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John Kasich via Facebook

This is an inspiring story of Ohioans coming together to help military veterans in need. Dogs 4 Warriors Inc. is an organization that trains service dogs for veterans who require a little assistance and companionship. Even better, inmates who are military veterans in our Belmont Correctional Institution heard about the program and are stepping up to help train even more service dogs.

This is a perfect example of folks coming together to use their God-given talents and abilities to make a real difference in the world. It didn’t require government to get it done, it didn’t require a new law --- all it needed was love, energy and dedication. And it’s making a real difference for veterans across our nation.

I couldn’t be more proud of Dogs 4 Warriors Inc. and their friends at Belmont Correctional. They’re setting an example we all can follow.

SUCCESSFUL MATCHES — The Dogs 4 Warriors program works with the prison system in Belmont County to provide trained service dogs to veterans across the…
HERALDSTARONLINE.COM
 
 

 

Veterans matched with service dogs - Herald Star Online

April 16, 2017

SUCCESSFUL MATCHES — The Dogs 4 Warriors program works with the prison system in Belmont County to provide trained service dogs to veterans across the country. Some of
the successful placements, from left, include Justin Schuh, Marine Corps, with Sarge; Cory Howard, Marine, with Jinx; Gregg McKinley, Army, with Seth; Rebecca Healey, Army,
with Ruger; and Wayne Greeneyedwolf U-Games, Army, with Della. - contributed

FLUSHING — Veterans are being matched with service dogs to provide companionship and to help them deal with the struggles they face upon returning home, thanks to the Dogs 4 Warriors program of Flushing and Belmont Correctional Institution.

Sheila Slezak, CEO of Dogs 4 Warriors, said organizers are grateful for the prison’s cooperation with the program. Inmates work to train the dogs, which she said has allowed the program to progress faster and to a greater degree. She has trained dogs for more than 30 years and said the needs of veterans hit close to home for her.

“My husband’s a veteran. My father’s a veteran. A lot of my friends are veterans. I’ve trained service dogs for a few of our veteran friends, and when we found out how much they were charging these guys for a dog, I thought, ‘All I do is train, so why not do this?'”

Slezak said there has been no shortage of requests for the dogs.

“I thought it would be a snowball effect. It was an avalanche effect,” she said. “There is always a veteran here, 365 days a year there’s always someone here, whether they have a dog or are getting a dog. In three years, we’ve placed 77 trained dogs with their veterans.”

The dogs have found homes and companions across the country.

“We have 77 dogs spread out through 27 states,” she said.

Certain dog breeds are strongly associated with the program. It provides about 95 percent German shepherds, with the other popular choices being Golden and Labrador retrievers.

Slezak said the cooperation with the prison began three years ago, when the inmates in the prison’s veteran’s dorm heard of the program and asked their unit supervisor if they could help. Slezak said the inmates’ assistance has progressed from basic raising of the dogs to more advanced training.

“We go down at least once a week, and we have classes, and they have classes every day. These guys have progressed from housebreaking and watching them to they’re helpful enough to put out as many dogs as we do,” she said.

At least two dozen inmates are involved.

“There are 24. There’s 12 primary handlers and 12 secondary handlers. At this time, there are 10 dogs in the prison. These dogs live with them 24/7,” she noted.

She said the dogs learn a variety of skills, including turning lights on and retrieving named items. She pointed out the high standards for the training and all that the dogs will be needed to do for their companions.

“These dogs do everything from calm the veterans’ anxiety to waking them up from nightmares. They go get named items for them; it could be their iPad, it could be their phone, it could be their medication. We have some guys that are in wheelchairs,” she said. The dogs are “taught to go get a wheelchair. It helps (the veterans) go out in public. I’ve had guys that were living as hermits — that had tried multiple times to commit suicide that haven’t tried to commit suicide in the last three years. This gives them a new outlook on their life and a new opportunity to participate in their families’ daily activities, community events, social clubs, the American Legion.”

The dogs are trained at the prison and further specialized to match their veterans’ needs.

“When they come here to get their dog, because they’re pre-trained and they’re trained specifically for that veteran, they are taught 40 different tasks and commands prior to us deciding which veteran it goes to, and then we add on anything we need specifically for that veteran.”

Veterans stay at the Dogs 4 Warrior’s site for two weeks to be trained with their dogs. This also includes getting the dogs accustomed to public spaces and interaction with people.

“If you can get them into these areas and they’re comfortable, then when they go back home and they live in a higher-populated area, it’s not so hard for them to go places with their family,” Slezak said.

She added she has seen benefits among the inmates who serve as handlers.

“They learn to be responsible. They do have a skill when they’re done — they can go out and train dogs — because it is excruciatingly hard for someone who’s a felon … to find work if they want to,” she said. “They are responsible for the dog — responsible for its grooming, responsible for its feeding. They have a standard they have to uphold. They’re not just babysitting the dog.”

She said being trained in the prison also helps the dogs in other ways.

“It gets the dogs used to a crowded environment. It helps them with waiting in long lines.”

Slezak also commended the prison and the inmates who work with the program.

“They’ve been a lot of help. If it wasn’t for them, we couldn’t have put out as many dogs as we have,” she said.

The program is free for veterans. Slezak added the support and volunteerism of all involved has made the program possible.

http://www.heraldstaronline.com/news/local-news/2017/04/veterans-matched-with-service-dogs/

 

 

Partnering dogs with veterans - Times Leader Online

April 9th 2017

Photo provided The Dogs 4 Warriors program works with the prison system in Belmont County to provide trained service dogs to veterans across the country. Some of the successful placements, from
left, include Justin Schuh, U.S. Marine Corps, with Sarge; Cory Howard, USMC, with Jinx; Gregg McKinley, U.S. Army, with Seth; Rebecca Healey, Army, with Ruger; and Wayne Greeneyedwolf U-Games,
Army, with Della.

FLUSHING — Veterans are being matched with service dogs to provide companionship and to help them deal with the struggles they face upon returning home, thanks to the Dogs 4 Warriors program of Flushing and Belmont Correctional Institution.

Sheila Slezak, CEO of Dogs 4 Warriors, said organizers are grateful for the prison’s cooperation with the program. Inmates work to train the dogs, which she said has allowed the program to progress faster and to a greater degree. She has trained dogs for more than 30 years and said the needs of veterans hit close to home for her.

“My husband’s a veteran. My father’s a veteran. A lot of my friends are veterans. I’ve trained service dogs for a few of our veteran friends, and when we found out how much they were charging these guys for a dog, I thought, ‘All I do is train, so why not do this?'”

Slezak said there has been no shortage of requests for the dogs.

“I thought it would be a snowball effect. It was an avalanche effect,” she said. “There is always a veteran here, 365 days a year there’s always someone here, whether they have a dog or are getting a dog. In three years, we’ve placed 77 trained dogs with their veterans.”

The dogs have found homes and companions across the country.

“We have 77 dogs spread out through 27 states,” she said.

Certain dog breeds are strongly associated with the program. It provides about 95 percent German shepherds, with the other popular choices being Golden and Labrador retrievers.

Slezak said the cooperation with the prison began three years ago, when the inmates in the prison’s veteran’s dorm heard of the program and asked their unit supervisor if they could help. Slezak said the inmates’ assistance has progressed from basic raising of the dogs to more advanced training.

“We go down at least once a week, and we have classes, and they have classes every day. These guys have progressed from housebreaking and watching them to they’re helpful enough to put out as many dogs as we do,” she said.

At least two dozen inmates are involved.

“There are 24. There’s 12 primary handlers and 12 secondary handlers. At this time, there’s 10 dogs in the prison. These dogs live with them 24/7,” she noted.

She said the dogs learn a variety of skills, including turning lights on and retrieving named items. She pointed out the high standards for the training and all that the dogs will be needed to do for their companions.

“These dogs do everything from calm the veterans’ anxiety to waking them up from nightmares. They go get named items for them; it could be their iPad, it could be their phone, it could be their medication. We have some guys that are in wheelchairs,” she said. The dogs are “taught to go get a wheelchair. It helps (the veterans) go out in public. I’ve had guys that were living as hermits — that had tried multiple times to commit suicide that haven’t tried to commit suicide in the last three years. This gives them a new outlook on their life and a new opportunity to participate in their families’ daily activities, community events, social clubs, the American Legion.”

The dogs are trained at the prison and further specialized to match their veterans’ needs.

“When they come here to get their dog, because they’re pre-trained and they’re trained specifically for that veteran, they are taught 40 different tasks and commands prior to us deciding which veteran it goes to, and then we add on anything we need specifically for that veteran.”

Veterans stay at the Dogs 4 Warrior’s site for two weeks to be trained with their dogs. This also includes getting the dogs accustomed to public spaces and interaction with people.

“If you can get them into these areas and they’re comfortable, then when they go back home and they live in a higher-populated area it’s not so hard for them to go places with their family,” Slezak said.

Slezak added that she has also seen benefits among the inmates who serve as handlers.

“They learn to be responsible. They do have a skill when they’re done — they can go out and train dogs — because it is excruciatingly hard for someone who’s a felon … to find work if they want to,” she said. “They are responsible for the dog — responsible for its grooming, responsible for its feeding. They have a standard they have to uphold. They’re not just babysitting the dog.”

She said being trained in the prison also helps the dogs in other ways.

“It gets the dogs used to a crowded environment. It helps them with waiting in long lines.”

Slezak also commended the prison and the inmates who work with the program.

“They’ve been a lot of help. If it wasn’t for them, we couldn’t have put out as many dogs as we have,” she said.

The program is free for veterans. Slezak added that the support and volunteerism of all involved has made the program possible.

“We do operate solely on donations. No one is paid. It’s all volunteer, and it’s all off donations,” she said.

For more information or to sponsor or donate a dog, visit dogs4warriors.org. 

http://www.timesleaderonline.com/news/local-news/2017/04/partnering-dogs-with-veterans/

 

Rescued dog enlisted for a rescue of his own


Shane Jackson and his German shepherd, Jersey, relaxing on the back porch of his Flint, Mich., home. Jersey was trained by
Dogs 4 Warriors Inc. to aid Jackson's recovery from post-traumatic stress disorder.

 

The dark brown and tan dog with a white patch on his chest was among more than two dozen purebred German shepherds found in unsafe and cramped conditions at a Ridgefield Park veterinary hospital.

Now, 15 months later, the dog that was so dependent on his rescuers has become a savior to Shane Jackson of Flint, Mich., a veteran who sustained a brain injury in a roadside explosion in Iraq and now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. The German shepherd, now named Jersey, is Jackson’s constant companion and has the mission of distracting him from his road rage, waking him up from his nightmares and standing guard during anxiety attacks.

“I get out a lot more than I used to,” said Jackson, 46. “I used to sit at home, because I didn’t want to deal with people. … I’m with him all day every day and all night every night. … I probably would be devastated if something happens to him.”

Jersey’s path  to becoming a service dog began in May 2014, when he and 28 other German shepherds were removed from the Ridgefield Park Animal Hospital. Authorities said the dogs, ranging in age from a few weeks to 9 years, were kept in cramped cages. The dogs were seized from Edison Davalos, a veterinary technician, who pleaded guilty to failing to provide necessary shelter to 11 of the dogs and paid a $5,500 fine.

A year and a half old at the time, Jersey — then known as Ethan — was relatively healthy, but he was thin and had muscle weakness from being confined in a crate, said Deborah Yankow, director of the Bergen County Animal Shelter and Adoption Center in Teterboro. Jersey, who was born in Germany, was taken to the shelter for medical care and food and put up for adoption.

Upon hearing about the case, a representative of Dogs 4 Warriors Inc. of Bowerston, Ohio, a non-profit that trains and provides service dogs for free to veterans injured in combat, emailed the shelter to inquire about adopting one of the dogs. Yankow immediately thought of Ethan, whose laid-back and obedient nature made him stand out from the other dogs rescued from the Ridgefield Park Animal Hospital.

“He was a very special German shepherd — different temperament, and so driven to please humans,” Yankow said. “He had a working-dog mentality.”

Less than a month after he was removed from the animal hospital, the German shepherd was placed in an SUV in Teterboro and embarked on the more than 450-mile drive to begin training in Ohio.

When he arrived at Dogs 4 Warriors and the home of Sheila Slezak, one of the organization’s founders, he was given the name Jersey because it fit and he responded to it, Slezak said.

Jersey underwent months of training to develop his service skills.

First, he learned about 50 commands, such as “steady” to help his assigned veteran maintain his balance, and “front” and “back” to block people from getting too close.

Part of the training program took place at the Belmont Correctional Institution in eastern Ohio, where Jersey, who was becoming attached to Slezak, was paired with an incarcerated veteran who also helped to train him.

“It alleviates some of that attention,’’ she said. “Jersey was needy when he got there, so he was easy and clingy to the person who was paying attention to him.”

At the prison, Jersey learned obedience skills and to tolerate and maneuver in crowds.

One obstacle Jersey had to overcome was picky eating habits. Slezak said she thought that he might have been fed a lot of scraps at some point.

“It took a little while to teach him to go in a restaurant and sit by the table and not worry about whether you are going to give him a piece of food,” she said.

Like all of the dogs Slezak trains, Jersey was taught to be aware of his assigned veteran’s sleeping patterns, and feelings.

“If he’s feeling stressed, we then teach the dog to basically … annoy them, to pay attention to them, to take their minds off of what is bothering them,” Slezak said. “We have some that are a little more demanding, who will whine, and whine at them, because once you take the veteran’s mind off of it, you get them focused on the dog instead and it makes a world of difference.”

Inseparable

When she is matching dogs with veterans, Slezak said, she takes both of their personalities into account as well as the veteran’s lifestyle. She said she paired Jersey with Jackson because they are both “laid back.”

Jackson, who served in the Army years ago, enlisted in the National Guard in 2006 and was deployed to Iraq. In March 2007, he was returning to his base in Mosul, in northern Iraq, from a customs inspection assignment near the Turkish border when his convoy was hit by a roadside explosive. He said the explosion blew out his eardrums and gave him a concussion. He now suffers from hearing loss and migraines, although the seizures that initially plagued him subsided after about three months. Before he met Jersey, he said, he spent many days indoors.

He went to Ohio in late September 2014 to train with Jersey for two weeks. When he saw Jersey for the first time, he said, he immediately thought that he had been paired with the most beautiful dog. Since then, the two have been inseparable.

“He’s about 90 pounds and he’s not a lap dog, like he thinks he is,” Jackson said with a chuckle. “He likes to climb up and lay next to me on the couch, and he is right near my bed while I sleep.”

That closeness comes in handy when Jackson, who medically retired as a Veterans Affairs police officer, has a nightmare. Jersey senses it and gets to work.

“He just nudges me until I wake up,” Jackson said.

And when Jackson, the father of a 14-year-old boy, is driving and someone on the road upsets him, Jersey, who always sits in the back seat, bumps him on the head.

“I had a lot of road rage,” Jackson recalled. “And he senses the anger, and he wants to distract you from it.”

Before Jersey, Jackson said, grocery shopping was so difficult that he would wait to go late at night.

“If I went to big department stores, and it was really busy, especially around Christmastime, I would have anxiety attacks,” Jackson said. “He keeps people away from me on command.”

Yankow said that she’s always on the lookout for dogs at the Bergen County shelter with potential to work in service or police capacities. Over the three years she’s been at the shelter, she said, two dogs have been trained to work with police, and another was trained as a service dog, for a child with autism.

Currently, she said, the shelter has custody of a 10-month-old male bloodhound who was part of a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals case in Lyndhurst. The bloodhound, she said, has the potential to assist in search and rescues.

“He is a very intelligent dog, responsive to training and eager to please humans,” she said. “He could possibly be a tracking scent hound and we would love to have him evaluated by an expert.”

Jackson said he hasn’t spent much time thinking about Jersey’s previous life in New Jersey. But he said he has wondered about the sort of person who would keep such a gentle animal cooped up in a crate.

“I’m fortunate that it came to pass just because of his temperament,” he said, “and I’m glad that there are good people that were willing to donate him to the program.”

You can read the article here

 

July’s Heart to Paw Grant to Impact the Lives of Several Veterans

 

When a member of the military is called to duty, they put their entire life on hold to fight for our country’s safety and security.Unfortunately, the effects of combat often leave these soldiers with life-changing conditions. Upon their return home, many suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and/or a traumatic brain injury (TBI). These conditions cause the sufferer to feel confused, anxious and afraid. As a result, more than 20 veterans commit suicide each day. One of the organizations fighting to decrease this statistic is Dogs 4 Warriors.

Dogs 4 Warriors provides highly trained service dogs at no cost to veterans suffering from PTSD, TBI and other combat-related injuries. The organization raises, trains and later matches service dogs to a veteran based on the veteran’s home life and personal needs. Each pup and veteran team receives on-site training together that can last weeks. Sadly, Dogs 4 Warriors can only help a few veterans at a time due to limited space. But with the help of Big Heart Pet Brands July $20,000 Heart to Paw grant, that’s about to change.

“This donation means that we can expand our current operations to meet the needs of several more veterans! Since we started Dogs 4 Warriors, our goal has been to build a 5 room cabin that would be living space for multiple veterans while they train with their service dogs. This donation finally gives us the means to work towards our goal!” – Sheila Slezak, Founder and CEO, Dogs 4 Warriors

Arun Ghosh, Big Heart Pet Brands’ Senior Manager of Demand Planning, submitted the grant proposal after meeting two wounded veterans who had been helped by Dogs 4 Warriors:

 

“I was on a long train ride last spring and I ended up sitting next to two war veterans. They shared with me their stories of dealing with PTSD and how Dogs 4 Warriors helped them, and many other veterans, cope with the illness through service dogs. I was touched by their stories and wanted to help Dogs 4 Warriors continue their important and generous work.”

Big Heart Pet Brands is proud to support Dogs 4 Warriors and welcome them into ourHeart to Paw family!

Read it on the Heart-To-Paws website here

 

 

Service dog brings calm to Prescott Valley home
 

10/13/2014

Nightmares are not as scary as they once were in the McKinley household.

Now, when Gregg McKinley, a veteran of Desert Storm, begins thrashing and shouting in his sleep, his wife Pamela knows she has some backup. 
Rather than jumping in and dealing with the trauma that Gregg is obviously reliving, Pamela leaves it to Seth, a year-and-a-half-year-old Dutch shepherd, trained specifically for such episodes. 
"When (Gregg) has a nightmare, I always wake up right away," Pamela said this past week from the family's Prescott Valley apartment.

For years, she has been the one to deal with her husband's post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), waking him from the bad dreams, and then watching helplessly as he "patrols" the house - checking doors, windows, the street outside.

 

Matt Hinshaw/The Daily Courier
Desert Storm Veteran Gregg McKinley kisses his service
dog Seth,
a Dutch Shepard, while his son Gabriel, 8, and wife
Pamela look on Friday morning at their Prescott Valley home.

But when the familiar scenario played out just the night before, Pamela said she chose to sit back and watch. "He was having a nightmare last night, and I just waited, and the dog woke up right away," Pamela recalls, the relief evident in her voice. "He nosed right up against (Gregg), and woke him up."

And Gregg, knowing that the protective dog was there with him, was able to settle down again without the usual accompanying stress.

The new calm began soon after Gregg began training with Seth. This past Friday, the duo had just returned from their intensive week of training with the non-profit Dogs 4 Warriors in Bowerston, Ohio.

"He woke me up from nightmares twice (during the training)," Gregg said of Seth. "Those were some of the most restful nights I've had."

He was especially looking forward to taking his 8-year-old son Gabriel out for their weekly dinner at a local restaurant. Unlike in the past, when Gregg has felt the need to keep his back covered, he said he would leave that up to Seth. In addition, he said, "I'm nowhere near as angry, nowhere near as anxious. This dog's going to help the entire family."

Sheila Slezak, the founder of Dogs 4 Warriors, is not surprised at the impact Seth is having in the McKinleys' lives. "Dogs make all the difference in the world for a lot of things," she said in a telephone interview. "Dogs are just capable of doing amazing things."

Oftentimes, she said, veterans suffering from PTSD never leave their houses. "You get them a dog, and the dog has to go outside," she said.

Slezak, who has 30 years experience training dogs, currently has about 50 dogs in various levels of training. To help acclimate them, she regularly sends them to Ohio's Belmont Correctional Institution, where working with inmates helps the dogs get accustomed to large crowds and long lines. Seth's training prior to the match with the McKinleys included about a month at the prison.

After seeing what service dogs had done for other veterans suffering with PTSD, Gregg said he and Pamela contacted several organizations, and they soon began working with Dogs 4 Warriors.

When he heard that Seth was available, Gregg said, "I was excited and scared." Once in Ohio, though, he said it wasn't long before he and Seth bonded. The connection was apparent at the McKinleys' home this week. As Gregg talked, Seth rested on the floor, his head cushioned by his owner's foot.

Gregg said that bond is helping him get beyond the impacts from the intense months he spent in the U.S. Army more than 20 years ago during the Gulf War (Desert Storm).

After Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, Gregg was among the troops sent in to patrol the area. He remembers being a part of the Army's "human intelligence" effort, which involved long stints in the desert.

"We were dropped off in the middle of nowhere, and we had to dig a hole," Gregg says. 

He and his fellow soldiers spent as many as nine days at a time, watching, waiting and reporting. At one point, he was part of an effort to capture 150 Iraqi prisoners and destroy five vehicles.

Living under such imminent danger takes a toll. "It changes your outlook on life, and it changes your outlook on death," Gregg said.

Noting that "nobody really talked about PTSD from Desert Storm," Gregg said he rationalized his behavior for years.

After he lost his job because of an injury, he said depression set in, and the family was no longer able to ignore it.

"I've seen the PTSD progress, and I've seen him going progressively downhill," Pamela said. "That was why I knew we needed to do something."

The entire family is pinning its hopes on Seth, and so far, Pamela said the arrival of the dog is making a difference.

"Talking to (Gregg) on the phone (during training), I heard the man I had met 19 years ago," she said.

Original article here 

 

Belmont Correctional Institute to assist Dogs 4 Warriors

Everyone involved with Dogs 4 Warriors knows that Sheila Slezak and her team work tirelessly to train and match dogs with Veterans in need, but she and the team are also always working to improve Dogs 4 Warriors, making it a more efficient and successful program so that it can help as many Veterans as possible in the shortest time possible. Recently Sheila was
able to finalize an agreement that would do just that and allow Veterans to help Veterans in an amazing way. Veterans imprisoned at the Belmont Correctional Institute reached out to Sheila quite some time ago with the idea that they could assist in the training of service dogs, and by doing so not only help Veterans in need but give back to them in such a way that might prevent other Veterans from ending up where they are. This program required some negotiation and approval, and an enormous effort to accomplish, but finally it has been accomplished.

Veterans at Belmont are housed in their own dormitory wing of the prison, and have recently had some new decorations added to the walls of their housing unit. Two walls in the housing unit have been recently painted with the Dogs 4 Warriors logo, and other walls have the Branch logos of the military Branches that people involvedwith Dogs 4 Warriors and the prisoners share. These Veterans have committed themselves to giving back to other Veterans in hopes of keeping them out of the same situations that landed them where they are, but make no mistake; this program is just as important for the incarcerated Veterans as it is for the ones who will receive these life changing service dogs. 

Some of the Veterans incarcerated at Belmont are experienced K9 trainers, but all of them have been meticulously instructed as to the precise training standards that a Dogs 4 Warriors service dog must be trained to. Sheila has instructed them personally and will monitor the progress of both the dogs and the Veterans involved with the program. She will visit the prison at a minimum of every two weeks to ensure that her very high training standards are being met, and to give additional classes on the training of the service dogs. The incarcerated Veterans will be working with 10 dogs at all times, allowing Sheila to fine tune their training as successful service dogs. The first five dogs have been taken to the prison to begin obedience training by Sheila and Jason Darling, and Dogs 4 Warriors News expects an update on their progress in time for next month’s edition, and progress reports on the dogs and Veterans there will be included in the Newsletter every month, so everyone can stay updated on how this program is helping not only Dogs 4 Warriors and its Veterans, but the incarcerated Veterans who are training the service dogs as well.

It is extremely important to note that this program is not in any way being paid for by the prison. Everything, from crates to shampoo, bowls towels, leashes, food, etc. come directly from the Dogs 4 Warriors budget. Please, this program is vitally important to Dogs 4 Warriors, so go to the website and donate to it, this program will allow Dogs 4 Warriors to pair and train 10 or more Veterans every month. That is huge, and will make it possible to help more Veterans who are suffering even faster.

“This is Veterans helping Veterans in the most personal and caring way imaginable. This is helping them and you both… they need this as much as you do.”- Sheila Slezak

 

 

 

 

Dog rescued from Ridgefield Park Animal Hospital to be trained as service dog for Veteran

JUNE 2, 2014, BY MONSY ALVARADO 
STAFF WRITER
THE RECORD

TETERBORO — People walked in and out of the county animal shelter on Monday and Ethan didn’t flinch. The 1½-year-old German Shepherd, with his subdued and docile personality, didn’t seem fazed by the cameras taking pictures of him before he was officially adopted. His age, size and temperament were the reasons that shelter officials chose Ethan to become a service dog for Dogs 4 Warriors, an Ohio organization that trains canines for military veterans who have post traumatic stress disorder, brain injuries and other disabilities. “He’s such a special dog, I had to do something special with him,’’ said Deborah Yankow, before handing over Ethan to two military veterans who picked him up at the Bergen County Animal Shelter and Adoption Center.

Ethan was among 29 pure-bred German Shepherds who were removed from the Ridgefield Park Animal Hospital last month by county authorities who said they were being kept in cramped and unsafe conditions. The dogs were given up by their owner, Edison Davalos, and county shelter officials began the process of getting them homes. Related: Veterinary tech faces cruelty charges Davalos, a veterinary tech who works at the animal hospital, has been charged with animal cruelty and was issued 71 summonses for keeping the German shepherds at the Main Street facility. He is scheduled to appear in Central Municipal Court Tuesday. Davalos has disputed that he mistreated the dogs, and that they were kept in tight cages. He said that several of the pooches had been given to him by owners who could no longer take care of them, and he said he planned to keep them until he found suitable homes.

It was the news that the German Shepherds had been removed from the veterinary hospital that caught Michael Koehler’s attention. Koehler, an Army veteran who served two tours in Iraq and grew up in Ridgefield, was compelled to write an email to Yankow about Dogs 4 Warriors and the possibility of the organization adopting one. “The more we talked and I got a better knowledge of what they were doing, I thought of Ethan,’’ Yankow said. Koehler, whose dog is getting trained, and Jason Darling, a handler for the organization, were chosen to pick up Ethan and take him on a more than 450-mile journey to Bowerston, Ohio to the home of a head trainer where he will begin to learn how to serve a veteran. “He’ll have one week of acclimation…it will give him a chance to get used to what is going on,’’ said Darling, an Army and Marine veteran who served in Desert Storm. Darling, who received a dog from the organization in February and suffers from post traumatic syndrome and a brain injury, said Ethan will receive obedience training, and then meet the veteran chosen for him. “There’s 400 hours of training in order to have them certified,’’ said Darling, adding that the organization already has about 100 veterans from all parts on the country on a waiting list.


Luis Carlos Montalvan knows the help that a service dog can provide a wounded veteran first-hand. Montalvan, who lives in New York City, wrote two books about his service dog Tuesday, a Golden Retriever, who came to live with him in 2008, more than a year after his service with the Army ended. Montalvan, who served in Iraq a couple of times, said he has post traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, and a spinal chord injury, and was in a “bad place physically and psychologically” after leaving the Army. But then Tuesday came into his life, and things changed, he said. “He really does everything from help me balance when I walk to making me not to think about the past, because dogs and animals live in the present,’’ he said. “When you have this beautiful furry spirit that is by your side every minute of every day, you can’t help but feel better about the day.” He credits Tuesday for helping him have fewer night terrors, anxiety and panic attacks. The dog has been trained to remind him when to take his medicine, and also to wake him up when he’s having a nightmare. “A big problem for combat veterans is not being able to sleep and sleep well,’’ he said. “He will hear or see that I’m tossing and turning from something at night and he will lay on me, or just gently breathe on my neck,’’ he added.

Of the 29 dogs removed from the Ridgefield Park Animal Hospital, five dogs who were the most stressed and needed more socialization, have been sent to German Shepherd rescue organizations, Yankow said. Two older female dogs, Jill and Nava, still need to be adopted, as well as Sadie, a 1½-year-old female, and 11 puppies. “We are waiting for the puppies to be spayed and neutered’’ before placing them, Yankow said. The remaining dogs have been adopted by families and individuals who were vetted by shelter officials, including a retired Passaic County officer, Yankow said. Yankow said that the shelter has received more than 400 applications for the dogs, and are not accepting anymore.

- See more at: http://www.northjersey.com/news/dog-rescued-from-ridgefield-park-animal-hospital-to-be-trained-as-service-dog-for-vet-1.1027650#sthash.hfVbzuF2.dpuf

 

 

 


Dogs 4 Warriors helps veterans suffering with PTSD

By Leigh Ann Rutledge
Accent Editor
March 25, 2014

The saying, “Dog is man’s best friend” is a proven fact at Dogs 4 Warriors.


The program matches injured military veterans with service dogs at no cost to the veteran. Sheila Slezak started the program to provide and train service dogs for veterans who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) or have special needs.
Slezak is a well-known trainer who trains law enforcement K-9 dogs for narcotics, tracking, and explosives.  The owner of Ohio Valley K9 LLC started Dogs 4 Warriors after learning of a person who took a shelter dog and attempted to sell it as a PTSD dog even though it hadn’t been trained. She saw other instances of dogs not being trained and people wanting to charge exorbitant fees for training.

She founded Dogs 4 Warriors because, “We train our military to go to war,” Slezak stated. “But we do not train them to come home.” While she has not served in the military, her husband and daughter are veterans. Her husband is now a patrolman with the Ohio State Highway Patrol.

There are currently 30 dogs in training on the 100-acre facility and new dogs continually arrive.

Jason Darling of Canandaigua, NY, is an Army and Marine veteran, who suffers from PTSD and has hearing loss in his right ear. Slezak spoke with Darling about his symptoms, family life, etc. and knew Hannah, a 2-year old sable German Shepherd was Darling’s match.

The two met three weeks ago and are now inseparable. “Hannah is always with me,” said Darling. “She can tell when my anxiety level increases and helps me get away from the situation.”

Hannah barks to alert Darling when someone enters and recently woke up him when he was having a nightmare. “I thought she wanted to go outside,” he explained. “She kept nudging my face and then I realized she was trying to wake me.” Darling takes medication to help him sleep and said Hannah is trained to wake him to go outside and helps keep him on schedule for feeding.

All dogs go through extensive temperamental testing before they are paired with a veteran and Slezak spends hours getting to know each veteran, how they live, marital status, family, what issues they are dealing with.  To date, she has successfully paired 30 veterans and dogs

Josh Jones of Sparta, TN, met Sampson, also a 2-year old German Shepherd, and bonded instantly. His family met Sampson and spent the night in a local hotel. “Last night was the first night I was able to sleep with my back to the door,” Jones explained, “because Sampson was lying in front of it.”

When a dog arrives at Dogs 4 Warriors, Slezak begins a specific training regimen. Dogs are crate trained, house broken, and learn to live with and be tolerant of cats, chickens, ducks, and other dogs. They begin obedience training on leash before going off leash and not to beg when dinner is served.

When a veteran arrives and is paired with his dog, he becomes completely responsible for the dog. Slezak works on training scenarios with them but turns all care over to the new owner.
To receive a dog, Slezak requires veterans to furnish a copy of their discharge papers, a medical Veteran’s Administration rating for PTSD, etc. and a photo identification

Along with their dog which is trained, spayed or neutered and microchipped, they also receive a service vest, leash, up-to-date vaccines, and three months supply of heartworm medication and flea and tick medication.

Darling and Jones say, “The dog is a good responsibility to have, to care about. They love you unconditionally. Often the dogs give you a reason to get out of bed because they have to be fed, and walked.”

Often with PTSD, simple things, such as garbage bags or dead animals lying along the roadway, sudden noises or crowds, can cause a flashback or panic feeling. One training scenario Slezak uses involves going to a restaurant. The first trip, the vet and dog will walk in and sit in the back to see how they react. A second trip will require the vet to go to the counter and order his own food. Another trip will include a larger restaurant. “Our main goal, though, is to not put any additional stress on the veteran,” explained Slezak

Dogs 4 Warriors is a non-profit organization and is in the process of obtaining its 501(c)(3) status. It is operated by a board of directors and is comprised of 98 percent veterans. Valley View Animal Hospital in Dover veterinarians do health checks and spaying and neutering. Dr. Rodney Tienarend, co-owner of Valley View, serves on the board.

Volunteers are welcome at Dogs 4 Warriors. Darling plans to move to the Dover/New Philadelphia area. He helps with the program, cleaning up and helping welcome veterans and putting them at ease. His goal is to purchase a home with three or four bedrooms where veterans can stay when they come to pick up their dog. 

After the necessary training, the dogs receive a K-9 Good Citizen Certificate and are registered with Service Dogs International

Slezak began Dogs 4 Warriors Dec. 22, 2013. Currently there are over 100 veterans in need waiting to be paired with a service dog. Several fundraisers are underway to raise funds for Dogs 4 Warriors, including gun raffles and poker runs.

Slezak has a breeding program in place offering some of the best lines Europe has to offer in the German Shepherd breed. They also work with rescues and shelters for certain dogs. She plans to eventually build a winter training facility, indoor and outdoor kennels and housing for veterans during the training period. 

She is developing an Equine Therapy program, designed to offer veterans the therapeutic benefits of developing a personal relationship with a Warrior Horse. The veteran will have a specific horse to groom, care for, ride and bond with, while interacting with other veterans who also have a passion for horses. Dogs 4 Warriors has a network of existing equine programs around the country they are able to work closely with to develop the program, as well as a resource to refer clients to locally.
“Sheila is gifted,” said Jones and Darling. “She is amazing at pairing dogs and veterans.”

Why do Sheila and the people associated with Dogs 4 Warriors give their time? “Because these men and women risked their life for us,” the group said. “This is why we do this. Besides not all wounds are visible.”

For more information on Dogs 4 Warriors, visit www.dogs4warriors.org or www.facebook.com/dogs4warriors.
Contributions can be mailed to: Dogs 4 Warriors, PO Box 231, Bowerston, OH 44695.

– See more at: http://www.freepressstandard.com/Accent/01032714.htm#sthash.AwHlPBrr.dpuf

 

 

Dogs 4 Warriors aids vets with PTSD
Featured by Harrison News Herald — January 21, 2014 at 3:52 pm


By AMY GAREIS, News-Herald Staff Writer

 BOWERSTON – A new program aims to match service dogs with wounded warriors who are facing their own battle with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Ohio Valley K9 LLC, which is located outside of Bowerston, is extending its services through the Dogs 4 Warriors program to provide dogs to veterans inflicted with PTSD, a condition that statistically has led to the suicide rate of one veteran every 65 minutes because they are unable to cope. Ohio Valley K9 Operator Sheila Slezak, said her frustration with other so-called trainers and kennels wanting cash for such services led her to do it for free.

“[I felt] sheer frustration with the fact that a lot of places are charging $8,000 to $30,000 for a service dog and they are not trained. People are under the misconception that the VA and government are paying for it. It’s disgraceful,” she said. “I have the property, ability and connection to dogs and will get a dog and train it at no cost.”

Slezak only decided to start her program in mid-December and is providing some of the dogs she initially imported from Europe for her K9 service with law enforcement officers, while others are being sought or donated. One family even donated its pet because they believed it was the right thing to do.

“There are certain breeds–German Shepherds, Labradors and Golden Retrievers—that work well, but it’s a matter of opinion. Each guy has different