Last week my husband and I walked into a family restaurant that caters to locals. Near our table sat an elderly man wearing a veteran’s cap. A medium-sized, black and white dog wearing a service vest lay under his table.The dog’s constant wagging tail made me smile.
“I see you like dogs,” the vet said.
I nodded. “And I think it’s great how they’re being used to help people.” I thought of a blind classmate of mine who was guided around the campus by his dog. I’d also recently read how dogs are helpful for children with autism, since they provide physical safety and an emotional anchor.
The man, obviously eager to talk, introduced the dog. I’ve forgotten her name, so I’ll call her Callie. “Callie trained through Madison’s Custom Canine,” he explained. Through our long conversation, my husband and I learned the man had served in Vietnam and suffered from PTSD. Callie helped him through his nightmares. He would nudge or jump on him thus changing his focus. As the vet praised his dog, Callie’s tail thumped the floor.
“Having Callie is a comfort,” he continued. “I’m also diabetic and she gives a warning bark if my blood sugar is out of whack.”
I’d heard about a dog’s ability to detect rapidly dropping or low blood sugar levels through their sensitive noses.
“Did Custom Canine find Callie for you?” I asked.
“Service dogs are expensive,” he explained. “I found her in a shelter and brought her to Madison for training.”
Our server appeared, and we placed our order. The veteran kept glancing our way, and I could tell he wanted to keep talking. I walked over to his table. He bent down and stroked Callie. She looked up at him affectionately. “I’m all alone now. My wife had a stroke and is in assisted living. It gets lonely.”
We continued to talk, but when our food arrived, I began my goodbyes. I fumbled through thanking him for his service and wishing him all the best. As I returned to my table, the hollow words echoed in my head. It’s one thing to thank veterans, but what about showing our thanks?
The next day, I researched another excellent canine program, Operation Freedom Paws, which empowers veterans to restore their independence and helps improve their mental health.
Check out the three-minute YouTube at https://operationfreedompaws.org. An Iraq Veteran who felt “like he was drowning” and was close to suicide tells his emotional story. He describes seeing his service dog, Shadow, for the first time and hugging him. While talking, the vet became choked up and Shadow, sensing his anxiety, jumped on him in what I think of as a doggy hug. The vet tells Shadow he’s okay and hugs him back. Shadow has given this vet a new outlook on life and the vet credits the founder, Mary Cortani, with saving his life. Mary believes love heals. “Especially when it’s got a wet nose and four paws,” she says on the video I watched. “And a wagging tail.”
Both organizations depend on donations. Operation Freedom Paws strives to provide dogs to vets free of charge. Madison’s Custom Canines, just an hour’s drive from here, details opportunities to serve. They’re looking for people to raise puppies for service. Volunteers would pay vet bills, teach the dog basic obedience, socialize them, and love them. They’re also looking for people to train older dogs, volunteer at the training facility in Madison, and share their talents for fundraising efforts. Check out https://www.customcanines.org.
These organizations, their supporters, and their volunteers are doing much more than simply thanking a vet. They’re taking action and showing they care. And, as Mary Cortani says, love heals.