2016-02-18 / Front Page

K9s on the Front Line

Organizations pair vets with service dogs
BY DOUGLAS MCINTIRE
Times Record Staff


JEREMIAH CHURCH works with his dog, Q, at the Coastal Humane Society. Church is just one of many military veterans being paired with service dogs from the humane society. Through the efforts of Embrace A Vet, veterans identified with PTSD or traumatic brain injuries are paired with dogs and go through training together. 
DOUGLAS MCINTIRE / THE TIMES RECORD JEREMIAH CHURCH works with his dog, Q, at the Coastal Humane Society. Church is just one of many military veterans being paired with service dogs from the humane society. Through the efforts of Embrace A Vet, veterans identified with PTSD or traumatic brain injuries are paired with dogs and go through training together. DOUGLAS MCINTIRE / THE TIMES RECORD BRUNSWICK

Coastal Humane Society, Embrace A Vet and North Edge K9 work together as K9s on the Front Line to take dogs from the streets or high-kill shelters and make them into service dogs for veterans with post traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injuries. Three weeks into training a new class, vets and their dogs mingled and practiced in the space below Coastal Humane’s office on Pleasant Street.

Amy Burns works with her dog, Mac, as she ran through a series of tricks she’s already taught him. Being a good veteran’s dog, Mac can salute, stand at attention, about face and high-five.

“This program really saves lives,” Burns said — a stark reminder that every day, 22 veterans take their own life.

Veteran Jeremiah Church works with his dog, Quovadis — Czech for “Where you going?,” Church explained.

Church said Quovadis, or simply, “Q,” came from the Czech Republic and was intended to be a military or police dog, but was found to lack a certain amount of aggression necessary for the job.

“He doesn’t speak any English,” Church said, laughing.

Q watches Church’s every move, listening and quickly complying with commands given in Czech.

Coastal Humane Society Executive Director Joe Montisano said the veterans come to Coastal Humane and work with staff and trainers to find a good match between dog and vet. Dogs are chosen depending on the veteran’s own preferences, what kind of dog they can physically handle and just as importantly, whether the trainers think the dog is suitable for an intensive 16-week training course.

The dogs move right in with their adoptive family and attend training once a week. The first class held under the new partnership took place in Gorham in November, graduating five service dogs.

Montisano said some dogs will be considered therapy dogs while others will go on to receive service dog status. He said that is up to the veteran and that some don’t care to take the test to take the extra step.

Montisano said one of the dogs to be evaluated is a seven-month-old lab-mix puppy that was spared being put down and brought up from Georgia.

“I think he’s a great fit,” Montisano said. “We’ll see if the veteran and the trainer agree. Basically, dogs that are being saved from wherever, the streets or from different states if we’re pulling them in and hooked up with a vet and they have a great life.”

Montisano said Embrace A Vet has been doing this sort of thing for a few years, but only recently partnered with North Edge K9, a company founded by former police officer and K9 trainer, Christian Stickney and Director of Anatomic Pathology for Spectrum Medical Group Hagen Blaszyk.

With the three organizations working toward a singular goal now, Montisano said the new found coalition can work more efficiently than as separate entities.

Joy Johnson of Embrace A Vet said the program is run at no cost to the veterans although some choose to contribute what they can.

“People have given us ten bucks, one guy gave us $600 and we just pay it right forward to the next class but we don’t want to put any stress on them, so it’s not obligatory,” Johnson said.

On Monday night, Johnson said she received word that Embrace A Vet was awarded a $10,000 grant from the PetCo Foundation. She said that will help fund an additional six or seven dogs.

dmcintire@timesrecord.com

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