Service dogs help veterans adjust to civilian life

The benefits of spending time with a therapy dog are well documented for anyone dealing with depression, anxiety, or PTSD.  A newly launched program is taking that relationship to the next level for local veterans.

Bubba the pit bull is a dog with two personalities. For twelve to fifteen hours a day, he doesn’t bark, he doesn’t roll around on the ground. He hardly interacts with the other dogs when he’s around them. That’s because Bubba is a dog with a job.

“I’ve had Bubba for a little more than two years now,” Iraq War Veteran and WNY Heroes, Inc. President Chris Kreiger says. “Basically everywhere I go, he goes with me. He’s my right hand.” When Kreiger adopted Bubba, he was expecting to gain a new best friend and a playmate for his kids. They had such a strong immediate connection, Chris decided to have Bubba trained to become his service dog.

“If you’re familiar with the term I have your six. Or we have your six. Basically in the military it means we have your back,” Kreiger said. “In the military, you create a bond or a marriage that’s stronger than a marriage in civilian world. And then when you leave the military you don’t have that same bond anymore. You don’t have somebody constantly watching your back.” Kreiger remembers coming home from serving overseas, and not wanting to go out. He stayed home from concerts, festivals, and fairs. Not anymore. “Having a service dog that is constantly with you, even when you go grocery shopping, makes a huge difference in someone’s life,” he said.

That’s why Kreiger wants to help his fellow veterans gain the same experience. WNY Heroes just launched a new program called “Pawsitive for Heroes.” With the help of sponsorships from Ingram Micro and Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino, the program will pay for service dog training. They go through about six weeks of courses like the one Winging It! Buffalo Style‘s Lauren Hall visited at the Barking Lot in Hamburg.

As a service dog, Bubba can go anywhere his owner goes. But you’re not supposed to approach him, call him by name, or even bend down and pet him. “A service dog is meant for a single individual need or purpose,” Kregier explained. “The dog can’t be touched by everybody and anybody. The dog has to listen directly to the handler. It can only be touched by the handler. So there’s a huge difference between therapy dog and service dog. When they put their vest on, they’re working it all business. They go right back to being a normal house dog.”

When Bubba’s vest came off, his other personality comes out. He runs around, jumps on Chris, and chases after a ball if you throw one to him. The sudden change in his behavior shows that service dogs can be trained to take their responsibilities seriously.  “We’re not looking for these dogs to help somebody across the street. We’re not looking for these dogs to open doors and open cupboards,” Kreiger said. “We’re looking for these dogs to provide comfort. A level of comfort.” A level of comfort, that only a best friend can give.

If you know someone that could benefit from Pawsitive for Heroes, fill out an application here.

To support WNY Heroes and their programs, attend their upcoming gala:

Red, White & Blue Gala

Friday, November 14th

Salvatore’s Italian Gardens

6 – 10 pm

www.redwhiteandblues.net

 

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