ROCKWALL- George Parker is an Iraq War veteran who was injured in an IED explosion two days before Christmas in 2003. He still suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, cognitive disorder, as well as mobile disabilities. He is from Fort Riley, Kansas.
John Oldham, from Aubrey TX, served in Afghanistan and Turkey who injured his right ankle during night operations. He suffers from PTSD after losing his best friend in a helicopter accident and witnessing the death of young boy who stepped on a landmine.
Carl Joiner, from Watertown MN, served in Vietnam who suffers from a spinal cord injury caused by a bullet that is still lodged in his spine. His injury causes limited mobility and numbness in his hands and feet.
All three veterans were in Rockwall Nov. 9 to attend the graduation of and receive service dogs trained by Patriot PAWS in Rockwall to assist them to accomplish daily tasks that would otherwise be difficult or impossible for them to complete.
According to Patriot PAWS founder and executive director Lori Stevens, the dogs do such things as help in emergencies, recognize and avert PTSD episodes; pick up and retrieve items; open and close doors; pull wheelchairs; provide bracing to stand, walk, and sit down; plus help with chores, such as laundry and taking off shoes and socks. Some dogs have even been trained to help disabled veterans remember to eat and take medications.
“Thousands of American servicemen and women have returned home from war with catastrophic injuries, Stevens said. “Patriot Paws is a unique program aimed at helping our wounded veterans regain their physical and emotional independence. On Nov. 9, Patriot PAWS celebrated the graduation of three of our service dogs at our training center in Rockwall (at 254 Ranch Trail).”
“I’m grateful that I was chosen by Patriot PAWS and that Willie chose me,” said Parker. “I’m blessed already. The road ahead will be easier.”
Stevens explained that the dogs receive extensive training for approximately two years and, after graduation, are then placed with deserving veterans whom the dogs are comfortable with.
“The dogs choose the veterans,” she said. “From the first day of training with the veterans, the trainers release several dogs that are ready for placement to interact with the veterans. The veterans spend their day moving around to different stations, which can include the dogs helping with laundry, pulling the veteran out of bed, assisting with getting a wheelchair, etc. Throughout the day, different dogs are released and while the veterans are working with the dogs, the trainers are watching the interactions between the dog and the veteran to see if there is any sort of bond taking place. As each day passes, the bond between the dog and the veteran gets stronger. By the end of the fourth day of training, the trainers are able to see who is a good match and on the morning of the fifth day, the two are paired together.”
“Once the dog and the veteran have been paired,” Stevens continued. “the dog will focus more on the commands and requests that would be needed by the veteran in everyday life. Many of the veterans are prone to night tremors and nightmare. Their dogs are able to wake them and keep them calm so they can return to a restful sleep.”
“These dogs can make all the difference in the lives of the veterans. I get phone calls in which veterans say, ‘Lori, I didn’t have to spend the night on the bathroom floor because he (the dog) went and got help or he pushed the panic button. I’m not alone anymore.’”
“It’s a wonderful feeling seeing these dogs graduate and know they will help wounded veterans gain back some of their independence,” she added.
Patriot PAWS is a nonprofit organization that trains and provides service dogs of the highest quality at no cost. To donate and for more info, visit: http://patriotpaws.org or call 972-772-3282.
By J.J. Smith