending the Commonwealth Games in Scotland and Hull City of Culture in 2017.

She has also previously assisted the Police Service in Northern Ireland. After a very brief retirement, Cindy is now joining Humberside Police’s Occupational Health and Well-being Team with her new role as therapy dog.

Louise Robinson, the force’s senior psychotherapist said: “Animal Assisted Therapy can be used for rehabilitation, emotional comfort and regulation.

“Research indicates that use of a therapy dog in the right circumstances has been found to lower blood pressure and to facilitate in releasing endorphins.

“Participants in Animal Assisted Therapy reported decreased feelings of isolation, alienation and other improvements in their mental health and well-being.”

Service Dog Found

A service dog who went missing Dec. 12 following a wreck on Interstate 95 was found Wednesday not far from the crash scene in Occoquan and appears to be doing fine.

Volunteers with Pibbles4Hope, a nonprofit in eastern Prince William offering aid to homeless and low-income pet owners, had been helping in the search since the dog, Kilo, ran away from the crash scene.

Pibbles4Hope founder Ann-Marie Thacker Johnson teamed up with Brenda Wilson of Lost and Found Pets Prince William, to distribute thousands of fliers and put out trail cameras in the area where Kilo was thought to be. From witness accounts, it appears Kilo was hit by a truck over the weekend on the Va. 123/I-95 ramp, so cameras were placed in an Occoquan neighborhood near that area. Early this morning, Kilo appeared on a trail cam, seemingly uninjured. As it turns out, Johnson said, a few residents in the neighborhood had seen Kilo and had been feeding him for a few days.

On Wednesday evening, those neighbors managed to lure him with treats, including steak, and corner him on one of their decks until they could reach Johnson and Kilo’s owner Andrew Breidenbach.

Johnson posted photos on Facebook with Kilo, still wearing his service vest. In one photo, Kilo’s giving kisses to Johnson and in another he’s “hugging” his owner. Kilo is a PTSD service dog that Breidenbach, a Richmond area resident, has owned for four years. Breidenbach’s immediate family lives in Woodbridge.

Johnson said finding the missing dog was a huge effort involving what she called “Team Kilo” volunteers from as far away as Maryland donating time, money, trail cameras and traps. Johnson herself emailed more than 1,000 veterinarians asking them to be on the lookout in case someone came in with Kilo, who is microchipped.

Once Kilo was found Wednesday evening, Wilson from Lost and Found Pets had him checked out at Tackett’s Mill Animal Hospital, which donated the exam and bloodwork. Kilo appears to not have suffered any serious injuries from his time outside or being struck by a car.

After the vet check, Kilo visited Johnson’s garage, where she gave him treats and toys from her homeless outreach program.

Autism Service Dog

Nine-year-old Nico Furukawa’s letter to Santa this year asked for only one thing—good luck with his future dog.

Nico, who is autistic, is in the midst of a miracle unfolding.

His family’s greatest gift this Christmas was being selected to be recipients of a service dog trained specifically for children with autism. While some service dogs can cost $35,000 to $50,000 including training costs, a dog through the Canadian-based Dawgs2Heal costs a fraction of the price at around $10,000 for families. The dog is a bit of hope for Nico’s parents Nao and Susan Furukawa and his siblings Clare, 13, Luke, 16, and Yukie Furukawa, 34.

Susan has watched her son have more meltdowns as he gets older and as the pandemic wears on.

Like many people with autism, Nico can get overwhelmed with sensory stimulation and get confused when rules change. It’s also becoming more difficult to help Nico calm down with a weighted vest or blanket as he grows bigger.

“Imagine you live in a world where rules are completely arbitrary and you don’t know what they are. On top of it, everything feels louder or more difficult,” his mother said.

Although Nico is back in fourth grade at Kinnikinnick School, being home for months when school went online last spring slowed his progress. He had a difficult time adjusting to the noise and chaos of Zoom for school, changes to his routines and not seeing other students from March to September.

“For a kid who has to work hard to understand social skills, it was a huge setback and going back to school was really challenging,” she said.

The family first started considering a dog only a couple of months ago when they noticed how much Nico connected with the neighbor’s dog—a miniature Bernedoodle named Winnie.

“He’s attached to the neighbor’s dog. He connects with animals in a way he doesn’t connect with people. He had a hard morning and was not willing to get on the bus and saw Winnie the dog and totally changed his mood,” his mother said.

Susan spoke to a friend who urged her to consider a service dog as her friend had a connection with the founder of Dawgs2Heal.

While it can take up to three years to obtain a fully trained service dog, the founder had a litter of new golden retriever puppies born in early November. They were ready for training and the founder had experience with training them for those with autism.

Susan said Nico is filled with happy anticipation for the pup. His classmates are helping to raise funds, and Nico gets excited every time a quarter is dropped in the donation box.

“Just knowing this puppy is out there has changed his life already,” his mother said.

The family doesn’t know which puppy will be selected, but has already named the pup which will be female. She will be called Shiro, a brave and loyal dog companion in a Japanese folk tale.

Mom said an autism service dog could provide companionship for Nico, keep him safe, help reduce dangerous meltdowns and help keep him from wandering.

In talking to other families with autism service dogs, Susan learned they can lay on or near children to help calm them. She is hoping the family will once again be able to travel if her son can have the calming presence of the dog. The dogs can assist with socialization skills as children begin to talk to people who may approach them to ask to pet the dog.

Most of all, the dog can provide unconditional love without judgement. Many children with autism have grown up around adults who may not have realized they were autistic and said unkind things to them about their behavior. Having a furry and accepting friend, may begin to give them much-needed acceptance.

In six to eight months, the dog and trainer would come stay with the family for a week where the trainer will work with the family to learn how to work with the dog and learn how to work with her.

Service Dog Gretchen

At 6 months old, Bill Austin’s new service dog, Gretchen, is still a pup learning the basics. But already, she takes her job seriously.

Working with trainer Karen Duty of Hellroaring Kennels outside of Polson, Bill and Gretchen recently took in the newly remodeled Showboat Cinema. Socialization training is a lifelong process of exposing service dogs to as many unique situations as possible. They learn how to filter out what is distracting or frightening to them and concentrate on their tasks for helping their handler.

On this day, Gretchen was introduced to a 6-foot inflated snowman, dark hallways, stairs and aisles of seats she needed to back into and tuck herself under, not an easy task for a Great Dane. (She already weighs over 100 pounds and is expected to top out around 175.) Later the same week, she faced her fear of the vacuum cleaner.

Gretchen is Bill’s second service dog. Injured during his sixth deployment as a medic with the Air National Guard in Iraq and Afghanistan, he was discharged in 2009 with physical injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder. When he received his first service dog, a 3-month-old Great Dane named J.P., Bill’s wife Janet said it was the first time she had seen him smile in two years. J.P. died early this year, an emotional loss for Bill.

Bill and Janet work hard to educate people about service animals, as opposed to therapy animals and emotional support animals. Animals whose main job is emotional support have no protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act. They require no specialized training, and business owners have no legal requirement to allow them on the premises unless they are a pet-friendly business.. Therapy animals must be highly trained and certified so that they can safely navigate hospitals and convalescent homes, allowing themselves to be petted and handled while not disrupting wheelchairs, crutches, hospital beds and often delicate instruments.

Service animals (dogs and small horses), they said, are the only category specified in the ADA with legal requirements for access to public spaces for them and their handlers. There is no legal certification for service dogs, though some people print fake certificates from the internet. Some training organizations like the one Bill and Karen are working with, Dog Tag Buddies in Billings, will provide a special tag if the dog passes all of its tests, but this is not a legal certification.

Authentic service dogs are known by their behavior and how they are handled, Bill said. They focus on their handler rather than seeking attention from other people or dogs. Larger breeds are trained to lie under a table at a restaurant and service dogs are never to be fed from a human’s plate. A small dog in a restaurant should be carried in a pouch, facing its handler so it can detect impending seizures or chemical changes if it’s a seizure alert or diabetic alert dog.

Otherwise, it too should be on the floor. Service dogs must be under control at all times, tethered with a leash unless performing a specific off-leash task.

“Businesses are getting really beat up with people claiming they have a service dog so they can bring it in,” Janet said. She and Bill give presentations to help people understand how to behave around service dogs, and the related legal requirements.

“Businesses do have rights,” Janet said. “Many times someone with a fake service dog will get loud and unruly, demanding to be allowed to bring their animal in. They are not required to do this unless it is a service animal. Even then, they can have the handler remove the animal if they show aggression or disruptive behavior. In fact, any animal that shows aggression is disqualified from service.”

The Austins testified in Helena in 2019 in front of the Montana Senate in support of legislation that now makes telling someone your dog is a service animal, when it is not, subject to a fine. The change aligned the Montana laws with the ADA guidelines.

“Service dogs are trained to perform tasks specifically to help people with disabilities to mitigate everyday life situations that the person can’t do on their own,” Bill said.

Some dogs detect chemical changes in a person to help alert them if a seizure or diabetic crisis is coming on. Some work to support autistic children, while others help people with mobility difficulties pick things up, open doors and turn on light switches. Seeing-eye dogs are highly trained to help their handlers move safely through the world.

J.P. was a PTSD service dog, helping Bill feel safe by “having his back.”

“When somebody comes up behind me, my instinct is to swing,” Bill said, describing a remnant reaction from his wartime experience called “hypervigilance.” J.P. would let him know when someone approached. He would sleep by Bill’s bed and comfort him if he had flashbacks, to keep them from becoming severe, and help him get to sleep by resting his head on Bill’s shoulder. His large size made it possible for Bill to lean on him for support getting out of a chair. Gretchen is learning to follow in J.P.’s footsteps, though she has her own playful personality.

Service dogs should have a high standard of training, Bill said, although even some of them may be good at their jobs but not so well trained in manners, which hurts the cause of accepting service animals. Several nonprofit organizations train service dogs for free, he said, such as Dog Tag Buddies, which helps train dogs for veterans with traumatic brain injury, PTSD and other injuries. They are looking to train more trainers in Montana.

Arya – 1 year old

Arya before a walk.

Arya loves walkies! The only thing she prefers other than that is going to see and play with her four paws friends!

She wears a harness to walk and I use a leash in leather!

K9s For Warriors

Three Beaches police departments got some bark under their Christmas trees this week.

But their new four-legged gifts won’t help “collar” criminals as much as help officers with their increasingly stressful jobs.

Jamie, Duke and C4 are called station dogs, donated by K9s For Warriors to the Jacksonville Beach, Neptune and Atlantic Beach police departments, respectively, as canine therapy for officers and staff as well as victims of crime.

It’s a job the trio are comfortable with, having been service dogs for returning veterans prior to their new assignments, K9s for Warriors CEO Rory Diamond said.

“Every time a police officer comes back from patrol, they are loving the dog,” said Diamond, also the Jacksonville City Councilman for the Beaches district.

“Every victim who is there, every witness who is there, they get loved on by the dog and feel better,” he said. “… It’s proven to lower stress; it’s proven to keep our veterans alive. We have a huge problem of first-responder suicide.”

As Jamie, Jacksonville Beach’s police service dog, checked out the other two at a Tuesday donation ceremony, Cmdr. Eric Shaughnessy said having the animal at the station will be the right stress relief. Their arrival is a reminder of when one of the department’s own, Cpl. Andy Lavender, took his life 18 months ago, Shaughnessy said.

“We think about Andy all the time, and hopefully if someone is feeling that way in the future, Jamie will be there for them,” Shaughnessy said. “We are hoping those folks can bond with the dog, and maybe after a particularly stressful incident or something they see, they will know the dog is at the station waiting for them.”

Ponte Vedra-based nonprofit K9s for Warriors works to end military veteran suicide by providing service dogs to those returning soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injuries or military sexual trauma. But the three dogs it gave to the police departments will be there to support those community’s first responders as well as co-workers and even crime victims, Diamond said.

“Our police officers are under attack, so we want to do our part to keep them alive,” he said. “They have actually done tests on this and if you pet a dog, your blood pressure goes down.” Gathering at the Wingate Football Fields in Jacksonville Beach for the donation, Diamond said the dogs have been retired from K9s for Warriors after helping disabled military veterans. He designated them for the Beaches police departments after Lavender’s suicide, saying his group had to “be part of the solution and we wanted to keep our police officers alive” by lowering stress and making them happy.

Wearing big red bows on a city football field, the dogs joined the officers in each department who have already been caring for them, integrating the animals into living in the respective stations.

Like K9s for Warriors dogs help military veterans, the station dogs will work on police officer wellness, spending time playing in the station or just going for a walk. And since police officers, like veterans, face similar issues, a service dog in the station can help reduce officer turnover and attrition and other emotional distress. “We have found that he has already blended quite well with our family at the station,” Neptune Beach Cmdr. Gary Snyder said as Duke, a black Labrador, lay at his feet. “We look forward to interjecting him into the community a little bit. He’s got an automatic calming effect for our staff and he is truly already an asset to our agency.”

The dogs are not there to be a pet, but to help officers “de-stress a little bit” and seek some therapy if they need it, Atlantic Beach Chief Victor Gualillo said. C4 will also help their dispatchers who face unique emotional issues, the chief said.

“A lot of times, they are in the midst of a high-stress incident with someone on the other end of the phone who is screaming for help,” he said. “… Having C4 there before the officers can come back and tell them how it turned out can give them a way to reach out and touch something that’s caring and loving.”

The dogs were also welcomed by the mayors of some of the Beaches communities.

“We have dogs now who are bringing happiness and comfort to officers, and what a great thing that is for each of these departments,” said Neptune Beach Mayor Elaine Brown said. “They need it, and it’s just such a good feeling to have Duke running around over there going from office to office and bringing comfort.”

The dogs will also be part of each department’s community policing program, going with officers on visits to schools and other organizations.

“Nothing breaks down a barrier like a dog,” Diamond said.

Obama is a happy well behavior pet. He listens only if he could talk.

Obama dress in his Christmas outfit he’s the light of our house.. happy faces.

love to play. .he love water taking baths and out door activities.

Veteran And His Dog

.It wasn’t exactly the tender, affecting environment for love at first sight.

But when double lower amputee Marine Sgt. (ret.) Patrick Brown and an anxious German Shepherd Dog puppy Drea first cast eyes on each other in August 2017, a union of soul mates was established.

That dream moment occurred at a Mutts With A Mission meet-and-greet in Portsmouth, Virginia. The agency provides service dogs for those who served on active duty and have a service-connected disability, as well as law-enforcement officers, First Responders, and federal agents.

The AKC 2020 Humane Fund Awards for Canine Excellence (ACE) Service Dog finalist recalls that first meeting. “Brooke (Corson, executive director) called me and told me the dog arrived from Arizona and was out of sorts. She had left her Mom, had her first plane and car rides, all of which was pretty trying. She was hunkered down and didn’t want to leave her crate with a room full of strangers. When I arrived, Brooke opened the crate and Drea looked out and ran right over to me. Brooke smiled and said, ‘She is definitely yours.’”

But Brown’s stirring story had plenty of twists since being seriously injured in an explosion in Afghanistan in 2011 and since undergoing 62 surgeries.  He returned stateside to Bethesda Naval Hospital soon afterward, where he was treated inpatient and outpatient through 2015 with a family member living in nearby quarters from 2013-2015.

In 2013, he began considering a service dog but a resident program utilized only Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers. “My heart was set on a German Shepherd,” he emphasizes.

It was not until he retired in 2015 and came to live with his parents, James and Susan Brown, on three acres in Chesapeake, Virginia, did that begin to appear to be a solid option.

The conduit here was Renice Zimmerman, a nurse case manager and member of his treatment team. “His needs from me were minimal,” she says, “except we talked about a service dog and his true desire to own a GSD.”

Zimmerman reached out to her friend, Corson, about training a German Shepherd for Brown. Zimmerman had been showing dogs since 1986 and placed feelers out with her wide network of AKC dog-world friends to find Brown a puppy. Quickly, potential candidates began to surface but finding the right match fell on Corson. Within three months, Corson felt she had found Miss Perfect, i.e. Drea.

Patrick and Drea’s journey was a bit different for the organization, where others usually handle the puppy raising, then turn the eventually well-socialized dog back to Mutts With a Mission for finishing and matching up with a recipient. Corson and Brown worked together from Day 1 to graduation two years later at the Assistance Dogs International accredited facility.

“Patrick was very good about attending training classes several times a week,” adds Corson. “Hence, he wanted to make certain he was raising Drea correctly. Life with a puppy can be challenging and adding a life-changing disability to the mix makes it even more so. Patrick had a terrific attitude during training and the two have grown together into a great working team.”

Brown has continued re-enforcement training with the 70-pound Drea at home. But should any issue arise, he is on the phone or computer quickly with Corson to discuss a solution, which is usually resolved during the next tune-up visit to the Mutts With A Mission training headquarters, only 40 minutes away from home.

Wondering how this 3-year-old GSD acquired her name?

Drea is a Greek girl’s name, meaning courageous or daring, which Corson chose because it fit Brown’s long battle back from amputations following an explosion during a special mission in Afghanistan in 2011, his second deployment. “It’s a perfect fit,” smiles Brown.

Here’s the scenario leading to Brown’s injuries, which resulted in the total loss of his left leg and partial loss of the right: An intelligence report revealed that a town about eight miles from his small base had become a hotbed of activity for bomb makers. His unit’s challenging mission was to kill or apprehend the bad guys while carefully navigating about compounds full of explosives.

They knew exactly what they were doing, he says. “They had started making bombs with almost no metallic material, which made it almost impossible to detect them.

“I still remember the explosion, followed by the absolute worst pain I had ever felt. Then I blacked out. A few minutes later I remember being loaded onto a CASEVAC (casualty evacuation) helicopter and hearing a female medic telling me, ‘You will be OK.’ When I opened my eyes again, I was lying in a bed at Bethesda. I had been there for two months.”

Turns out Brown had stepped on a 31-pound homemade explosive designed to hit vehicles or larger groups of troops. It left a 12-foot crater in the ground and changed his life forever.

So what’s the daily regimen for Brown and Drea?

“As I get moving in the morning, Drea is fed and enjoys some downtime playing ball. After that the vest is put on and she reverts from a playful partner to a 3-year-old service dog.”

Drea makes life easier for Brown by closing drawers at home, picking up fallen items off the floor, whether it’s a pen that fell off the desk or a wallet that dropped after paying for items at a nearby grocery store. And she is adept at pulling Brown’s wheelchair when the need arises. There is a handle on her vest that enables Brown to grab and then command “walk up,’ from which she begins pulling him. She knows her right from her left and will go in the commanded direction until Brown says, “OK.”

One of her most memorable assists Brown adds, came when his wheelchair hit a crack in a parking-lot pavement and the owner tumbled out. “It rolled just out of reach so I told her to ‘get chair.’ She took hold of the tug handle on the chair that was added just for this situation and pulled it over to me. Without her, I could not have reached the chair and would have needed to wait until help arrived,” he recalls with tender reminiscence.

At home, Drea is the only pet, although Brown’s sister, Harley, and her boyfriend, Henry Murach, have two dogs that visit on occasion. Murach’s 9-year-old terrier mix Rosco and Drea are the best of tug-of-war buddies. “It’s the perfect outlet for Drea after a full day of working alongside me,” Brown concludes.

Police Companions

A Ponte Vedra-based nonprofit will donate service dogs to three police departments in Northeast Florida on Wednesday.

K9s For Warriors on Tuesday said the donations would not only benefit the Neptune Beach, Atlantic Beach and Jacksonville Beach police departments, but would also provide the dogs a new supportive, family environment.

The dogs — Jamie for JBPD, Duke for NBPD, and C4 for ABPD — will serve as “station dogs. That means the dogs will not be doing K9 work, but serving in a support role by providing comfort and companionship to officers at the station.

“K9s For Warriors knows the positive power that the companionship of a dog can bring to those who most need it. We see it every day in the veterans we help heal through this companionship and it is so rewarding for K9s to be able to provide these station dogs to serve our local police,” said Rory Diamond, K9s For Warriors’ CEO.

K9s For Warriors’ chief of staff and general counsel Patty Dodson added, “It’s beyond rewarding for us to give back to others in uniform who so valiantly serve and protect us. We have keen insight into the power of dogs to alleviate stress and foster emotional wellbeing. We’re honored to provide our vital police departments with a new, four-legged team member who may be able to promote the department’s overall wellness.”

The nonprofit compared the scenarios encountered by police to those encountered by military veterans, which is the primary demographic served by K9s for Warriors. The similarities include increased rates of suicide and self-harm, higher turnover and attrition, revocation of benefit plans, hostility against police unions, and even overt physical attacks.

The donations are being met with a warm reception by the top brass at the police departments.

“Officer wellness is a top priority for the Atlantic Beach Police Department,” ABPD Commander Tiffany Layson said. “Being able to partner with K9s For Warriors to get a facility dog has added another positive component to our overall wellness program. We hope that spending a little time with our new dog, whether it’s tossing a ball down the hallway or taking her for a walk, will give our first responders a tool to decompress and destress on a daily basis.”

K9s for Warriors said the police departments have a plan in place to care for the dogs, including setting aside a place for them to settle and voluntary programs that encourage officers to engage with the dogs and make them “one of the team.”

Tula fresh from the groomers

Tula enjoys going to the groomers every couple months for a bath and haircut, she usually gets feathers in her ears and a bow around her neck too!

Remembering A Service Dog

“At first I was just hoping that when he ran back to me maybe he just had a broken leg and I was in complete shock of everything that happened,” said SU graduate student Haley Michlitsch.

Haley Michlitsch was walking her service dog Addy when he jumped in front of a car that almost hit Haley. Instead, Addy was struck and died shortly after.

Haley has a rare adrenal disease that impacts how the body manages stress. Addy was specially trained to alert Hayley when her health was at risk.

“I felt like we had a connection and we were finally really close and he was my best friend, he was my protector. Even until the last few seconds of his life he was protecting me,” said Michlitsch.

Haley got Addy from Diabetes of America in October. To bring him home, she waited months and was trying to raise $15,000 to afford his training and travel expenses. She hadn’t even finished paying him off before he died. The loss has taken a huge toll on Haley’s health.

“I’ve had to double up on my steroids just to keep my body going on a daily basis quite a bit and just take extra steroid just so I can try to prevent going to the hospital as much as possible adjust because it was a very stressful experience for me and still is ongoing stress that I’m dealing with,” said Michlitsch.

Haley says one of the most difficult parts was having to watch someone hit Addy and then run off. She has been working with police to find the person responsible. She says if someone had stopped to help, things might’ve been better.

“I just want people to know what service dogs do and the impact of rendering aid. When you do hit something, stopping because again the circumstances could’ve been totally different. Even if Addy had still passed. If the car had stopped the situation would’ve been totally different and there would be a lot more forgiveness to that individual that ended up hitting Addy,” said Michlitsch.

However, some members of the community have stepped up to help Haley.

A GoFundMe page has helped raise enough money to cover the costs of Addy, as well as the costs of another service dog. Haley says any additional money that’s raised will go towards helping someone else in a similar situation.