A service dog can bring someone back from the deepest darkest places

Interview with a Wounded Warrior
Publ
ished in the DUTY issue

Will + Jack Daniels

Will dropped 30 feet, breaking his neck and both legs.

As you can imagine, he also hit his head, which resulted in a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). After 26 years in the navy, Will was injured on board the carrier USS Enterprise when a storm hit the ship as it was docked in Norfolk. He was crossing the brow as the ship pushed away from the pier when the brow collapsed. His right leg was crushed. After 20-some surgeries and four years later, he was still in constant pain and his mobility was severely limited—Will made the decision to have his leg amputated after watching the paralympics. He’d always been athletic and couldn’t play sports with his leg as it was. Will believes having his leg amputated was one of the best decisions he’s ever made, as it has opened up so many doors and let him re-engage in sports. But he is still left with both visible and invisible wounds.

Two years ago, Will was in Kentucky helping a farmer harvest tobacco to return a favor. On his way to the farm, he noticed a house with three German Shepherds in the yard. Will stopped in to meet them. “Jack was the first to come up and put his hands on my shoulders and lick me in the face.” Jack had been rescued from a situation where he was in a crate almost all day. Will asked the couple who rescued him if they minded if Jack rode to the farm with him. Will and Jack rode back and forth to the farm together for two weeks. After the two weeks, Will got the nerve to ask if Jack could spend the night. They said, absolutely! So Will and Jack watched movies together and hung out in Will’s RV. “He laid his head on my shoulder and that was it. We were bound at the heart from that point.”

Will adopted Jack and back home to Memphis the boys went together! During the time Jack was being trained at West Tennessee Canine to be a PTSD dog, his trainer found out that he also has the innate ability to alert to emotional situations. “Just today, we were in the gym and, although Jack was paying attention to me, he kept alerting to Paul, a fellow wounded warrior. He’d lift his head and just stare at Paul. He was saying, Dad … there’s something wrong with that guy. So, I took Jack over, and we found out he was having a bad day. Jack laid down next to Paul, put his head on his shoulder, and licked Paul’s face. Jack could sense the difference in emotion, and knew exactly what Paul needed.”

What does Jack mean to you?
Will became emotional and unable to speak for several moments when asked this question. “Jack means the difference between staying alive and not. He’s given me so much more than I’ve given him. He’s given me a reason to get up in the morning. He inspires me to get out and re-integrate into society. He’s become a permanent fixture in my heart. There’s no doubt about it—he saved my life.
Jack is with me 24/7. I feel like I’m not fully dressed if I don’t have him beside me. The psychological support and the friendship that he offers is incredibly satisfying. And to know he will take care of me and love me unconditionally is comforting.”

What do you wish people knew?
“I wish people knew how much service dogs mean to their owners—how in the darkest of times a service dog can convey love that can bring them back from the deepest darkest places. People need to know that a service dog isn’t a dog … but an extension of that human being’s persona. Service dog fraud upsets me. People who order a ten-dollar vest online just so they can take their dog with them places invalidates the reason behind the program.”

When are you most proud of Jack?
“Every day of my life. Just to see his calming nature and to see what he can do for myself and others—he came from being a farm dog to an instrument in saving lives.”

When are you most proud of yourself?
Will struggled to try and talk through strong emotion, “Every day that I can wake up and realize that I came close several times to not being here, and realizing that I’m far stronger than I gave myself credit. Each day that we face a new day, we get stronger and are better because of it. I can’t let my injury define me. I may have to put parts on in the morning, but I’m still the same guy they rolled into the ER. It’s not how hard you fall … it’s what you do when you stand back up that makes a difference. •

If you’d like to volunteer your time locally in training a puppy for a Wounded Warrior, please contact K9 for Warriors—they’re looking for puppy-raisers! Please share these stories to educate those around you about the different needs a service dog may provide for visible or invisible wounds.

 

7th Annual Boots on the Ground Poker Run and Concert

Come out and honor and support this Nations Veterans, their families and memorialize your Fallen Heroes while supporting this great cause. A Hot Rod Car Show hosted by Callahan Cruisers and Golf Cart Poker Run as well. Plus many other activities for the whole family. Registration at Flamingo Lake: 8:30am KSU at 11:00. Live Music by Jacksonville’s best bands as well as a performance by the Jacksonville Firefighters Pipe and Drum Corp. Special Guest Staff Sgt. Tim Chambers, AKA The Saluting Marine.

LOCATION: 3640 Newcomb Road, Jacksonville FL 32218. To support K9s For Warriors, The Florida Fallen Hero Memorial Fund and Trees for American Troops. Come out and honor and support this Nations Veterans, their families and memorialize your Fallen Heroes while supporting this great cause. A Hot Rod Car Show hosted by Callahan Cruisers and Golf Cart Poker Run as well. Plus many other activities for the whole family. Registration at Flamingo Lake: 8:30am KSU at 11:00. Live Music by Jacksonville’s best bands as well as a performance by the Jacksonville Firefighters Pipe and Drum Corp. Special Guest Staff Sgt. Tim Chambers, AKA The Saluting Marine.

Click here for a Guide to Affording a Service Dog

COVER REVEAL

Meet our Unleash Jacksonville DUTY cover power team, Rob and Liberty Bell, and Rob’s wife, Carrie. They are a amazingly strong individuals working through every day as one.

“The night I got Liberty Bell I stuck a 45 in my mouth. I wanted a permanent solution. Now that I have Liberty in my life—the way she acts and responds to me—I no longer have that propensity.”

Robert is very passionate about invisible wound awareness. Over his 30-year Naval career, Robert suffered multiple TBIs (Traumatic Brain Injuries), and just by looks alone, you wouldn’t know Robert is a wounded warrior. Doctors haven’t been able to pinpoint exactly what’s causing his progressive debilitating symptoms, which adds to the frustration. “We didn’t do a great job in the ‘80s recognizing concussions and brain injuries, and there just isn’t enough awareness or funding for the 379,500+ service people who are now suffering. That has to change.”

Robert met Liberty Bell at a time when his symptoms started progressing and he was having seizures. His service dog, Gracie May, an amazing German Shepherd, was doing her final in-house training with What’s Up Dog Service Animal Training. Robert got to “borrow” a dog named Sasha (who was also being trained at What’s Up) while Gracie was away. During that time, Robert had three major seizures back to back. Sasha knew—she just instinctively knew. She immediately started taking care of Robert, nearly pushing his wife, Carrie, out of the way. Carrie was a little nervous, wondering what the dog was doing, but Sasha had the situation under control. She was trained for PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) and mobility assist, but she wasn’t trained for seizure response or detection. “Dogs either have the ability to detect seizures or they don’t. This isn’t a trainable task. Unfortunately, as awesome as she was, my Gracie didn’t have that capacity. And it’s what I came to need as my disability progressed. I didn’t want to re-assign Gracie. But I had to.” Carrie knew pretty much right away, “Sasha was perfect for Rob.”

Sasha became Liberty Bell.
“I re-named her Liberty Bell because she gave me liberty. She gave me confidence to go out and do new things. I did go out with Gracie, but always to the same places. With Liberty, I’m confident in new situations. Three years ago, I would’ve told you service dogs were bunk … just a way for people to take their pets out. But a dog who is trained to perform these specific tasks is actually an extension of that person—a prosthetic.”

There’s nowhere Liberty doesn’t go with Robert. “She sleeps in my bed. She goes to the shower, the bathroom, movies; she’s always on duty. While in Mayport for the trials, she even went on a Naval ship; up and down the ladders. They’d never had a dog on the ship!”

A passion to see people live free.
The Florida panhandle, where Carrie and Robert live, is home to the country’s most dense population of veterans with PTSD and TBIs. It’s also home to the second-highest populous of active duty military. “We have a lot of service dogs in our area.” Carrie and Robert have been working passionately in the last year to make it easier for service members to get the right dog. They work closely with the Pawsitive Love Foundation, which works to provide individuals and families the gift of freedom of access, independence, and the ability to live the most normal life possible. “Currently veterans can get a prescription for a dog and they have no idea how to “cash it in”. We’d like to see it get much easier.”

Educate so we can integrate.
Robert and Carrie also helped to pass the Pawsitive Love Bill—a pilot high school program that introduces students to service dogs, teaches them why we have service dogs, why they’re important, and how to act around them. “Our goal is to bring it to the elementary level. There is such a need to educate kids. There is a ton of service dogs coming, vets can’t stay locked in their houses, losing themselves. If we don’t train the next generation how to act around the dogs and their handlers, there will be plenty of situations that won’t be good. We need to set these veterans and their dogs up for success in society.”

Pawsitive Love Foundation
You can make a difference! Become an advocate for the simple freedom you enjoy every day. It takes funding to transport, house, train, support service dogs and their handlers. Share our mission with your friends! pawsitivelovefoundation.org

Shepherds -N- Shamrocks

We invite you to join us for a fundraising and adoption event to benefit K-9 Services German Shepherd Rescue!

The event is free to the public and dogs are welcome!

Festivities include:
~ A 2pm training demo from Joey Romer of Smart Paws
~ Vendors:

Hands on K9s
Pooch Pantry
Merrily Baking It
Constance the Pet Messenger
Doody Daddy
Pets R Family Veterinary Hospital
Beer Mutts – raffle gift basket
Unleash Jacksonville
Woof Creative Photography / Snout Scout
Kolossal K9
US War Dogs Association

~ Silent Auction & Raffle

~ Lolly’s Food Trolley Food Truck

Of course, don’t forget to enjoy the amazing craft beers at Veterans United Craft Brewery!

One BAD ASS Barkitect

During the weekday Beau earns his treats as our Senior Barkitect and Chief of Security, keeping the office safe from the evil squirrels.
At night he keeps his home safe from the possums who skulk along our perimeter.

But what really makes him a bad ass is he is a therapy dog. He gives the joy and laughter of life to those who are hurting, stressed, or just need to have a better day. He never waivers, even when he’s tired, He always has a wag of his tail for anyone who needs it.

~ Terry Biehl,
SKINNER  VIGNOLA  McLEAN, INC.ARCHITECTS & PLANNERS