Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A round of paws for service dogs.


The image above is on Patriot Paws service dogs' van. It was taken  May 2009 when Aaron was training to receive his service dog, Lane Murray. He and Lane are the middle photo and the caption reads, "for the first time in two years I forgot to be mad." For someone like Aaron, that was going through so many difficulties at the time, Lane was his focus instead of his anger at all the injustice around him. Aaron was paralyzed during back surgery due to a surgeon's mistake and there was no restitution. In addition to that, Aaron's military career was over after 18 years of service. He has chronic neuropthic pain, doesn't sleep regularly and has PTSD related to the traumatic event of waking up paralyzed. Receiving Lane was a blessing in so many ways: she calms him, takes the focus off of him while in public, she's his companion and more.

The Patriot Paws program (accredited by Assistance Dogs International) utilizes the Gatesville, TX women's prison system to train service dogs. If you'd like to see a PSA on You Tube search for: Patriot Paws Service Dog Program. Aaron had been on the wait list for a year and a half. So when he got the call that his name was at the top of the list, he was thrilled. We would be driving to Texas to train in the prison facility, with the inmates, for 10 days. I'll admit that I had preconceived ideas about the women we would be interacting with, but by the end of that time, my thinking changed 100% Think about your past and some of the mistakes you made, but maybe you didn't get caught or the mistake was minor. Some mistakes are big and have huge consequences. These woman choose to make a difference by giving back to veterans. We met some amazing people throughout our time in the program and all my thoughts are positive when I think back to those 10 days.

What a lot of people don't know about the placement of a service dog with it's owner is that the dog chooses, not the owner. Before arriving to the prison, Lori Stevens (founder) had 3 dogs selected that she felt would be a good match for Aaron. This was based on physical needs and his typical days' activities. You don't want a hyper dog if the owner is low-key and vice versa. For the first few days, Aaron worked with several dogs to see how they interacted with him and then after 3 days, Lori started putting the pre-selected dogs with Aaron. There were 2 dogs that responded well to Aaron and followed his commands. Lane specifically would attempt to put her body in front of Aaron whenever another dog worked with him. She was choosing him! During the training time, Aaron worked with Lane on tugging open doors, pushing drawers/doors closed, turn lights off & on, removing shoes & socks, going under the table for use in restaurants, push on the pads to open automatic doors, alert someone if Aaron needs help, picking up dropped items, and pull the bed sheets down, just to name a few.

When Aaron would go out in public, people would ask ignorant and rude questions about how he was injured, as if they had to right to know. However, when he brought Lane home all the focus was on her, she creates a distraction away from him. "What can she do?" "Does she ever get to just be a dog?" "Who takes care of her when you travel?" "Does she bite?" "Why does she have a muzzle on?" To answer the questions: she can do a lot, she is all dog when the service dog vest comes off, she travels with us everywhere we go including airplanes, no she doesn't bite and no that is not a muzzle. It's a gentle leader, which is like a horse harness. Wherever Aaron pulls the leash, her head and body follow. Lane is 80lbs of 4x4 strength.

A trip to the grocery store takes twice as long, because every other aisle has someone that wants to know all about Lane. Plus Lane knows how to work the "sad" face to get attention from people and she's very social. If she can get one person to pay attention to her or if she gets what we call a "pet by" then she won the lottery. There's always that one person that tries to get her attention by whistling, trying to pet her, calling to her, etc. Please do not do this if you see a service dog, although they're focused, they still love attention. An interesting tid bit about dogs. Their sense of smell is much keener than humans, so when we walk down the food aisle all we smell is one scent, whereas a dog smells every single scent in that aisle. You can imagine how intriguing that is to a dog and how focused a service dog must be to not stop at all the items on the shelves and start sniffing.

Lane has journeyed to the Epcot Center in Florida with us and managed the crowds around her for 8+ hours. She was allowed to sit next to Aaron on a ride, although she ended up on his lap at one point when a loud sound startled her! She certainly did not care for the fireworks display at the end of the night. Lane has been in the 2011 Rose Bowl Parade. She and Aaron were invited to attend and sit on a float honoring service members. Unfortunately, at the last minutes, she and Aaron were switched from the "TV side" of the float to the opposite side, so they didn't get to enjoy their 15 minutes of fame. However, Lane has been featured on "NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams" before we received her. Of course, we saved that video for our claim to fame. Lane loves to swim in our lake, but doesn't care for baths, she asks permission to get up on the bed by putting her muzzle on the edge of the bed and tapping it, loves to be chased by our 6 month old Rottweiler, knows the word "walk" in any sentence so that we have to spell it out unless we're ready to go out the door, always gets the last spoonful of my ice cream, tortilla chips when we go out for Mexican food (under the table of course) and adores children.

I've said a lot about service dogs and my main objective is to create awareness of what they have to offer. A person doesn't have to have a visible disability to get a service dog. Veterans with PTSD can benefit from a service dog, a person with a brain injury, which may affect balance for example, can benefit from a dog that can help brace the person. There are so many benefits that service dogs offer, so look into it or spread the word if you know of someone. One thing to remember is that all of these organizations need donations of time and/or money, volunteers, puppy raisers and more to succeed and place dogs.

To end on a humorous note: Aaron has always referred to me as "Babe" and we've been married 19 years. At some point, I noticed that he started calling Lane that nickname. I tease Aaron all the time about it and ask him, "When did I become the 3rd wheel in this relationship?" Apparently, I have another female competitor for my husbands's attention! :-)