OCT 7, 2017
Dogs for Warriors build cabin for training
WTOV9 by Kate Siefert
HARRISON COUNTY, Ohio —
Friday may have been a rainy day, but that didn't put a damper on a ceremony for a cabin opening for veterans and their service dogs.
The Dogs for Warriors organization provides professionally trained service dogs for combat veterans. The newly built cabin will allow veterans to live with their service dogs for a 2-week training period.
"We knew that we needed to build a cabin because it’s easier for us to train them when they are here and staying at the facility,” said Andrew Slezak, president of Dogs for Warriors.
Before the construction of the cabin, veterans had to stay in hotels or in the homes of organization members of Dogs for Warriors. The cabin will save veterans money and provide the perfect place for them to train and bond with their dogs.
"This will greatly help us get more guys through the program and get more dogs to veterans who need them," Slezak said.
Trevor Armstrong was the first veteran in the Dogs for Warriors, and he says he will be forever grateful for what the organization has done for him. He says the cabin is the best way for a veteran to create the strongest relationship with their service dog.
"Here, you're not in the way,” he said. “You have your own place that you can go to after training all day, running around with your dog bonding, and here your dog will sleep next to you and you’re bonding with your dog, which is the most important aspect of this training.”
Armstrong was the first veteran, but there are many more who proceeded him.
"Next Tuesday, we will have paired 90 veterans with a service dog,” Slezak said. “But this is not the end, this is more of the beginning.”
Now that the cabin is complete, the Dogs for Warriors organization can continue helping more veterans every single year.
BOWERSTON The life of Marine Corps veteran Josh Jones has changed dramatically since Samson, a German shepherd service dog, came into his home.
Before Samson, Jones, who served in Kuwait and Iraq, would go to work and then come home. That was the extent of his life. He couldn’t go to the store, he couldn’t go to restaurants, he couldn’t go to his children’s school events because of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) resulting from his time in the service.
Now he can do all of those things.
“It doesn’t fix PTSD, but it’s a tool that helps you get through the day, that one mission of going to the store and getting out safely,” he said of the service dog.
Thanks to Samson, he can sleep better at night.
“I would get up and go and check everything,” he recalled. “Samson has picked up on it, and it’s not something I taught him to do, but when I settle down and and actually lay day to sleep, once I get settled in just enough, he gets up from the side of the bed and goes over and falls against the bedroom door. So you’re not getting in that bedroom door without going through him first. I have peace of mind having him there.”
Jones got Samson three years ago from Dogs 4 Warriors, an organization based near Bowerston that trains service dogs for combat veterans who have PTSD, traumatic brain injury and amputations.
Jones, who is 100 percent disabled, believes so much in the program that he and his wife, Benita, moved here from Tennessee to work full time as volunteers for the organization.
Dogs 4 Warriors was formed three and a half years ago by Sheila Slezak and her husband, Andrew, a retired Ohio State Highway Patrol trooper. It is based on their 87-acre property in Harrison County, close to Tappan Lake. So far, the group has provided service dogs to 90 veterans in 27 states.
“There is a need for alternative things for the veterans beside just medication,” she said. “Service dogs make a big difference. It makes a difference in whether they can go to the store at a normal time with a normal amount of people, go to the mall, go to their kids’ sporting event, school event, things like that.
The group provides the dogs, the training and the dog’s vest free of charge to veterans.
“The majority of them don’t have the financial means to purchase a dog,” Slezak said. “A lot of places charge people up to $30,000 for a service dog. You don’t join the military to get rich, so $30,000 is a lot of money.”
The dogs do everything for the veterans they serve — pick up stuff the veteran drops, retrieve items, get their medicine, turn lights on and off, open doors or get help in an emergency. When the veteran is in a stressful situation, the dog can help calm them down.
“We do all the training prior to the veteran arriving,” she said. “The veterans come and stay for two weeks so we can train them with their dog — what their dog does, why it does it, things like that.”
Currently, Dogs 4 Warriors has 30 dogs being trained. In addition, 10 dogs are being trained by inmates at Belmont Correctional Institution in St. Clairsville.
Three years ago, veterans at the prison saw a story on WTOV-TV Channel 9 about Dogs 4 Warriors and wanted to help. “They wanted to do something to help so other guys didn’t end up in prison like them,” she said.
At first, the inmates just taught the dogs how to be housebroken. Now they are able to train the dogs.
“We had a veteran who is paralyzed from the chest down, so we took a wheelchair down there and a guy from prison rolled around in a wheelchair for months training this dog to be comfortable with that wheelchair constantly,” Slezak said.
Many breeds of dogs have been trained by Dogs 4 Warriors — German shepherds, golden retrievers, labs, Irish wolf hounds and even poodles. The vast majority are rescue dogs. Slezak said there is also an elderly woman who raises German shepherds and donates them to the group in memory of people she knew who were killed in Vietnam.
“We don’t want to give the veterans any dog older than 2 because we want them to have the dog as long as possible,” she said. “Our theory has been that by the time that dog is 8 then we’ll recycle the guy in the program so that within a year there will be another dog for him. Then the dog that he has can kind of retire and hang out.”
At first, veterans who came to Dogs 4 Warriors for training lived with the Slezaks. Now they can stay in a new 1,200-square-foot bunkhouse on the property that was dedicated on June 23. It has a full kitchen, living room, two full bathrooms and a barracks-style bedroom that can hold three veterans. The organization supplies them with all of their food and other necessities.
Slezak reminds people that they should not pet a service dog if they see one at a restaurant or the mall. “When you distract the dog, you distract him from the job he supposed to do. He’s not supposed to seek attention from other people because then he wouldn’t be paying attention to the veteran’s needs.”
Veterans are given a card to pass out that answers common questions that people have.
Brad Buskirk of Chillicothe received his service dog Cruz on June 13.
“The very first night he woke me from a night terror,” he wrote in a statement for The T-R. “Once I realized what he had done I was so emotional. It was amazing. With his training, I could go to the local mall and stores during normal hours. Before Cruz, I would’ve gone early in the morning or late night, if I went at all.”
Buskirk had spent 12 years taking medication or going to therapy sponsored by the Veterans Administration. He got a job, but he couldn’t handle being around lots of people. So he switched to second shift so he wouldn’t be around so many people. His depression and anxiety worsened so that he couldn’t go to events with his 7-year-old son.
“Since Cruz and I have come home and transitioned to going to work with me, it is great,” he wrote. “My co-workers have seen us and said there’s just a glow of happiness and relaxation about me now. I’m not that cranky old vet co-worker anymore. He has made me feel comfortable enough to start looking for day shift jobs. That way I can have a more normal family life and schedule. My family is thrilled that I am finally ‘there’ with them instead of my head being on a swivel.
“For the first time, I feel like I’m heading in the right direction to deal with PTS better and not let it define who I am and who I can be.”
Reach Jon at 330-364-8415 or at email@example.com.
This is an inspiring story of Ohioans coming together to help military veterans in need. Dogs 4 Warriors Inc. is an organization that trains service dogs for veterans who require a little assistance and companionship. Even better, inmates who are military veterans in our Belmont Correctional Institution heard about the program and are stepping up to help train even more service dogs.
This is a perfect example of folks coming together to use their God-given talents and abilities to make a real difference in the world. It didn’t require government to get it done, it didn’t require a new law --- all it needed was love, energy and dedication. And it’s making a real difference for veterans across our nation.
I couldn’t be more proud of Dogs 4 Warriors Inc. and their friends at Belmont Correctional. They’re setting an example we all can follow.
April 16, 2017
SUCCESSFUL MATCHES — The Dogs 4 Warriors program works with the prison system in Belmont County to provide trained service dogs to veterans across the country. Some of
the successful placements, from left, include Justin Schuh, Marine Corps, with Sarge; Cory Howard, Marine, with Jinx; Gregg McKinley, Army, with Seth; Rebecca Healey, Army,
with Ruger; and Wayne Greeneyedwolf U-Games, Army, with Della. - contributed
FLUSHING — Veterans are being matched with service dogs to provide companionship and to help them deal with the struggles they face upon returning home, thanks to the Dogs 4 Warriors program of Flushing and Belmont Correctional Institution.
April 9th 2017
Photo provided The Dogs 4 Warriors program works with the prison system in Belmont County to provide trained service dogs to veterans across the country. Some of the successful placements, from
left, include Justin Schuh, U.S. Marine Corps, with Sarge; Cory Howard, USMC, with Jinx; Gregg McKinley, U.S. Army, with Seth; Rebecca Healey, Army, with Ruger; and Wayne Greeneyedwolf U-Games,
Army, with Della.
FLUSHING — Veterans are being matched with service dogs to provide companionship and to help them deal with the struggles they face upon returning home, thanks to the Dogs 4 Warriors program of Flushing and Belmont Correctional Institution.
Shane Jackson and his German shepherd, Jersey, relaxing on the back porch of his Flint, Mich., home. Jersey was trained by
Dogs 4 Warriors Inc. to aid Jackson's recovery from post-traumatic stress disorder.
The dark brown and tan dog with a white patch on his chest was among more than two dozen purebred German shepherds found in unsafe and cramped conditions at a Ridgefield Park veterinary hospital.
Now, 15 months later, the dog that was so dependent on his rescuers has become a savior to Shane Jackson of Flint, Mich., a veteran who sustained a brain injury in a roadside explosion in Iraq and now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. The German shepherd, now named Jersey, is Jackson’s constant companion and has the mission of distracting him from his road rage, waking him up from his nightmares and standing guard during anxiety attacks.
“I get out a lot more than I used to,” said Jackson, 46. “I used to sit at home, because I didn’t want to deal with people. … I’m with him all day every day and all night every night. … I probably would be devastated if something happens to him.”
Jersey’s path to becoming a service dog began in May 2014, when he and 28 other German shepherds were removed from the Ridgefield Park Animal Hospital. Authorities said the dogs, ranging in age from a few weeks to 9 years, were kept in cramped cages. The dogs were seized from Edison Davalos, a veterinary technician, who pleaded guilty to failing to provide necessary shelter to 11 of the dogs and paid a $5,500 fine.
A year and a half old at the time, Jersey — then known as Ethan — was relatively healthy, but he was thin and had muscle weakness from being confined in a crate, said Deborah Yankow, director of the Bergen County Animal Shelter and Adoption Center in Teterboro. Jersey, who was born in Germany, was taken to the shelter for medical care and food and put up for adoption.
Upon hearing about the case, a representative of Dogs 4 Warriors Inc. of Bowerston, Ohio, a non-profit that trains and provides service dogs for free to veterans injured in combat, emailed the shelter to inquire about adopting one of the dogs. Yankow immediately thought of Ethan, whose laid-back and obedient nature made him stand out from the other dogs rescued from the Ridgefield Park Animal Hospital.
“He was a very special German shepherd — different temperament, and so driven to please humans,” Yankow said. “He had a working-dog mentality.”
Less than a month after he was removed from the animal hospital, the German shepherd was placed in an SUV in Teterboro and embarked on the more than 450-mile drive to begin training in Ohio.
When he arrived at Dogs 4 Warriors and the home of Sheila Slezak, one of the organization’s founders, he was given the name Jersey because it fit and he responded to it, Slezak said.
Jersey underwent months of training to develop his service skills.
First, he learned about 50 commands, such as “steady” to help his assigned veteran maintain his balance, and “front” and “back” to block people from getting too close.
Part of the training program took place at the Belmont Correctional Institution in eastern Ohio, where Jersey, who was becoming attached to Slezak, was paired with an incarcerated veteran who also helped to train him.
“It alleviates some of that attention,’’ she said. “Jersey was needy when he got there, so he was easy and clingy to the person who was paying attention to him.”
At the prison, Jersey learned obedience skills and to tolerate and maneuver in crowds.
One obstacle Jersey had to overcome was picky eating habits. Slezak said she thought that he might have been fed a lot of scraps at some point.
“It took a little while to teach him to go in a restaurant and sit by the table and not worry about whether you are going to give him a piece of food,” she said.
Like all of the dogs Slezak trains, Jersey was taught to be aware of his assigned veteran’s sleeping patterns, and feelings.
“If he’s feeling stressed, we then teach the dog to basically … annoy them, to pay attention to them, to take their minds off of what is bothering them,” Slezak said. “We have some that are a little more demanding, who will whine, and whine at them, because once you take the veteran’s mind off of it, you get them focused on the dog instead and it makes a world of difference.”
When she is matching dogs with veterans, Slezak said, she takes both of their personalities into account as well as the veteran’s lifestyle. She said she paired Jersey with Jackson because they are both “laid back.”
Jackson, who served in the Army years ago, enlisted in the National Guard in 2006 and was deployed to Iraq. In March 2007, he was returning to his base in Mosul, in northern Iraq, from a customs inspection assignment near the Turkish border when his convoy was hit by a roadside explosive. He said the explosion blew out his eardrums and gave him a concussion. He now suffers from hearing loss and migraines, although the seizures that initially plagued him subsided after about three months. Before he met Jersey, he said, he spent many days indoors.
He went to Ohio in late September 2014 to train with Jersey for two weeks. When he saw Jersey for the first time, he said, he immediately thought that he had been paired with the most beautiful dog. Since then, the two have been inseparable.
“He’s about 90 pounds and he’s not a lap dog, like he thinks he is,” Jackson said with a chuckle. “He likes to climb up and lay next to me on the couch, and he is right near my bed while I sleep.”
That closeness comes in handy when Jackson, who medically retired as a Veterans Affairs police officer, has a nightmare. Jersey senses it and gets to work.
“He just nudges me until I wake up,” Jackson said.
And when Jackson, the father of a 14-year-old boy, is driving and someone on the road upsets him, Jersey, who always sits in the back seat, bumps him on the head.
“I had a lot of road rage,” Jackson recalled. “And he senses the anger, and he wants to distract you from it.”
Before Jersey, Jackson said, grocery shopping was so difficult that he would wait to go late at night.
“If I went to big department stores, and it was really busy, especially around Christmastime, I would have anxiety attacks,” Jackson said. “He keeps people away from me on command.”
Yankow said that she’s always on the lookout for dogs at the Bergen County shelter with potential to work in service or police capacities. Over the three years she’s been at the shelter, she said, two dogs have been trained to work with police, and another was trained as a service dog, for a child with autism.
Currently, she said, the shelter has custody of a 10-month-old male bloodhound who was part of a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals case in Lyndhurst. The bloodhound, she said, has the potential to assist in search and rescues.
“He is a very intelligent dog, responsive to training and eager to please humans,” she said. “He could possibly be a tracking scent hound and we would love to have him evaluated by an expert.”
Jackson said he hasn’t spent much time thinking about Jersey’s previous life in New Jersey. But he said he has wondered about the sort of person who would keep such a gentle animal cooped up in a crate.
“I’m fortunate that it came to pass just because of his temperament,” he said, “and I’m glad that there are good people that were willing to donate him to the program.”
You can read the article here
When a member of the military is called to duty, they put their entire life on hold to fight for our country’s safety and security.Unfortunately, the effects of combat often leave these soldiers with life-changing conditions. Upon their return home, many suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and/or a traumatic brain injury (TBI). These conditions cause the sufferer to feel confused, anxious and afraid. As a result, more than 20 veterans commit suicide each day. One of the organizations fighting to decrease this statistic is Dogs 4 Warriors.
Dogs 4 Warriors provides highly trained service dogs at no cost to veterans suffering from PTSD, TBI and other combat-related injuries. The organization raises, trains and later matches service dogs to a veteran based on the veteran’s home life and personal needs. Each pup and veteran team receives on-site training together that can last weeks. Sadly, Dogs 4 Warriors can only help a few veterans at a time due to limited space. But with the help of Big Heart Pet Brands July $20,000 Heart to Paw grant, that’s about to change.
“This donation means that we can expand our current operations to meet the needs of several more veterans! Since we started Dogs 4 Warriors, our goal has been to build a 5 room cabin that would be living space for multiple veterans while they train with their service dogs. This donation finally gives us the means to work towards our goal!” – Sheila Slezak, Founder and CEO, Dogs 4 Warriors
Arun Ghosh, Big Heart Pet Brands’ Senior Manager of Demand Planning, submitted the grant proposal after meeting two wounded veterans who had been helped by Dogs 4 Warriors:
“I was on a long train ride last spring and I ended up sitting next to two war veterans. They shared with me their stories of dealing with PTSD and how Dogs 4 Warriors helped them, and many other veterans, cope with the illness through service dogs. I was touched by their stories and wanted to help Dogs 4 Warriors continue their important and generous work.”
Big Heart Pet Brands is proud to support Dogs 4 Warriors and welcome them into ourHeart to Paw family!
Read it on the Heart-To-Paws website here!
Nightmares are not as scary as they once were in the McKinley household.
Now, when Gregg McKinley, a veteran of Desert Storm, begins thrashing and shouting in his sleep, his wife Pamela knows she has some backup.
Rather than jumping in and dealing with the trauma that Gregg is obviously reliving, Pamela leaves it to Seth, a year-and-a-half-year-old Dutch shepherd, trained specifically for such episodes.
"When (Gregg) has a nightmare, I always wake up right away," Pamela said this past week from the family's Prescott Valley apartment.
For years, she has been the one to deal with her husband's post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), waking him from the bad dreams, and then watching helplessly as he "patrols" the house - checking doors, windows, the street outside.
Matt Hinshaw/The Daily Courier
Desert Storm Veteran Gregg McKinley kisses his service
dog Seth, a Dutch Shepard, while his son Gabriel, 8, and wife
Pamela look on Friday morning at their Prescott Valley home.
But when the familiar scenario played out just the night before, Pamela said she chose to sit back and watch. "He was having a nightmare last night, and I just waited, and the dog woke up right away," Pamela recalls, the relief evident in her voice. "He nosed right up against (Gregg), and woke him up."
And Gregg, knowing that the protective dog was there with him, was able to settle down again without the usual accompanying stress.
The new calm began soon after Gregg began training with Seth. This past Friday, the duo had just returned from their intensive week of training with the non-profit Dogs 4 Warriors in Bowerston, Ohio.
"He woke me up from nightmares twice (during the training)," Gregg said of Seth. "Those were some of the most restful nights I've had."
He was especially looking forward to taking his 8-year-old son Gabriel out for their weekly dinner at a local restaurant. Unlike in the past, when Gregg has felt the need to keep his back covered, he said he would leave that up to Seth. In addition, he said, "I'm nowhere near as angry, nowhere near as anxious. This dog's going to help the entire family."
Sheila Slezak, the founder of Dogs 4 Warriors, is not surprised at the impact Seth is having in the McKinleys' lives. "Dogs make all the difference in the world for a lot of things," she said in a telephone interview. "Dogs are just capable of doing amazing things."
Oftentimes, she said, veterans suffering from PTSD never leave their houses. "You get them a dog, and the dog has to go outside," she said.
Slezak, who has 30 years experience training dogs, currently has about 50 dogs in various levels of training. To help acclimate them, she regularly sends them to Ohio's Belmont Correctional Institution, where working with inmates helps the dogs get accustomed to large crowds and long lines. Seth's training prior to the match with the McKinleys included about a month at the prison.
After seeing what service dogs had done for other veterans suffering with PTSD, Gregg said he and Pamela contacted several organizations, and they soon began working with Dogs 4 Warriors.
When he heard that Seth was available, Gregg said, "I was excited and scared." Once in Ohio, though, he said it wasn't long before he and Seth bonded. The connection was apparent at the McKinleys' home this week. As Gregg talked, Seth rested on the floor, his head cushioned by his owner's foot.
Gregg said that bond is helping him get beyond the impacts from the intense months he spent in the U.S. Army more than 20 years ago during the Gulf War (Desert Storm).
After Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, Gregg was among the troops sent in to patrol the area. He remembers being a part of the Army's "human intelligence" effort, which involved long stints in the desert.
"We were dropped off in the middle of nowhere, and we had to dig a hole," Gregg says.
He and his fellow soldiers spent as many as nine days at a time, watching, waiting and reporting. At one point, he was part of an effort to capture 150 Iraqi prisoners and destroy five vehicles.
Living under such imminent danger takes a toll. "It changes your outlook on life, and it changes your outlook on death," Gregg said.
Noting that "nobody really talked about PTSD from Desert Storm," Gregg said he rationalized his behavior for years.
After he lost his job because of an injury, he said depression set in, and the family was no longer able to ignore it.
"I've seen the PTSD progress, and I've seen him going progressively downhill," Pamela said. "That was why I knew we needed to do something."
The entire family is pinning its hopes on Seth, and so far, Pamela said the arrival of the dog is making a difference.
"Talking to (Gregg) on the phone (during training), I heard the man I had met 19 years ago," she said.
Belmont Correctional Institute to assist Dogs 4 Warriors
Everyone involved with Dogs 4 Warriors knows that Sheila Slezak and her team work tirelessly to train and match dogs with Veterans in need, but she and the team are also always working to improve Dogs 4 Warriors, making it a more efficient and successful program so that it can help as many Veterans as possible in the shortest time possible. Recently Sheila was
able to finalize an agreement that would do just that and allow Veterans to help Veterans in an amazing way. Veterans imprisoned at the Belmont Correctional Institute reached out to Sheila quite some time ago with the idea that they could assist in the training of service dogs, and by doing so not only help Veterans in need but give back to them in such a way that might prevent other Veterans from ending up where they are. This program required some negotiation and approval, and an enormous effort to accomplish, but finally it has been accomplished.
Veterans at Belmont are housed in their own dormitory wing of the prison, and have recently had some new decorations added to the walls of their housing unit. Two walls in the housing unit have been recently painted with the Dogs 4 Warriors logo, and other walls have the Branch logos of the military Branches that people involvedwith Dogs 4 Warriors and the prisoners share. These Veterans have committed themselves to giving back to other Veterans in hopes of keeping them out of the same situations that landed them where they are, but make no mistake; this program is just as important for the incarcerated Veterans as it is for the ones who will receive these life changing service dogs.
Some of the Veterans incarcerated at Belmont are experienced K9 trainers, but all of them have been meticulously instructed as to the precise training standards that a Dogs 4 Warriors service dog must be trained to. Sheila has instructed them personally and will monitor the progress of both the dogs and the Veterans involved with the program. She will visit the prison at a minimum of every two weeks to ensure that her very high training standards are being met, and to give additional classes on the training of the service dogs. The incarcerated Veterans will be working with 10 dogs at all times, allowing Sheila to fine tune their training as successful service dogs. The first five dogs have been taken to the prison to begin obedience training by Sheila and Jason Darling, and Dogs 4 Warriors News expects an update on their progress in time for next month’s edition, and progress reports on the dogs and Veterans there will be included in the Newsletter every month, so everyone can stay updated on how this program is helping not only Dogs 4 Warriors and its Veterans, but the incarcerated Veterans who are training the service dogs as well.
It is extremely important to note that this program is not in any way being paid for by the prison. Everything, from crates to shampoo, bowls towels, leashes, food, etc. come directly from the Dogs 4 Warriors budget. Please, this program is vitally important to Dogs 4 Warriors, so go to the website and donate to it, this program will allow Dogs 4 Warriors to pair and train 10 or more Veterans every month. That is huge, and will make it possible to help more Veterans who are suffering even faster.
“This is Veterans helping Veterans in the mos