Sunday, September 21, 2014
Leech Lake Legacy's partnership with Patriots Assistance Dogs featured in Cass Lake Times
By Allan Olson – Cass Lake Times (Sept. 17, 2014)
Teamwork, collaboration and networking are all very important tools for any organization to have, including Leech Lake Legacy, which donates hundreds of volunteer hours for the good of the pets in the Leech Lake community.
This year the network reached out to Patriot Assistance Dogs (PAD) of Detroit Lakes and helped connect that program with dogs that they are able to train for use in their veterans program.
According to Dennis Junker, a volunteer trainer and former Cass Lake resident and alum (Class of ’78), as well as a 14-year military veteran, 75% of the dogs used in the program are rescue dogs. He explained that they currently have two sources of dogs for their veterans’ program – Leech Lake Legacy and Second Chance Pups of Lincoln, NE.
The dogs are trained for veterans with PTSD; they help provide personal space for those veterans, Junker explained. They can help to interrupt a panic attack or calm a veteran waking up from night terrors. In the case of a panic attack in public (i.e., in a store), the service animal is trained to lead them to the nearest outside exit – typically toward a garden or park area or some similar peaceful setting. Additionally, they are trained about how to act on various modes of public transportation, and how to stay out of the way of traffic. They have experience with city buses, along with ambulance training – remaining poised in the presence of running lights and sirens and firemen running in and out in full turnout gear. Some dogs also have additional training for individuals with diabetes; their K-9 partners have the ability to detect low blood sugar levels, along with alerting to seizures.
Leech Lake Legacy has provided PAD with two dogs – Gilligan (formerly named Gilbert by LLL) and Louie; both are a black lab/mixed breed. “They both showed so much natural instinct, I had to take them,” Junker said. Gilligan was adopted by PAD in June and Louie in August. Both appear to have a natural instinct for such training. Another dog donated by a family living on the Leech Lake Reservation – Sadie – will be fully certified within a month and has already been assigned to a Bemidji veteran.
The entire training process can take anywhere from six months to a year, and the veterans getting the dogs must also have about a month of training with their future service companion. For most dogs, it takes approximately 18 months before their training is complete and they are mature enough to be assigned to a veteran. Before being put on duty, the dogs are given a complete physical with hip x-rays, along with an examination of their internal organs. “We want to make sure they have the longest service life possible; hip problems or others issues could shorten it,” Junker said.
After being fully trained, each dog is valued at $10,000 - $12,000, according to Junker. “At this time, we don’t charge our veterans anything,” he said. The dogs are also sent with a basic first aid kid, and the owners are trained on using that and some other basics to help offset any additional costs. The program will also train a veteran’s personal dog if it passes their temperament test and physical exam.
The program has been in existence for three and a half years. In that time they have placed 34 dogs, and have a few others pending. Their costs have all been offset by grants and fundraisers to date. The dogs are all trained in the Detroit Lakes area. Most of the dogs they use range from 45-80 pounds. They have been placed with veterans in South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota.
Barry Stephens, an Air Force veteran who served during Operation Enduring Freedom from 2004-07, is now the proud owner of Sadie. He is currently attending Bemidji State University, and Sadie attends classes with him. “Everyone on campus seems to know her name, but not mine!” he quipped. “There was a small hiccup when I first was planning to bring Sadie with me to campus, but I called PAD and they talked with officials at the college and explained the law, and then all was great. All the professors have been excellent to work with. I emailed them at the beginning of the semester and let them know, and there hasn’t been an issue. Sadie brings a different atmosphere to the classroom, and breaks the tension in the room.” Barry is working toward a graduate degree in English, and hopes to focus on writing.
“Sadie is an excellent dog, and PAD is a great program,” he said. “They set me up with leashes, toys, collars, medical supplies, hygiene needs, and basic first aid. With Sadie, I feel like I can be out in a crowd. She has my back so I can relax.” Barry shared that he recently went to a large campus event which he probably would not have been able to attend without her because his anxiety level would have been too high. Sadie provided the calming influence he needed.
Many veterans feel that they can’t go to their children’s school events, games or concerts because of the anxiety level created by the crowd, Junker said. With a service animal like Sadie – or someday Gilligan or Louie – they will hopefully alleviate enough of that anxiety to allow those veterans to attend those important functions and be able to participate more in their loved ones’ lives.
Junker hopes that eventually the VA will cover the costs associated with providing these service animals. “They do it for seeing-eye dogs and hearing dogs,” he said. “While these are still service animals and their owners can take them anywhere, they are still different in terms of VA acknowledgement of care. It’s still a relatively new concept. It takes time, but we are making progress.”
Occasionally they do run into a business that will not allow the animal into their building, but usually it’s because they are unfamiliar with the law, which states that a business can only ask the owner, “Is it a service animal, and what does it do for you?” According to Junker, they cannot ask what is wrong with the veteran.
“This is a tremendous partnership,” said Marilou Chanrasmi, Leech Lake Legacy co-founder. “Dennis is great to work with, and we are thrilled about our partnership.”
“My opinion is that Rez dogs rule!” Junker said.