Service Animal Helps Improve Veteran’s Quality of Life

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HONOLULU, Hawaii (KHON) -- John Seely spent 28 years in the military, serving in places like Vietnam and Schofield Barracks on Oahu. But it was after retirement when he was faced with a new battle.

In 1988, he was diagnosed with peripheral neuropathy -- a disease of the nerves.

"It started off with just a small spot on my leg that was numb and since then, my whole right leg is numb, and it's migrated to my left leg and come up,” Seely said. "And I don't have balance. My balance is lousy, and I really need three points to connect or I'll lose my spatial orientation."

Three years ago, Seely was introduced to the “third point” that would learn to keep him balanced and grounded – Eli, a labradoodle assist dog.

“The signal does not go from my legs, to my brain, to my legs, that says ‘John, stand up.’ It just doesn’t go there,” Seely said. “But once I get started, I can finish. So, I position Eli in front of me and he understands this is the brace position. So, I really push down on him to stand up.”

Eli also helps Seely get items that may have fallen. Their relationship didn't start out this way. Seely originally agreed to train Eli, from Hawaii Fi-do Service Dogs, to help someone else.

"Some of the other dogs once they get older will go onto other skills as needed, such as opening up doors, taking laundry out of the dryer, taking shoes and clothing off, depending on what the individual needs,” said Susan Lewers of Hawaii Fi-Do Service Dogs.

Lewers created this accredited program 20 years ago. They've placed over 150 dogs with those in need, including nearly 20 to veterans. She said one of the top requests is assist dogs who can help with PTSD.

Although Eli wasn’t meant to become Seely’s assist dog, the veteran said the labradoodle has changed his life.

“I don't think I would be as active as I am. Eli gives me a reason to get up every morning,” Seely said. "I can tell you that if I didn't have Eli, if I lost Eli today, there would be a void in my life."

If you’d like more information on service dogs for veterans or others with disabilities, visit hawaiifido.org.

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