DOGS ON DUTY: Service Dogs For Combat Veterans

The physical and emotional scars of war can be slow to heal.  A group of Iowans is doing what it can to help returning veterans get their lives back.

“We have Bliss and Benning, Arlington, we have Dodge for Camp Dodge here in Iowa,” says Nicole Shumate with Paws & Effect.

They are the newest puppies with the organization that raises, trains and places service dogs with combat veterans.

“Every day will be a learning experience for all three of us whether it’s just teaching him a new skill or having him brighten our life knowing that he’s going to have a full time job some day,” says pupper raiser Beth Hromyak.

There’s still a lot of puppy in India.  The high energy lab has a one-track mind.

“Labs are very food motivated so they will do just about anything to get the food,” says volunteer trainer Deb Hapgood.

After basic training, India moved on to mastering more advanced skills like riding an escalator at the mall.  Service dogs needs to be comfortable in just about any situation.

“When you’re training and teaching her things along the way, you think OK, this is going to help somebody.  This is why I’m teaching her this so it’s really not in your mind that this she’s a dog we’re going to keep,” says Hapgood.

In a few days, Sabre is going home with Gary Heckard.  Not so long ago, an outing at the Des Moines Art Center would be out of the question for the 57-year-old.

“I went for six months where I didn’t leave the house at all,” says Heckard.

PTSD kept the Estherville native a prisoner of his own home.  Heckard returned from Afghanistan with an extreme anxiety that caused him to avoid people and crowds.

“It gets high to where I can’t think straight.  I have issues of headaches, that kind of thing,” he says.

Having Sabre at his side will give him the freedom to leave the house.

“He’s going to get me more towards being normal than I am right now,” says Heckard.

For the battle wounds that will never heal, peace of mind comes with a paw.

“You can see that he’s helping that person lead a better quality life, it’s all worth it,” says pupper raiser Dave Hromyak.

“The amount that it has enhanced their lives.  I mean, it’s humbling when you see it.  It really is,” says Hapgood.

Since 2006, Paws & Effect has placed 22 service dogs.  The group just started a training program for children with autism.  Each service dog costs $25,000.  The group has its first “Service Dog People Jog” on June 9th.  The 5K is at Raccoon River Park.

You’ll find more information on the jog here.


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