THE MOTIVATION BEHIND IT ALL
It was 2013 and I had been on the same couch for the last five days following my release from the hospital. The multiple physical injuries paled in comparison to the psychological trauma suffered that past 18 months in Afghanistan and the States. A fractured skull and clavicle, multiple broken ribs, punctured lung, a broken ankle and spiral fracture to my leg requiring a rod and pins, and the still present doubled vision would all eventually heal. The loss of brothers, close friends, and near-death experiences – those invisible injuries proved to not be as easy to overcome.
I was a Mine Detection Dog (MDD) handler searching for improvised explosive devices (IEDs) with my MDD Homer during this deployment. The shaggy-bearded Homer, known as the “Black and White Devil” to the Taliban, had a historical deployment in terms of combat missions and IEDs located. But it was his actions after coming home that have led me to where I am today.
Homer was medically retired following our deployment due to PTSD. It was a total surprise when he walked through the door and entered our home for the first time. I’ll never forget the joy in my heart when seeing his rough-haired body and out of control tail. In an instant, the joy quickly turned to physical pain. Whoever said dogs know when you’re physically hurt was lying! He ran full speed and leaped onto my bare chest with his entire body.
The symptoms Homer suffered due to PTSD were obvious. Any type of sudden or loud noises would result in immediate diarrhea. We would have to keep the volume as low as possible when watching TV just in case there was an unexpected shooting scene. If the boys would be playing with their toy guns, he would cry and try to remove them from their hands. To put it mildly, we were a broken team with a list of issues.
Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine a dog could change someone’s entire outlook on life like Homer did for me. Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I was trying to help Homer overcome the grip PTSD had on him. At the same time, he was mirroring my efforts by comforting me whenever I expressed anger or sadness. Instead of using his nose to locate IEDs, he learned to redirect my thoughts onto him during my episodes.
After realizing the potential a dog has to improve a person’s quality of life, coupled with my desire to help people, the vision for P.A.W. Service Dogs began to take shape. The next nine years consisted of gaining a wealth of knowledge in dog training, leadership techniques, and readjusting to being a civilian. These experiences included everything from testing dog teams before their combat deployments as the Army’s sole Certification Authority, to training Service Dogs for the nation’s largest provider of Service Dogs for Veterans; from leading the Army’s 6-month MDD course to working with first-time pet owners in their homes. It’s all led to this moment and for this mission:
“To properly train Service Dogs for children, adults and families, resulting in a new outlook on life and providing Therapy Dogs to the community’s schools, hospitals, nursing homes, specialty programs, and public events.”
A BLENDED APPROACH
Maybe P.A.W. Service Dogs will have an expert one day who specializes in the proper key words, writing styles and everything else the Internet tells us we need for professional blogs. Considering we are going against the grain for an organization in prioritizing community, those in need, and our employees/staff before profit, odds are – we will continue with our own style in creating blogs as well.
Our blog is going to be both informational and a story. The hope is to combine a life event within most of the blog postings to provide an easier understanding and hopefully add a personal feel. Readers can follow along in our journey to build P.A.W. Service Dogs from the ground up. Examples of the material that we’ll cover through a combination of pictures, videos, case studies, and stories include:
- The multiple approaches being utilized on helping families who have a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), our top priority.
- Both the good and the bad (hopefully more of the good). Our greatest achievements and some examples of what doesn’t quite work so well.
- Tips for Service Dog training, Therapy Dog training, and training your pets at home.
- How the families and Service Dogs in-training currently with the company are progressing and the daily challenges we overcome together.
- Updates will be given on the Therapy Dogs being trained and the locations where they’re helping others.
- Detailed explanations on how to properly train any dog through positive reinforcement, clicker training, target training, consistency, clear communication, altering reward schedules, and proper use of equipment.
- Up-to-date notices on the progress of our Internship Program, Community Involvement Program and ability to purchase a property.
- To create excitement of what P.A.W. Service Dogs will bring to our local communities of St. John’s and Duval County, Florida.
- Spread ASD awareness.
- Motivate others to overcome challenges in life.
- Prove that positivity, helping others, placing an emphasis on our employees, and supporting the community will result in success.
- Give an inside look of the time, effort, and resources necessary for P.A.W. Service Dogs to reach its vision.
- Allow others to follow along in this journey and give praise to those who have helped make it happen.