I have PTSD. And before you read any further, please know that I'm not going to talk about what caused my PTSD. I felt like I have a strange form of PTSD. I hate bridges. I hate crowds. I hate loud noises, not sudden noises I think those suck for most of us, but I mean more than 3-4 voices at once. I test myself sometimes to see how I can handle the things I hate, the things that trigger my anger or anxiety. I really hate the two dams near where I live. It's not the water or the height of it. I look down the road across the dam and all I can see is Zero chance of exit. If the shit hits the fan I know I have no way to get off that dam. Everyone always says "oh you miss the chaos" when they talk about me having PTSD. If it was the chaos I miss, then I would love crowds. But I don't. I hate them. My worst nightmare is Black Friday shopping. That is regular civilian chaos. I know exactly what I miss. I miss my knowing my job, knowing what to do and how to react to each and every possible scenario I could come across. I have found that sounds so odd and its misunderstood but so many people. They life is so regular to them. They always have to go to the grocery store. They always cross the bridges and dams. They have never been taken from regular life and broken down either. It's not that I'm scared to be home. I just don't know how to react. I don't remember civilian levels of reaction. Do I shout at them for standing to close to me in line at the gas station? No, you can't shout at them for living their normal life. The guy behind you just wants to buy a packet of gum and a monster. He doesn't realize that he's destroying your level of personal space and making you feel threatened. Our brains are wired that we are in constant threat, that we are targets. And for the most part, we aren't a target at home. I don't know how to adjust to that. So what do we do to help it? What can I do to fix this? Every once in a while when I'm having a good day, I will drive across one of the dams across the Tennessee river near where I live even though I know I will get the same cold chill down and up my spine that looks like I had a seizure. But not everyone of us can do that. Not everyone can face their fear or triggers. And I'm not saying I always can. Some bad days when I have a high level of anxiety I will drive 20 minutes out of my way to avoid the dams. I will go to the store at 7 am so I know that no one else will be there. I have a service dog. She helps. She helps wonders because no one wants to get close to the person with a German Shepherd with a vest that says "DO NOT PET" on it. I do what I have to do to cope. The best way I have found to cope is to talk to others veterans who understand. I know that I'm not alone. I'm not some strange veteran who is paranoid and can't handle half of the things I used to. I can't handle civilian mediocre life, that's normal and day to day for them. Reach out to your brothers and sisters. You aren't alone. My favorite times have been bowling, eating, having a few beers, or just sitting and talking with my fellow Warrior Pointe members. You don't ever have to explain yourself. We get it. We have lived it. Best of all, we can help you. You're not alone and you don't have to cope alone.
Recently everything for me has started with a quick look at a Facebook post. I joined Warrior Pointe by looking at a Facebook post. I got involved in the warfighter community through a Facebook post, and tonight as I glanced at my phone for 40 seconds to see what was going on in Facebook world, I saw Mr. Boone Culter had posted he was in Los Angeles for a few days. I sent him a message asking if he wanted to meet and have a beer or a cup of coffee, and sure enough, he responded back with “sure, why not.” A few hours later I was driving my car into the El Pollo Loco restaurant in Burbank, CA and parked in front of an SUV with Nevada plates and a hat on the dashboard with 82nd Airborne Division on it. I knew I parked right in front of Boone’s car. I took a deep breath, grabbed the few Warrior Pointe rubber bracelets, and walked in. It felt like I was about to meet a celebrity.
I walked in and looked around the empty restaurant; I saw a few people that no way resembled any one that could stand shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Boone. In the corner, I saw him sitting listening to something on his phone and eating dinner. Very nervously, and sheepishly I approached him to say hello. He spotted me with my WP shirt, stood up and shook my hand and asked me to join him. First thing that went through my head was, “Holy crap I am sitting with Boone Cutler!!”
We began to talk, what more could we do in that restaurant? We spoke about a lot of things. We spoke about family, friends, the past, the veteran community, and how we got started in life, the military, and everything else. The problem with getting two veterans together to talk is neither one ever shuts up! We swapped stories, and reminisced about our glory days! I would like to share with all of you a few of the things Boone and I discussed and talked about.
We shared some personal things that neither one of us want to get too detailed about. We talked about our families, our lives, our jobs, and what we do for a living. We spoke like two battle buddies that were catching up on old times. Granted, this was the first time him and I met, but we carried the conversation as if we had known each other for ages. This comes from one reason only - a bond that we share - an uncommon bond for the common few. The warfighter community knows of one thing when it comes to each other: one team, one fight, ONE FAMILY.
The conversation bounced all over the place: how we first enlisted, why we enlisted in the branch, and some cool stories about deployments. This lead to a discussion of why someone would stretch the truth in his or her stories. Could it be we feel inadequate in what we did? Or could it be some of the drugs we take that skews our respective worlds? Boone shared a story where he and his buddies were talking about the HBO TV series Band of Brothers and the Battle of the Bulge. One of the patients there began to speak in the firt person perspective as if he was at the battle of the bulge. Boone believes it to be the medicine he may have been taking. My mind leads me to a different reason— it was to socially fit in amongst peers. An example I gave him was myself. Keep in mind, I am damn proud of my service in the United States Air Force. I even have my last rank tattooed on my right arm; but sitting across the table from Boone Cutler I could already feel the pressure of not meeting his expectations. I would understand why someone might lie about his or service to fit in and not feel inadequate. I explained that to Boone and he reminded me of something, “We all signed on the dotted line, it makes no difference”. Be proud of who you are, be proud of your service to your branch, and to your country and above all be proud of the men and women that served alongside you.
We discussed a black spot in Warrior Pointe history, and how many feared it would have crushed the organization to an end and smear the veteran community with a black eye. At that time I had decided to take the reigns and go with it and see what I could accomplish. I had expected a close end to the organization with a loss of all members, but because of the strong veteran community Warrior Pointe actually did the opposite. Instead of its near miss with destruction it propelled forward and away from the black eye. Boone explained to me that it was the entire community that got together and would not allow such a thing to happen. And for that, I and the veteran community are grateful to such organizations and people like Boone Cutler, Dysfunctional Veterans, Soldier Hard and Redcon1 Music, Awesome Sh*t My Drill Sergeant Said, Guardians of Valor, and Battle in Distress. As part of this intricate family I am humbled to know that I can count on such great men and women to stand shoulder to shoulder with.
We discussed a topic that I heavily talk about and support: how we, as a veteran society, have become dependent on social media and Facebook (myself included). We spoke about the numbers game that I always bring up. 22 million veterans in this country, and we assume and both agree a fair number of 1.5 million veterans are on Facebook. We aren’t even scratching the surface of the stigmas that affect us by only being on Facebook. Boone reiterated the notion that we need to get away from the virtual world and get back into reality. And to accomplish that Warrior Pointe has to succeed in its mission. Our mission is the chapters - to create chapters and meet face to face. We must have conversations just like Boone and I did. I can honestly sit here and say Mr. Boone Cutler is an avid supporter of the Warrior Pointe’s mission.
We laughed about some of the things we did in the military and how the Air Force operates versus how the Army operates. I shared a few stories of Air Force weapons training and how some of us that did convoy security were beside ourselves when we actually got real Army training with weapons. We discussed how the grass is not really green on the other side. We both separated from the military for reasons that we somewhat regret. If we had the option, we both would have made different decisions.
As the hour passed we both became more comfortable and began to talk like old friends. The other restaurant patrons no longer were visible, and the employees there were just shadows in the background. We became two crusty old vets shooting the shit about the good old times. The time passed and we bounced back and forth sharing ideas. I confessed to Boone that I was star struck sitting across from a man of his stature - someone who has done so much for the veteran community and that the man can have an entire veteran community move mountains with just his words. I am sure he very well knows that with great power comes great responsibility. A leader among men leads, and the men follow, and some just need to get out of the way.
I am sharing with you all a very small portion of our conversation, some things I do not feel comfortable sharing, and some I have already forgotten. But for someone like Mr. Boone Cutler who has paved the way for veterans to fight for our rights, and to educate the community, for someone like him to give me his time and presence has sincerely humbled me. If it wasn’t for the sheer fact that I am writing this right after talking to him, I may have forgotten some details. To some that are already thinking about the question, before you ask -- yes, his beard is as more epic in real life than what you see in photos. Also, he is a pure gentleman and a warrior to be reckoned with.
Mr. Boone Cutler, thank you from the bottom of my heart for spending two some hours with me and talking. Time is something we cannot give back, and the time you gave me was very valuable and I thank you for it. I also want to thank you for your support in Warrior Pointe’s mission and what it stands for. If it weren’t for men like you we wouldn’t be where we are now. I pray this was not the only time we meet and we sit down for dinner or coffee in the future again.
As Boone always says:
All the way
We were trained to never let complacency settle in. We were trained to take each mission seriously. We were trained that if we screwed up, fell behind, didn’t check and double check that someone would get hurt or killed. Do not get complacent in your job! The definition of complacent is: pleased, especially with oneself or one's merits, advantages, situation, etc., often without awareness of some potential danger or defect; self-satisfied. It doesn’t sound like a bad thing; it means you are pleased with whatever you are doing. But being complacent in an environment where lives are at risk is not a good thing. You have to stay on your toes; you have to constantly view, and review your surroundings. Always prepare always train; always be vigilant and ready for any surprise that may arise.
My time in Iraq I spent repairing, maintaining, and tinkering with gun trunks that secured the supply lines both on and off the road. Both scenarios could have cost lives. If I became complacent while changing oil for example, and ignore the thought of double checking could spell disaster for the occupants in that vehicle should the vehicle break down and leave them vulnerable. Should I not be as vigilant when I was manning the gun and not look twice, again it could spell disaster for anyone that is around.
Let’s fast-forward to 2015-2016. I no longer run gun trucks or maintain them. Instead I deal with high end clientele with a lot of money and a lot of power. Not to mention I work in a fast pace industry that is strongly profit driven. Dealing with 10 to 20 people a day that requires pampering and attention to detail every single time can become nerve wrecking. If you are good at this job you do make a lot of money but if you become complacent, and forget to call people back, or follow up or even as simple paying attention to detail can become costly profit losses for the company. For ten years now I have been an exotic car service consultant. Taking my automotive knowledge and my ability to work under pressure I have created a following, a customer base within my industry that I work for. People from cross town will come and see me just for the sheer fact that I can handle any stressful situation and ensure quality of work for the top dollar they pay. The training that I received about never becoming complacent, always pushing me and what I do for pure excellence and perfection has made me the near-perfect Service Consultant.
Why so much talk about complacency and the dangers of it? Today, I read an article about a veteran who called committed suicide because he called the VA crisis hotline and went to voicemail. Many fingers are being pointed; many excuses are being made up. “There is a backlog”, “we have no manning”, or glitches or issues or who knows what it is. Let us stop for a moment and think about this. There are human beings that work at the VA. There are two key words in that sentence. HUMAN-being and WORK. Being Human and doing work can become nothing more than a job; even at a VA hospital or clinic. Answering phone calls day in and day out, getting crank phone calls, goofing off with your co-workers to add some light in a darkened world, all this can turn an exciting career saving lives into a dull job. My assumption, my belief is: Employees (nothing more than just employees) at VA hospitals have become complacent in their jobs. Someone’s shift is over in 5 minutes, why answer the phone? “Let it go to voicemail, the incoming shift will handle it!” “I missed the call; I was on a bathroom break.” Complacency is setting in at the workplace or hospitals of VA clinics. In my humble opinion that is what is happening to our veteran community. We are trained to have our heads on a swivel and not become too pleasant of our surroundings or what we do, so we check, we improve and we continue. We, as a collective group of veterans begin to put our lives and trust in the hands of individuals that do not have the same training as we do when it comes to checking our work and knowing why we do the things we do.
I have now in my opinion provided the problem, the broken link in the VA. Now, I need to provide the solution. How do we overcome any objective in the military? We train! We train to overcome, improvise and adapt! We begin to think outside the box. “Take these supplies from Base A to Base B; do not let the bad guys get it!” How? Take enough fire power with you that the devil himself remains in Hell until we pass! The VA and its EMPLOYEES (there is that word again) need to stop treating themselves as a job and workers, but begin to take on persona of taking on a challenge, taking on something that is bigger than them instead of just a paycheck. Let’s start with the core and work up. The backbone of our military has always been the younger enlisted. They are the ones that do the hard labor; you train them to become NCOs and Officers, and leaders of the greatest fighting force the world has ever seen!
The employees at these VA hospitals should understand that they too, are the core of that organization. They too need training and a mental wakeup call that becoming complacent in what they do can eventually kill someone.
THE WOLF IN SHEEP’S CLOTHING
It would seem that since the dawn of time the dog has been “Man’s Best Friend”. They’ve become such a part of our society that even colorful euphemisms have been adapted to include our furry friends like “Barking up the wrong tree” and “3 Dog Night”.
Dogs have also been vital to mankind for centuries, pulling carts with goods in them, herding and guarding flocks, locating the wounded after mass casualty battles during the World Wars, but the one that is striking up the most controversy lately is the “Service Dog”.
Let’s first look at a little bit of history on how the “Service Dog” actually came about and a look at the German Shepherd that paved the way for Service Dogs in America.
Before there were guide and assistance dogs, people with any type of disability–including visual impairment–were simply marginalized. There were no provisions for them to be in public or hold jobs–they were totally dependent on others for whatever they needed.
In 1927 The Saturday Evening Post ran an article by Dorothy Harrison Eustis, an American dog breeder living in Switzerland who was training German shepherds to work as police dogs. Though Eustis had been asked to write about her own program, she instead wrote about a guide dog program in Potsdam, Germany where the dogs were being trained to be the eyes for German World War I Veterans who had lost their sight due to mustard gas.
Prior to having a guide dog, Morris Frank, who lost the use of one eye in a childhood accident and the other in a boxing match at the age of 16, hired a boy guide but the young man “got bored easily” and occasionally left Frank alone to unexpectedly fend for himself.
Frank’s father read the article to him, and Frank, who was 19 at the time, wrote to the article’s author begging her to train a dog to help him. Eustis took on the challenge. She invited Frank to come to Switzerland and since she was new at the process, began working with two dogs so they would have a choice of which dog was going to work out better. Both dogs were female, and the one that proved most suitable was a German Shepherd named Kiss. Frank quickly renamed her as he felt a 20-year-old man should not own a dog named Kiss.
In 1928 Frank returned to the United States, disembarking from a ship in New York City. Buddy proved adept at guiding him through a throng of reporters and, on a dare from one of the newspapermen, Frank instructed Buddy to take him across West Street, which was filled with taxi cabs and trucks. Frank worried that he was expecting Buddy to handle more chaos than he had faced in training, but they made it.
Later that day, Frank sent a one-word telegram to Eustis: “Success.” And that was the beginning of Frank’s campaign “to get Buddy accepted all over America with no more fuss than if she were a cane.”
In 1936, Morris Frank sat down with The New York Times for an interview about his work on behalf of the visually impaired. At that point, 250 dogs were helping owners in the U.S. and Frank had logged 50,000 miles by foot, train, subway, bus, and boat to meet with people and demonstrate the life-changing aspect of having a guide dog.
By 1938, Frank knew that Buddy’s health was failing, but they had one more task to accomplish: Together, the two of them needed to be permitted to fly on a commercial airplane. That spring, on May 16, 1938, Frank, with Buddy lying at his feet, flew from Chicago to Newark. The trip was made under a newly implemented ruling by United Air Lines that “grants to all Seeing Eye dogs the privilege of riding with their masters in the cabins of any of their regularly scheduled planes.” You may read more about Morris Frank and his guide dog Buddy at SeeingEye.org .
The chains that bind to the Battlefield, that only omnipotence can break
An estimated 460,000 Veterans suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. These are chains that bind our Service men and women every minute of every hour, every hour of every day to the Battlefield. The Veterans Administration has resources to only serve a fraction of our Veterans.
“In 1980, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) added PTSD to the third edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III) nosologic classification scheme. Although controversial when first introduced, the PTSD diagnosis has filled an important gap in psychiatric theory and practice. From an historical perspective, the significant change ushered in by the PTSD concept was the stipulation that the etiological agent was outside the individual (i.e., a traumatic event) rather than an inherent individual weakness (i.e., a traumatic neurosis). The key to understanding the scientific basis and clinical expression of PTSD is the concept of "trauma." States the Department of Veterans Affairs as also touch on the latest revision of the diagnosis. “The DSM-5 (2013), has made a number of notable evidence-based revisions to PTSD diagnostic criteria, with both important conceptual and clinical implications. First, because it has become apparent that PTSD is not just a fear-based anxiety disorder (as explicated in both DSM-III and DSM-IV), PTSD in DSM-5 has expanded to include anhedonic/dysphoric presentations, which are most prominent. Such presentations are marked by negative cognitions and mood states as well as disruptive (e.g. angry, impulsive, reckless and self-destructive) behavioral symptoms. Furthermore, as a result of research-based changes to the diagnosis, PTSD is no longer categorized as an Anxiety Disorder. PTSD is now classified in a new category, Trauma- and Stressor-Related Disorders, in which the onset of every disorder has been preceded by exposure to a traumatic or otherwise adverse environmental event.”
No matter how clinical the A.P.A wants to describe PTSD it’s very real, destroying families, relationships and in some cases is even the cause that some of our Service men and women take their own life.
Veterans and those that suffer from PTSD have found that a specially tasked trained dog can serve as a life saving tool and friend on the road to recovery.
A P.T.S.D Service Dog is trained to the specific needs of its handler; example: some Veterans may not have night terrors, while others suffer nightly from them. Professionally task trained PTSD Service Dogs should be able to perform the following tasks and more for its handler:
“Clear” a house or a hotel room if the Service Dog team has been gone for awhile.
Turn on the bedroom light and wake his/her handler from a night terror.
Use deep pressure touch or a trained alert to calm his/her handler during an anxiety/panic attack.
Alert to his/her handler’s panic/anxiety attack, retrieve medication if needed and comfort his/her Veteran until the attack is over.
Watch his/her handler’s “6” (A method used to prevent people from startling the Veteran from behind).
Retrieve simple objects on command that his/her Handler has dropped.
Create space on command for his or her handler in a crowd.
If some gets too close, the dog on command will become a barrier between the person and his/her handler.
Create a sense of “Security” by sleeping in front of the bedroom door or “Patrolling” the house while their handler sleeps.
Lay in the bathroom in front of the door or in the hall while his/her performs daily personal hygiene tasks.
While there are a small handful of organizations that provide tried and true professionally task trained P.T.S.D Service Dogs, such as 22 PAWS, there are also organizations that see it as an opportunity to line their pockets. The difference between a tried and true professionally task trained Service Dog and a “Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing” in some circumstances is a matter of life or death for some Veterans.
The ADA describes a Service Dog as the following “Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.
This definition does not affect or limit the broader definition of “assistance animal” under the Fair Housing Act or the broader definition of “service animal” under the Air Carrier Access Act.
Some State and local laws also define service animal more broadly than the ADA does. Information about such laws can be obtained from the State Attorney General’s office.” Please see ADA.gov/service animals for further information.
The Shepherd in my Bed
After 3 tours overseas, 1 in Iraq and 2 in Afghanistan along with almost 10 years of Honorable Service to his Country in the United States Army, Sean was released back to the civilian world, due to service related injuries.
Sean described his life as being fueled by alcohol and anger. He reached out to the VA for help and they gave him a half hour session with a social worker and a bottle of the latest drug that was supposed to help treat PTSD.
Sean had read articles about dogs helping Veterans with PTSD and was a canine enthusiast himself, however after searching through long waiting lists of organizations for Service Dogs and being turned down at animal shelters he lost hope and planned to “turn out his own lights”. Sean had one more option, which was responding to an add he saw in the paper, selling a 1 year old German Shepherd.
The young German Shepherd became Sean’s salvation, instead of his life being fueled by alcohol and anger, it was now filled with walks outside and trips to the lake. Today that young German Shepherd is in 22 PAWS’ training program and will be accompanying his handler to the Tom Rose School in July.
A good dog in particular can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, ease loneliness, and encourage exercise and playfulness.
The American Heart Association has even linked the ownership of dogs, with a reduced risk for heart disease and greater longevity.
Scientific studies have also found that:
Dog owners are less likely to suffer from depression than those without pets.
People with dogs have lower blood pressure in stressful situations than those without pets. One study even found that when people with borderline hypertension adopted dogs from a shelter, their blood pressure declined significantly within five months.
Playing with a dog can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine, which calm and relax.
Pet owners have lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels (indicators of heart disease) than those without pets.
Heart attack patients with dogs survive longer than those without.
Pet owners over age 65 make 30 percent fewer visits to their doctors than those without pets.
The statistics and vague description for a PTSD Service Dog by Government standards allowed Organizations to help Veterans with professionally trained tried and true PTSD Service Dogs. However, it opened up “Pandora’s Box” paving the way for bogus PTSD Service Dogs.
Veterans helping Veterans is what 22 PAWS is all about, not only are our Professional Trainers graduates of internationally recognized training schools, they are Veterans as well. Our dogs are held to a standard of excellence that has not been duplicated by any other organization, because these Service Dogs are being trained for their Brothers and Sisters in arms.
One Veteran in particular was almost in tears when he received notification that he was selected for 22 PAWS’ 2015 Scholarship Dog. Shane Stoller is a U.S Army Veteran, served his country honorably and continues to help his Brothers and Sisters in Arms every day as a member of Warrior Pointe’s unbeatable Crisis Team. However, Stoller himself was almost a victim of a “Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing”.
A couple of Stoller’s doctors had asked him if he had thought about getting a PTSD Service Dog. The idea was foreign to him, but Stoller began searching for organizations that provide tried and true professionally task trained PTSD Service Dogs. He had fallen victim to the same thing that most Americans do, the organization’s website looked professional, they advertised that their dogs are “Free” to Veterans, and it was endorsed by a celebrity. So it has to be legitimate, right? WRONG. After awhile things just weren’t adding up so Stoller began digging through the fine print. The dog was not free and he would need to pay or raise money to fund the handsome sum of $6,200.00. The program argued with him and told Stoller that it would be “Free” to him if he raised the money. When Stoller asked what happens if he cannot raise the money the organization said they would “try” to help him raise the amount needed, however if the organization could not raise the money Stoller would have to pay out of pocket. Livid with the feeling of being deceived Stoller took it upon himself to protect other Veterans from making the same mistake and signing up for the program. It took a threat of contacting FOX News to get the owner of the organization to return Stoller’s phone call. After a phone conversation with the owner, the website and all other information was changed within the hour. What a price to pay, to escape “Retrieving Freedom”.
Stoller was surprised when a fellow Warrior Pointe member nominated him for 22 PAWS’ 2015 Scholarship dog. It was a wait that seemed like forever for the Veteran after his interview process with 22 PAWS’ Director. When the day arrived that Stoller received his letter of acceptance in to the 22 PAWS program it was as if a weight had been lifted and he knew that the next step on the road to recovery was obtainable.
Riley, half imported German Shepherd and half black Labrador Retriever had a special skill set that was noticed by 22 PAWS’ Director. The breeder agreed to give Riley up and Stoller’s service was payment enough for him. Riley was quickly named after a late friend of 22 PAWS’ Director, Riley Comstock who was a retired E.M.T and in his younger years a professional wrestler. Mr. Comstock was a German Shepherd enthusiast and rescuer with a heart big enough to fill his 6’4” body.
Riley stayed with 22 PAWS’ Training Director until he was ready to bond with his Veteran. Rex Hindson who is a U.S Army Veteran and Vhone Liche Kennel Graduate, volunteered his time and talent to train the two, Stoller and Riley, as a Service Dog Team.
After arriving home with Riley for his “bonding period” Stoller decided that the bees nest that had been hanging around needed to be demolished, so he put Riley in the house and headed out to the yard. When Stoller started spraying the nest the task quickly turned and the bees began swarming and stinging him. Riley watched from inside the house and when he saw his handler in distress he shoved the door open to run to Stoller’s rescue. Riley, began jumping on Shane and “Pushing” him as if to herd him back into the house to safety. At this point Riley had only been with Shane for less than 12 hours.
It had been a long day for Stoller and he was ready to crash. However, his hypervigilance would only let him sleep on the couch and maybe only for 4 hours every 3 days, Riley was about to make sure that would change.
Due to Riley’s size he could not fit on the couch comfortably with Stoller, so the two headed to the bedroom where he had rarely slept. When Stoller fell asleep Riley patrolled the house and it was Riley’s first night on the job, his mission would not be deterred, after patrol he would jump back in bed with his Veteran only to get up in another 30 minutes to do it all again.
A week after Riley’s arrival Stoller began to suffer from one of the many chains of PTSD, the “Night Terrors”. Riley quickly jumped to action, he had not been trained for an alert yet, but he knew his handler was in trouble. He began using both his front feet in unison pushing on Stoller as if he was performing CPR. When Stoller began to wake up Riley sprawled out over top of him using his body to “ground” the Veteran. After Stoller had fully woken up and began petting Riley telling him “I’m okay”, Riley then resumed as normal.
The next day Stoller contacted the Director of 22 PAWS and said “How do you pick these Dogs?” and then proceeded to divulge all of Riley’s work over the last week. The Director was not surprised, even considering the fact that Riley was only 6 ½ months old at that time. The 22 PAWS program was designed by professional Working Dog Master Trainers that use the oldest of secrets, especially when it comes to handpicking dogs for work.
Riley and Stoller are looking forward to their Task Training, Canine Good Citizen tests, and Public Access Training and Testing.
Training the Pick of the Litter
“It’s not about choosing the dog that looks the best or the one that “little Timmy” wants. It’s about picking the dog that displays the most natural abilities for the job and polishing it through proficient training.” Says Ron Barton who is a Retired US Navy MWD Master Trainer and Kennel Master, who is also a Master Trainer and Instructor for 22 PAWS. Ron Barton has trained hundreds of dogs during his career as a Military Working Dog Trainer at Lackland Air Force Base and has ensured the safety of some of our Nation's highest ranking officials with the help of his K9 partners. During his career Barton has had the chance to work and study with many world renowned animal behaviorists and psychologists.
“Many other organizations just train to the minimal standards, which is the dog is required to do 3 things that a normal pet does not do and calm their handler during an anxiety attack.” states Rex Hindson who is 22 PAWS’ Training Director. Hindson is a U.S Army combat Veteran and Vohne Liche Kennel training program graduate who has been training dogs for 14+ years “We start by deciding on a breed that the veteran has experience with and that is capable of doing the job. Some breeds just are not suitable for service dog work. After a breed has been chosen, the hunt for the right dog begins. Some things we look for in a puppy or dog, is its workability. We also look to see how the dog handles things like loud noises, barking dogs, People, changes in environment etc. After we have made a selection, we then introduce the dog to the veteran to make sure they have chemistry. In all cases we want to see the dog ‘choose’ the Veteran.” says Hindson who started his career in the Service Dog world 7 years ago by training service dogs for children with Autism. “Our testing is designed directly by our Master Trainers that have nothing except the highest standards for these dogs. Each handpicked dog is required to pass six, three phase tests. Not to mention every PTSD Service Dog in training is required to pass all 3 Canine Good Citizen tests and to do at minimum 1,000 hours of public access training with their Veteran before going on to final testing to become a PTSD Service Dog.” Hindson has participated in Schutzhund, trained Disaster Search and Rescue Dogs as well as dogs for Police departments.
22 PAWS has been labeled by many as creating “Legendary Service Dogs for America’s Heroes”. For more information on 22 PAWS you may visit 22PAWS.com or Facebook.com/22PAWS.
If for some reason or another you are unable to obtain a 22 PAWS Service Dog, we’d like to help prepare you with a list of questions to ask the organization or private contractor:
Do your Service Dog Standards meet and/or exceed ADI standards? 22 PAWS Answer: Yes, our standards exceed ADI’s standards set for Service Dogs
Where do you obtain your dogs? 22 PAWS Answer: When we are looking for breeders, we only choose pure breed dogs that come with a health guarantee. The reason behind this is to minimize the chance that the Veteran will experience a large vet bill or to avoid the emotional trauma to fix any genetic issues.
How do you test or What testing do you use to know if the dogs are Service Dog material? 22 PAWS Answer: Our trainers have a combined experience of 40+ years of hand picking dogs for a number of working purposes. They use testing and methods that were set forth by the Masters that trained them.
Do you require your Service Dogs in Training to go through all 3 Canine Good Citizen Tests? 22 PAWS Answer: Yes, and the Veteran is required to handle the dog during all testing.
What are your Trainers Credentials? 22 PAWS Answer: We pride ourselves in providing legendary Service Dogs for America's Heroes, therefore every trainer has credentials from a nationally recognized training program such as Vohne Liche Kennels or the Tom Rose School.
Will it be an Actual Trainer executing continual training with the dog or do you have “Apprentices” or “Students” that also train and handle the dogs? 22 PAWS Answer: We use REAL Professional Working Dog Trainers. When you get a dog from 22 PAWS it has been trained the whole way through the program by someone that is a credentialed trainer.
What does your program offer? 22 PAWS Answer: Hand Picked Dogs, Specialized Testing, Professional Working Dog Trainers, Handler Training, Breed Pairing and Home Preparation. 99% of our Trainers are Veterans. Your dog is not being trained by someone that learned about Combat or PTSD in a book. We also know that a Service Dog is the next step on the road to recovery, so we teamed up with Warrior Pointe to offer Veterans a Membership and help get them to take that first step back into society.
Can you provide me with a list of what the cost of the dog covers? 22 PAWS Answer: Yes, We will be happy to provide you with an invoice of what is covered in the price of the Dog.
What paperwork will I need to provide to apply? 22 PAWS Answer: We require that every Veteran fills out our application and returns it notarized with a photocopy of their DD214, Award Letter from the V.A and a Letter from their current Psychologist or Psychiatrist specifically prescribing a PTSD Service Dog.
If you charge for the dog, how do I pay? 22 PAWS Answer: Unfortunately, at this time we are only able to provide 1 Scholarship Service Dog a Year. The Scholarship Service Dog is designed for a Veteran that is working hard to improve him/her self and reaching out to help his/her fellow Veterans as well. We are not shy to say that we have to charge for our Service Dogs. However, we offer to divide the sum up into monthly payments to make it easier for fundraising…etc.
Who is 22 PAWS?
22 PAWS is a unique program designed by professional working dog Master Trainers to pair Veterans with quality professionally trained Service Dogs, not only just for Post traumatic stress disorder, but to help restore independence through the use of mobility dogs as well.
Even more than that, we support our Military and Veterans. 22 PAWS is deeply concerned about the fact that 22 veterans per day, that is almost one an hour, commit suicide. We know there is another way.
Not every veteran suffering from post traumatic stress is ready for a service dog. A veteran must decide if his/her lifestyle and living accommodations can support a new companion. Veterans who apply for a 22 PAWS service dog must be ready to assume the responsibilities of leadership, maintenance and support for their service dog; and be willing to take their dog with them wherever they go.
While dogs can provide comfort in others just themselves, they are NOT therapy. We expect the veteran to remain in active therapy with their primary providers, both before and after receiving their service dog. Veterans selected for our program must be ready for change, and not want to live another moment of another day suffering from the confines of PTSD. Before applying, ask yourself, or the veteran in your life, to make an honest assessment of these questions:
Are you able to focus outside of yourself and provide ongoing care for your service dog?
A common misconception about PTSD service dogs is that the dog is there to help you however, for that to happen, you first must learn how to provide leadership, take on responsibilities and ensure the safety of your dog. Are you ready for that responsibility?
Do you have the financial resources to afford the dog and its care, example: vetting and food?
Do you have the ability and capability to regularly exercise the dog?
Will you make a long-term commitment to maintain the proficient training required to ensure your service dog's skills?
Is everyone in your household supportive of you getting a Service Dog?
Do you understand that a Service Dog is another step on the road to recovery and not a "Cure"?
If you have answered “YES” to the above questions and would like some more information or application for a 22 PAWS Service Dog you may contact us at 22PAWS.com and facebook.com/22PAWS
Remember, The Four Paws Beside You are Mightier than the Task Ahead of You.
Blood shot eyes, exhaustion consumes me. Sleep is a word that has been nearly forgotten.
It’s dark and cold, the city has turned in for the night but I am wide awake.
I fight my eyes as they try to close. I take another drink, the whiskey runs through me as fast as lightning, jolting me awake for another few minutes.
I can hear everything, the quieter it is the louder I can hear. It starts off as a small ringing in the ears. As the clock ticks, the ringing gets louder. It’s as if I am being hypnotized by my own thoughts.
The ringing turns into other sounds. Some of them can be explained, others I try to ignore.
Cries for help and images of wounded soldiers start to flash before my eyes. The images are mixed with memories from child hood, innocent things combined with things that I would never wish on my worst enemy.
I fight myself to open my eyes so the flashes will stop. The cycle continues every day and every night.
Who will understand the battle I face? Who will understand my fears?
This illness does not have a color, it does not have a smell and it cannot be seen by the human eye.
We live in two worlds, inside and outside. We see both but you only see one.
Many fight this battle all alone because they know that no one will understand.
Sometimes all we need is open arms to comfort our delicate soul. We don’t want to explain the horror that goes on inside, we just need to know that we are not alone.