Humane Society’s Winston graduates as service dog with K9s for WarriorsPublished 4:55pm Friday, September 14, 2012
Winston, a Foothills Humane Society (FHS) Labrador retriever, recently came in as a stray and qualified to be trained as a service dog with K9s for Warriors, an
Assistance Dogs International (ADI) candidate organization in Florida (see the story in the Aug. 8 Bulletin).
FHS officials said they planned to write several additional stories, following Winston through his training and eventually his graduation and being a full-fledged service dog for a military member or a veteran. However, Winston was accepted into the K9s program in record time, and he graduated in record time, too, so this article is actually the conclusion of the expected series on Winston.
Winston’s story began with the help of Ambrose Mills, a veteran who served 27 years in the U.S. Army and Reserves, and who is a member of American Legion Post 250 in Polk County. Ambrose and his wife, Jeanne, drove Winston to Florida.
Winston will be helping John, a veteran of both Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), with multiple Purple Hearts and Bronze Stars, and a member of Special Operations with 15 years in the U.S. Marine Corps. John has post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and a traumatic brain injury (TBI).
Winston and John graduated from K9s for Warriors on Aug. 23 with a 100 percent grade on their final test. When members of the FHS Service Animal Project attended the graduation, held at American Legion Post 233 in Florida, they said they hardly recognized Winston, who had gone from a typical, affectionate, fun-loving labrador puppy, to a stately, proud and dedicated companion.
Once a dog has gone through initial training at K9s and is deemed “ready” for the final stage, their human partners arrive for the final three weeks of training together. The dogs and their warriors are together 24 hours a day, seven days a week for the final training, living and sleeping together in the house on the K9s for Warriors property. They train for numerous hours every day in situations they will encounter once they go home, such as going to the VA hospital, going to court for medical evaluation boards and going to the grocery store.
Each dog wears a service dog vest, which can also hold water for both human and dog, a collapsible water bowl, a leash and other essential supplies.
But it’s not all work and no play. When the vests come off, the dogs go out of “work mode” and again get to be like any other dog, playing fetch, swimming or enjoying a roll and snort in the grass.
According to the K9s program, the services these animals provide are essential to helping certain veterans return to as normal a life as possible. One of the symptoms of John’s PTSD is that he has trouble feeling safe and gets up several times during the night to check all of the doors and windows to be sure all is secure. One of the things Winston will do for John is help him to get a good night’s sleep by sleeping in the doorway of his bedroom. Knowing Winston is on guard, John will rest easier, program officials said.
John also loses consciousness on occasion, a symptom of his TBI. Winston will also be there to provide assistance when such circumstances arise. With Winston by his side, John plans to finish getting his master’s degree.
K9s for Warriors said it makes every effort to make good matches between dogs and warriors, as it is critical that the bond between the two is there, because the dog truly is an extension of the warrior. The program is flexible enough to allow for change, as it did in John’s (and Winston’s) case. John was originally matched with another dog, which had to drop out of the program (K9s finds homes for any dogs that drop out).
It was originally planned that Winston would be matched with another warrior and would graduate at the end of September, but K9s said there was an undeniable bond between John and Winston, and Winston was always looking for him.
“This was a case where the dog chose the warrior,” said K9s Director of Canine Operations Brett Simon.
For more information:
• Find out how you can help the Service Animal Project with their next canine candidate: firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Learn more about K9s for Warriors: www.K9sforwarriors.org
• Adopt a new pet at Foothills Humane Society: http://www.foothillshumanesociety.org; 989 Little Mountain Road, Columbus, 828-863-4444.
- article submitted by Sev Bennett