My husband, Jeff, has a service dog named Holly, and she has become a part of our family in a huge way.
I have seen articles about people trying to abuse the rights a service dog and their partner have. People will order vests online that say “service dog” on them, or people will claim that they need their (untrained) animal with them for emotional support. There are very real differences between an emotional support animal and a service dog.
The Americans with Disabilities Act protects the rights of service dogs and their owners. The service dog can accompany their owner anywhere that the owner needs to go. There are a couple exceptions to this rule, but for the most part, a place of business or airline for example, cannot refuse the owner the right to enter the establishment.
A service dog is trained to assist their owner to do work and perform tasks that relate to the owner’s needs and/or disabilities. When someone hears “service dog” they tend to automatically assume that the dog is used for an individual who may be deaf or blind. Service dogs are used for many reason and are becoming more popular.
Besides aiding the deaf and blind, service dogs can be used for people who have seizures, or for people who need reminding of when to take medications.
Our story is a little different. Jeff’s service dog, named Holly, has been trained to help alleviate stress, anxiety, and depression that is caused by PTSD.
Jeff gives Holly commands that help alleviate any stressors my husband may face while at home, or away from home. For example, if my husband is in a grocery store waiting in line and a person gets too close behind him, he simply tells Holly to “cover”.
Holly understands this command that she needs to place herself to the side and face behind my husband. This way, my husband knows that Holly is aware of what is going on behind him, which offers a sense of calm.
If a person gets too close to my husband in a face to face position, my husband will command Holly to “block” -- this puts the much-needed space between my husband and the person in front of him.
For some disabled veterans who have been to war, having to sit in an area that is enclosed, or where the veteran cannot view the entire room, can easily cause the veteran to feel anxious, simply because they cannot tell if someone is behind them or not.
In a restaurant, Jeff will sit in a corner that faces the entire room, and Holly will lay under the table while we are eating. She is never seen or heard from and causes no disruptions to other patrons.
Holly offers a lot of aid at home as well. Jeff and Holly have a truly unbreakable bond. When he is not feeling well, or just having a bad day, Holly will jump up in his lap and lay down. This offers a soothing effect for my husband.
Holly also helps Jeff’s physical issues. If he needs help getting up, he gives Holly the command to “brace”. Holly will stand in front of Jeff, so he can put some of his body weight on her. This eases any pain that is associated with standing, sitting, and rising from a kneeling position.
Jeff served in the U.S military for 16 years. During this time, he deployed four times, and went out on many field missions.
I could tell after each deployment how much his job was wearing him down, physically, mentally and emotionally. He was medically retired from the Army in 2015.
Jeff suffers from many physical ailments, as well as mental health issues, including PTSD. Last year when we were traveling home from my husband’s parents’ house after celebrating Thanksgiving together, I noticed that my husband seemed lost, he was pale and had grown a shaggy beard. Honestly, it looked as if the life had been sucked out of him. He was not happy.
Like many other men and women who have served, after my husband retired from the military, he had trouble adapting to civilian life. I knew that if he would have been able to he would have stayed in the Army -- it was his job for so long.
I knew something had to change. I thought that a dog may be the solution, after all, Jeff loves dogs and is great with them. We discussed it later and eventually thought of K9s for Warriors, out of Jacksonville, who had provided Jeff’s close friend with a service dog years before.
We contacted them and discussed the possibility of getting into the program and eventually going to the camp to be partnered up with a service dog. Once Jeff arrived, the K-9 team took over. He had a wonderful home away from home for the three-week training period.
Overall, his experience was amazing. Jeff was paired with Holly the following day. It was literally love at first sight, for both Jeff and Holly. They spent three weeks training together.
I knew that it would be hard for the rest of the family when they got back home. Jeff and Holly established a bond while working together at K9s, and that bond needed to be maintained after they returned home. For this to happen, our two children and myself could only have minimal contact with Holly for the first 30 days, which was hard enough because she’s adorable.
Since Holly has joined our family, life has been amazing. Jeff is much happier with his everyday life. He loves training with Holly, playing around and taking her out on the town.
A wife could get seriously jealous at times.
Owning a service dog is a huge responsibility. Jeff and Holly must keep training every day. If Holly does not get the training she needs than the whole purpose behind the program fails. Therefore, people need to understand that a service dog is a well-trained tool.
A household pet does not have this type of training, and if that animal acts out in public, that animal can give service dogs like Holly a bad reputation.
My purpose of this article is to educate people on the importance of a service dog and their training. Service dogs are a blessing for so many Wounded Warriors, and those Wounded Warriors have been a true blessing for our country.
Let’s help our heroes to get the assistance and support they need in every way we possibly can.
Ms. Jackson is a Richmond Hill resident. If you would like to contact her for more information about the service dog group, call 315-771-6470 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.