Hero Dogs for Veterans


Adorable 12-week-old Golden Retriever Maverick is being trained through Hero Dogs, Inc., a fabulous new group from my own state of Maryland that provides service dogs to military veterans or active members of the U.S. armed forces. They train dogs to meet those multiple challenges inherent to mobility, hearing, and/or psychiatric disorders. (Be sure to check them out and the many other service dog groups across the globe.)

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

The concept of the Psychiatric Service Dog (PSD) has received an increased emphasis in the media, their status elevated due to the concerns regarding the huge numbers of war veterans suffering with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as well as Traumatic Brain Injury due to the use of the improvised explosive device (IED). Some estimates show greater than one third of vets returning home from war in Iraq and Afghanistan are suffering from PTSD, this article on declining morale of US troops in Afghanistan revealing the significant societal impact:

Think tank RAND report in 2008 had revealed 300,000 veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan had been diagnosed with severe depression or post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It said more soldiers were going AWOL to find treatment from PTSD. RAND further reveals that rates of PTSD and traumatic brain injury among troops taking part in war on terror have been excessively high, with a third of returning troops reporting psychic problems and 18.5% of all returning service personnel battling either PTSD or depression. Marine suicides doubled between 2006 and 2007; army suicides are at highest rate since records were kept in 1980. There has been 80% increase in desertions since 2003. Over 150 GIs refused service while about 250 war resisters are taking refuge in Canada. 1700 strong GI resistance is gaining momentum. The veterans have signed up for anti-war Oath Keepers (an association of serving military officers, reserves, National Guard, veterans, fire fighters). Longer war drags on more resistance from within ranks. Hundreds of letters have been written to Obama by serving and retired servicemen, urging him to bring back US troops. Long absence from homes is escalating divorce rates. …

Mental state of those on duty on scattered posts is worst since they feel scared. Many suffer from mental disorders. Sleeplessness and bouts of anger are common. Many are found broken down and weeping since the faceless enemy frustrates them. Seeing their comrades blown up shatters them. They feel irritated that in their bid to help the population by giving them humanitarian assistance, they do not cooperate and often lie and tend to protect Taliban. Recent rules of engagement to minimize civilian casualties are seen as fighting with one arm tied behind backs. Most demoralizing thing is that soldiers are not getting killed in combat actions but by roadside bombs on routine journeys. In 2009, most casualties were from IEDs and still are. All combat missions are accepted with a heavy heart. There is no sense of pride or accomplishment in them. None want to die or get crippled. All they desire is complete their tenure and return home safely in one piece.

Here is so much more . . . .

Golden Retriever Paws for Purple Hearts – Video Update

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We originally brought you this story in October 2007. Pictured above is Golden Gabe with his latest idea of how to help our veterans. Here at age 12, he was still making such an incredible contribution. Learn more about Paws for Purple Hearts by checking out the wonderful Fall 2007 newsletter from Dr. Bonnie Bergin’s esteemed Assistance Dog Institute.

under.jpgBergin University’s Paws for Purple Hearts (PPH) program is the only one of it kind in the world. Building on the time-honored tradition of veterans helping veterans, Paws for Purple Hearts engages servicemen diagnosed with PTSD in a mission to train service dogs as part of their rehabilitative therapy. Training service dogs provides a way for veterans with PTSD to practice emotional regulation and give their days focus and purpose. The dogs help to facilitate social relationships with members of the community since a critical element of training is properly socializing the puppies and practicing their training skills in public.

Paws for Purple Hearts replaces the brotherhood of the military unit in the field with the brotherhood of shared purpose and caring for their fellow injured soldiers.

The service dogs are trained to assist in activities of daily living by opening doors, retrieving dropped items and pulling wheelchairs. These are just a few of the many benefits that a service dog provides. Plus the dog also offers unconditional love and acceptance. The service dog accompanies their partner everywhere – home, work, anywhere their lives take them. In many cases, service dogs perform tasks that were previously performed by an attendant or family member; thus reducing the veteran’s dependence on other people.

Dr. Bonita Bergin invented the concept of the Service Dog to assist people with mobility impairments in 1975. At that time she founded Canine Companions for Independence (CCI), the first nonprofit to train and place Service Dogs. After leaving CCI In 1991, Dr. Bergin founded the Assistance Dog Institute.

Under Dr. Bergin’s leadership, ADI continues to break new ground in “Helping Dogs Help People” – founding the only college offering Master of Science and Associate of Science degrees in dog studies, creating the High School Assistance Dog program for at-risk teens, and researching how to teach dogs to read and how to train pups as young as three weeks.

The Assistance Dog Institute is doing such pivotal research work in the training of assistance dogs. I believe the future of this critical field lies in the new information that is being gleaned through the Institute.

Tonight Brian Williams did a MSNBC TV report on Paws for Purple Hearts.  Just click on the image below to see this wonderful program in action.

Meet Golden Retriever O’Malley

omalley.jpgMeet sweet O’Malley. He is training to be member of PAL (People Animals Love). The group is one of the hundreds in our foundation’s national listing of animal-assisted therapy groups.

His story has a very special beginning, as it starts with his dad, who in January of 2005 was an infantry company commander serving in Mosul, Iraq. He was leading a convoy of Humvees when his vehicle was struck by an IED hidden behind a guard rail alongside the road.

Click here to learn about his rehab and how his own first hand experience with the therapeutic power of a loyal dog led him to want to train his own dog to help others.

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PAL Therapy Dogs on a mission with wounded vets

PAL, People Animals Love, is one of the many organizations featured at our Foundation’s National Listing of Therapy Dog organizations.

People Animals Love was organized in 1981 by Dr. Earl Strimple, a Washington, D.C. veterinarian, to to bring animals to the lonely and socially isolated. PAL’s pilot program was with the St. Francis Center, where it brought pets into the lives of the newly bereaved. Both Dr. Strimple and St. Francis founder, Rev. William Wendt, had witnessed the remarkable positive effects pets had on people who were coping with the loss of a loved one. Since 1982, PAL has been a separate charitable organization pioneering in the practical application and education of pet therapy in the Washington metropolitan area. PAL additionally has a Pet Loss Hotline, an After-School Club, and a Summer Camp.

Dogs therapeutic for recovering soldiers
By Brendan McGarry, Army Times Staff writer, November 26, 2007

In this photo by Sheila Vemmer, Hank is tilting his head back in delight as Spc. DeWitt Osborne reaches out and pets him at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Osborne was in the physical therapy room, working on his flexibilty after shoulder surgery, when Hank spotted his hand dangling within petting reach. Hank sure made Osborne’s therapy a little less painful and a lot more interesting.

img_hannah.jpg“She’s a pretty girl,” Sgt. Bruce Dunlap said, referring to Hannah, a purebred golden retriever who, along with her owner, Sandi Getler, stopped by his workout machine.

Dunlap, 29, of Kansas City, Mo., served in Iraq as part of the Kansas Army National Guard’s 161st Field Artillery unit. On Dec. 11, 2006, he was riding in an armored Humvee that was hit by an improvised explosive device. The blast and accompanying shrapnel broke both of his hands, severed fingertips, and sliced open his left arm and both of his legs.

In therapy at Walter Reed, Dunlap was sweating on a machine that resembled a cross between a treadmill and kayak. A bag around his waist filled with pressurized air, reducing his weight and allowing him to jog.

He said he recently completed the Marine Corps Marathon on a hand-crank bike and plans to become a school teacher and coach. “If I can get through this, I can do anything,” he said. Dunlap said he welcomes the presence of the playful dogs. “They bring a little touch of home,” he said.

Golden Hannah’s Mom, Sandi, tells a very special story about her work with PAL during this last year’s visits to Walter Reed.

During the past year on our visits as PAL (People Animals Love) volunteers to Walter Reed Army Medical Center, we were often paired up as a team: Hannah, my small Golden Retriever with long flowing wheat colored hair (feathers) and my teammate’s very large pure black Great Dane, who came close to breaking the Guinness’ World Record. Caesar was a gentle and loving giant; well-known throughout the hospital.. They were the canine version of the “Odd Couple,” and somewhat like an old fashioned Las Vegas act: Hannah, my Golden, as the showgirl, and Caesar, with his shiny black coat, as the main attraction.

Hannah, with her head held high would lead the way through the halls of the hospital and, as some Goldens do, sashayed, swinging her rear end from side-to-side with her long feathered tail swishing through the air. It was her way of alerting the assigned units. Anyone along the way knew that the majestic Caesar was about to arrive.

On this particular day when we entered the main room of the Psych Unit where most of the patients were expecting us, Caesar, being such an imposing animal, was given the command to “lie down” so no one would feel intimidated by his size. I noticed a patient, dressed in hospital-issued pajamas and loose-hanging robe, was standing in the shadows of a corner of the room, a male attendant by his side. He seemed lost in another time and place, not part of the current world around him, and with a blank unfocused look on his face. As Caesar stretched out in his “down” position, the young man began to move slowly toward the reclining dog. When he reached the animal the room fell silent as we watched how he placed his hand on Caesar’s shoulder, knelt down next to him and then gently laid down (spoon fashion) beside this wonderful animal. He rested his head tenderly on Caesar’s back. Caesar lifted and turned his head slowly to look at the patient, gave a soft sigh seeming to acknowledge this amazing contact, then put his head down again to rest comfortably with his “new friend.” No one spoke, no one moved in that room as we all witnessed a breakthrough in that young “wounded” soldier’s life. It was, we hoped, the beginning of his recovery.

A few months after this memorable experience, Caesar lost his battle against a serious infection and had to be put to rest.

Soldiers, patients and staff in the hospital still ask about Caesar, and I still get emotional when telling this story. But for Hannah and me, there’s no time for tears, as the “show must go on.” We will always feel so grateful to have known and worked alongside such a magnificent animal who gave so much love. Hail Ceasar!

Click below to see these wonderful dogs in action at Walter Reed.

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Therapy Golden Retriever Charlie

Charlie is following in Harley’s pawprints, as he is now working to help recovering soldiers at a facility in Texas.

Click here to see a wonderful video of Charlie in action.

In a wonderful article by Israel Saenz, I learned about the unbelievable couple above. They actually make 310-mile round trips once a week to the center so that Charlie can provide his special brand of healing.

“I have always wanted to do something for the soldiers,” said Amir Yehezkely, a native of Israel. “And we can see that Charlie does positive things by socializing with them.” The couple moved to Corpus Christi from New York in February 2005 and wanted two things: a way to give to the military community and a golden retriever. They found Charlie to be the friendliest among a litter of puppies soon after moving to South Texas, and learned about the center through an Internet search.

While Charlie never has experienced conflict, his owners have.

Private investor Amir Yehezkely, 42 and a member of the Westside Rotary Club, served in the Israeli Air Force from 1985 to 1988.

“I know what it’s like to be left on the base for the weekend and how important it is for someone to come see you,” he said. “I understand what it’s like when someone cares.”

He learned early about the sacrifices of war, with an assignment he and other Israeli primary school students had to complete in October 1973. Israeli forces were fighting back advancing Egyptian and Syrian troops in the three-week Yom Kippur War.

“The teacher asked us each to send a letter to a soldier,” Yehezkely said.

He sent a package of cards, chocolate and other items and said he never expected to hear back from the soldier.

“Weeks later I got a letter from the soldier, telling me how much he enjoyed the package — especially the letter. I know how effective it is to have support from civilians.”

Years after his own service in the Israeli military, he moved to New York and married his wife in August 1996. In 2001, Michele Yehezkely was a Washington Heights public school teacher about 20 minutes away from the World Trade Center that September.

When planes were flown into the towers one morning, administrators told staff no one was allowed to leave or enter the school.

“It tells the whole story when you see someone scrambling to pick up their child,” Michele Yehezkely said. “It was a terrifying day for all the U.S., but highlighted (for me) by the fact that I could see the smoke.”

After moving to Corpus Christi and finding Charlie, they decided he would be the best way to give back.

Golden Retriever Paws for Purple Hearts

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See 11/18/08 video update here.

Pictured above is Golden Gabe with his latest idea of how to help our veterans. He turned 12 last week and is still making such an incredible contribution. Learn more about Paws for Purple Hearts by checking out the wonderful Fall 2007 newsletter from Dr. Bonnie Bergin’s esteemed Assistance Dog Institute.

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Building on the time-honored tradition of veterans helping veterans, Paws for Purple Hearts engages servicemen diagnosed with PTSD in a mission to train service dogs as part of their rehabilitative therapy.  Training service dogs provides
a way for veterans with PTSD to practice emotional regulation and give their days focus and purpose. The dogs help to facilitate social relationships with members of the community since a critical element of training is properly socializing the puppies and practicing their training skills in public.

Paws for Purple Hearts replaces the brotherhood of the military unit in the field with the brotherhood of shared purpose and caring for their fellow injured soldiers.

Dr. Bonita Bergin invented the concept of the Service Dog to assist people with mobility impairments in 1975. At that time she founded Canine Companions for Independence (CCI), the first nonprofit to train and place Service Dogs. After leaving CCI In 1991, Dr. Bergin founded the Assistance Dog Institute.

Under Dr. Bergin’s leadership, ADI continues to break new ground in “Helping Dogs Help People” – founding the only college offering Master of Science and Associate of Science degrees in dog studies, creating the High School Assistance Dog program for at-risk teens, and researching how to teach dogs to read and how to train pups as young as three weeks.

The Assistance Dog Institute is doing such pivotal research work in the training of assistance dogs. I believe the future of this critical field lies in the new information that is being gleaned through the Institute.

Golden Retriever Recon already in Iraq on the job

 Melissa_Recon-IraqK-9 Recon works with Florida handler, Melissa Ellis, having the following certifications: NNDDA certified land & water cadaver and NNDDA certified land & water cadaver. Come meet Recon on his deployment to Iraq.

“Recon has been outstanding working around the gunfire and bombs in Iraq,” Ellis writes in an email to the Collier Citizen, adding that Recon, a one-year-old golden retriever, loves to ride in the Blackhawk helicopters.

Service Golden Retriever George … A Vet Dog

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Vet Dogs is a marvelous part of Smithtown, NY’s Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind, Inc.

Their program “was created so that America’s veterans would have their own K-9 corps and the chance to live with dignity and self-reliance once again. In addition to guide dogs, VetDogs will train and supply service dogs for veterans who have disabilities other than visual impairment.”

Come see 2-year-old Golden George who is part of this new training program. He is helping out at Walter Reed and it is really quite incredible what assistance this is providing. The sadness, though, is the fact that there are so many soldiers in need and so few trained dogs available.

Click here to see the incredible news clip of George on the job.

Handsome Service Golden Blip

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9/11 widow promotes service dog program
By BARBARA LIVINGSTON NACKMAN, THE JOURNAL NEWS

There is no doubt that a dog can brighten someone’s day and be trained to help those with extra needs. Cathy Carilli, whose husband, Tom Sinton III of Croton-on-Hudson, died in the 9/11 attacks, knows the solace that animals can bring all too well and wants to share that – along with their practical assistance – with wounded veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

Carilli has created The Tower of Hope Foundation and planned tonight’s fundraiser, “Lighting the Path,” in lower Manhattan to help train dogs to assist veterans who have lost limbs in combat. “During my darkest moments after losing (my husband), it was our pets that gave me comfort when I was alone,” said Carilli, who explained that her tiger-like savannah cats cuddled with her
in the kitchen and reminded her that she wasn’t alone, even though her heart was breaking.

There’s more . . . .

First I cried … and then I got mad

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For some weeks now, I have attempted to draw attention to a powerful story that not only recognizes the importance of canines in our lives, but draws attention to the current real life effects of a seemingly never ending war. Unfortunately, the solitary newspaper article in the San Antonio Express-News (noted below) failed to be picked up by any other news organizations or, more importantly, any local Texas TV stations. And, it hasn’t been for a lack of trying. Yet I know that without such coverage, there is absolutely no chance for folks to even become aware of the story.

To spur tax-deductible donations for HARLEY, the Land of PureGold Foundation has offered Ollie Plush Pups for donations of $50 or more. Yet, so many have turned down receiving this gift, instead wanting these pups presented to the soldiers at the Brooke Army Medical Center. We have begun sending pups to Andrea for this purpose, and will also be donating several more pups so that they can be given to soldiers as a memento from Harley.

This is the letter I just received that made me break down….

Hi Rochelle,
I wanted to thank you for the plush golden retriever, it is beautiful and I will always cherish it.

Harley is doing fine. He is still weak in his back legs due to the medication he is on. We have not been able to visit for the past few weeks. I did go today by myself so I could give a plush Golden Retriever that Lauren from San Antonio donated specifically for a soldier at BAMC.

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I gave the pup to soldier named Frank. He was injured in Iraq a few days before Thanksgiving. His vehicle was hit by an explosive and he lost both of his legs. He is a remarkable young man. I told him about Harley and about the donation. He was genuinely touched. To see the smile on his face that this gift brought was priceless. He held the pup and I asked him if I could take a picture to share with your website and was happy to agree. Along with the pup I gave him a card with Harley’s paw print which said “Get well soon, Love Harley”.

____________________________________________

If anyone has any media contacts or ideas about how the local folks in Texas or even National media can learn about this story, please do try to make something happen for this guy, shown here with Andrea.

The following letter is what I have sent out to the media. Anyone wanting to make further contacts can extract any or all of the information.

A recent article in the San Antonio Express-News detailed a very special boy who has been cheering up wounded Iraq soldiers at the Brooke Army Medical Center, despite the diagnosis of a brain tumor.

The Land of PureGold Foundation, a non-profit charitable organization, has set up the Helping Harley Fund ( http://harley.landofpuregold.com ), but attention to it has been very slight despite the news article and the foundation’s best efforts. I feel this inspiring story desperately needs television exposure in order for it to make a difference.

A recent article in the December 2006 issue of Scientific American ( Cancer Clues from Pet Dogs: Studies of pet dogs with cancer can offer unique help in the fight against human malignancies while also improving care for man’s best friend) details the importance of cancer treatment for our canines and how comparative oncology (study of cancers that occur similarly in humans and companion animals) is an important key for all of us, 2 or 4-footed.

The Gulf Coast Veterinary Specialists, who provided cutting age therapy for Harley, are among the top veterinary oncologists in the country, also offering very valuable clinical trials as part of a network of National Institutes of Health researchers.

Although Harley’s tale may seem to be merely a human interest story about a ailing Therapy Dog, it is truly so much more. For it can bring attention to some information that is valuable to all as statistics currently indicate that one in three persons, as well as small companion animals, will be diagnosed with cancer. It also details how some very special people, no matter the adversity, are trying to do their part to help assist our returning wounded soldiers.

____________________________________________________________

HERE IS THE NEWSPAPER ARTICLE ABOUT HARLEY:

Care is an elixir for dog with tumor
By Rose Mary Budge, San Antonio Express-News Staff Writer

It’s past midnight when Andrea Hanssen finally dozes off, exhausted after studying for her nursing board exams. Then Harley starts to bark. Instantly awake, she hurries to his side and starts dispensing her special brand of medicine. “I tell him Mama’s here and everything is going to be all right,” Hanssen says.

Harley, Hanssen’s 11-year-old golden retriever and hospital-visitation partner, needs extra encouragement and TLC these days. The things he used to do so easily — romping, jumping up on the couch, going for walks with his owner — are harder now and, occasionally, it’s tough for his weakened back legs to get traction on the tile or wooden floor.

“He can’t quite figure out what’s going on,” Hanssen says, “and that’s why I think he gets a little anxious at night and barks. I give him Valium to calm him if it’s really needed. But mostly I just stroke those wonderful golden ears and lie down by his side until he goes to sleep with his head between his paws.”

Harley has a brain tumor — cerebellar meningioma, the veterinarians call it. According to Dr. Stacy Randall of San Antonio’s South Texas Veterinary Specialists, a meningioma is a benign growth that normally affects the brain’s periphery and usually shows up in the cerebrum. In this case, the tumor has penetrated into a virtually inoperable area in the cerebellum, and the prognosis isn’t promising. Maybe six months. Maybe a year.

But Hanssen is trying to stay optimistic despite the odds, and she’s doing all she can to save her dog or to at least have the satisfaction that she tried.

Dots on Harley's head mark the spot where doctors guide radiation therapy.

Already her pet has been through radiation treatments, pneumonia and seizures when death seemed imminent. (Dots on Harley’s head mark the spot where doctors guide radiation therapy.) He’s taking an array of medications, including lomustine, (a chemotherapy drug), phenobarbital (an anti-convulsant), prednisone (a steroid) and Valium(a relaxant). Medical bills through September totaled well over $10,000. Hanssen has been maxing out credit cards and bank accounts and selling items on eBay to pay the bills.

“I’m hoping for a miracle,” she says, “and the cost doesn’t matter. My dog means everything to me, and he has an important job to do.”

Harley specializes in “furry therapy.” He and his owner volunteer under the auspices of Paws for Service, an organization that provides canine visits to hospitals, nursing homes and schools. The two started out at the children’s oncology ward at Methodist Hospital and for the past five years have been regulars at Brooke Army Medical Center, bringing smiles to both staff and patients whenever they visit.

Lillian Stein, volunteer coordinator for BAMC’s department of ministry and pastoral care praises their contributions. “They’ve been out here almost weekly and Andrea also comes out to help with our barbecues and parties. She’s always upbeat, which means a lot to the patients, and Harley’s just this great, lovable guy who cheers everyone up.”

READ MORE…….

Honor and Freedom

Belleview pair raise canines to be service companions for disabled veterans
By Glenda Sanders, The Villages Daily Sun

THE VILLAGES — Their names are Honor and Freedom, indicative of the future ahead of them. The golden retrievers, litter mates, brothers, were selected for training as service dogs for veterans with limited mobility. When they turn 18 months old, they will go through six months of intensive training, during which they will learn to open refrigerator doors, turn on lights, pick up a ringing phone and pick up dropped objects for their owners.For the time being, Honor and Freedom are living with loving puppy-raisers who prepare them for the training program.

Belleview residents Julie Drexel and Dianne Farrell met when they were taking puppies to basic obedience classes. Both of their dogs were wearing vests identifying them as puppies in training, so the two women struck up a conversation and a friendship. Drexel was raising a service dog puppy, her second, for New Horizons, an Orange City service dog agency.

Farrell was raising a puppy, her first, for a guide dog agency based in New York. “I was looking for a way to do something for the community, to give something back, and I was drawn into it,” Farrell said. “I’ve loved every minute of it — it’s so rewarding.”

Because the puppies they were raising were about the same age, both women turned their dogs over to professional trainers about the same time. Both were anxious to raise a new puppy. After hearing about New Horizons from Drexel, Farrell decided to raise a service dog puppy. “The founder of New Horizons is a quadriplegic,” Farrell said. “She is really geared to knowing where to place each dog.”

Drexel likes working with a small agency because it is in tune with the needs of the community. “They don’t put more puppies out there than they think they can place,” Drexel said.

Although they are named Honor and Freedom because of the people they are being raised to serve — American veterans — Honor and Freedom are brothers in a litter of golden retriever puppies officially listed as the NASCAR litter at New Horizons. They and their littermates made their television debut as tiny pups when their mother’s owner was selected for a car makeover by the “NASCAR Angels” television program. The pups, each held by a member of the NASCAR pit crew that did the makeover, were shown during the first episode of the auto makeover show.

Read more…..

Back to Iraq — 3 Goldens Left Behind

The photo above shows Major Keith Roleff and his three Golden kids (left to right), Cruiser, Surfer & Maggie. Sadly, Keith is on his way back to Iraq

Here is a photo of one of the buses as it pulled away, followed by the bikers.

Here you can see the Patriot Guard Rider escort going through Yucca Valley.

And, here is sweet neighbor George waiting for the buses to drive by in Yucca Valley, holding Maggie, Surfer & Cruiser.