Dog is man’s best friend, but he can also be his best caretaker. Service dogs are not only indispensable to the blind, but are also extremely helpful for people with severe injuries, such as members of Paralyzed Veterans of America (Paralyzed Veterans).
Paralyzed Veterans' National Treasurer Craig Enenbach and his service dog Shady
According to amendments made to the Animal Service Regulations, the Department of Veterans Affairs has the authority and means to provide veterans with service dogs, but many private organizations also provide funds to veterans for this purpose.
According to the regulations, a service animal is defined as a “dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.”
Service dogs can be trained for a variety of tasks, depending on personal needs of the veteran. Examples include pulling out lunch from the refrigerator, helping the veteran undress, turning off household lights, and bringing a ringing telephone to the veteran.
Service dogs spend their puppy-hoods with everyday families, who teach them basic dog obedience and social manners. When they are 1 to 2 years of age, they go back to canine school for formal training. This training will provide the dog with basic protocol—how to walk alongside its owner and how to remain quiet, observant and undistracted, etc. Later, once the dog meets its new owner, both the dog and the owner will undergo special training to provide the dog with the skills it will need to target the owner’s specific needs.
Cal-Diego chapter Paralyzed Veterans’ member Jim Russell went beyond that, deciding to accompany his first service dog’s formal training by going through training himself. In two years, Russell’s pug, Scout, was a service dog and Russell a service dog trainer.
Scout passed away in 2009, but Scout and Russell together trained Russell’s new pug, Beau, and now Russell and Beau are “seldom out of each other’s sight.” Beau’s primary job is to retrieve things for Russell, particularly things he may have dropped.
Kenneth Lloyd of the Iowa Paralyzed Veterans chapter first service dog was a 130-pound German Shepherd named Jake. The “gentlest dog” he has ever known, Lloyd says. Jake would take out the mail, bring a spare gas can out to Lloyd if Lloyd were mowing and ran out of gas, turn lights on and off, and bring sodas from the fridge for him.
Jake passed away, and Lloyd has since gotten a new service dog, Cally, but he will always appreciate Jake: “Beside being a helper to me, Jake was a good friend. I cannot remember at time that he ever let me down. Maybe it is because he was my first service dog, but I will always think of him as part of my family and I will never forget him.”
Pure-bred yellow Labrador Rowdy was National Treasurer Craig Enenbach’s first service dog, and a real symbol of Paralyzed Veterans of America, accompanying Enenbach to more than 20 Board of Directors meetings, 10 National Veterans Wheelchair Games and more than a dozen Paralyzed Veterans Executive/Finance Committee meetings.
“Rowdy,” Enenbach recalls, “always wore a Paralyzed Veterans nametag, which almost always led to conversations about the great works of Paralyzed Veterans. When Rowdy died, I received flowers and countless cards and notes of sympathy. One generous donor even made a contribution to the St. Louis Humane Society in Rowdy’s name.”
Rowdy was, as Enenbach puts it, an “integral family member,” so when Enenbach finally summed up the emotional courage to prepare for a “successor dog,” his specific criteria was “a dog just like Rowdy.” On March 17, 2009, Enenbach met his new dog, Shady, who is also a purebred yellow Lab (in fact, he adds, many people still mistake him for Rowdy). Shady helps Enenbach by pulling his wheelchair, opening doors, and picking up things he may have dropped.
Buckeye Chapter Sports Director Holly Koester has two dogs, Spokes and Glory, who are, as she describes them, the most amiable of companions, always eager to accompany her to church, shopping or even on a 50-state racing marathon trip. “They’ve probably been more places than some people!” she says.
At the grocery store, they are better than the grocery attendants, helping Koester not only pull her cart but also carry things she can’t carry in her lap, like boxes of cereal and cans of soup. They can pry things she might drop, likes keys or a pen, out of tight nooks and places she can’t see. “[My dogs] are my companions and best friends,” she says, adding that though they aren’t specifically trained for it, they are also her “protection.”
“Spokes and Glory are my life. I guess that kind of sums it up.”
More information on service dogs is available from the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners and the American Service Dog Association.