By Shari Harris,
Gisselle Marie graduated as a certified service dog on Oct. 30 after completing her certification training with Missouri Patriot Paws. Her veteran is Rick Kendle, and her graduation day coincided with his birthday.
The mission of Missouri Patriot Paws is, “To provide Missouri military veterans and first responders suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or traumatic brain injury (TBI) with a trained service dog, most of these dogs of which will be rescued from local shelters.” Their goal is to help war heroes and first responders improve their PTSD symptoms and adjust back into civilian life.
Gisselle’s training began in November 2017. The first hurdle was an evaluation by Jessie Queen, her assigned trainer, to determine if she was appropriate for training as a service dog. Missouri Patriot Paws will work with veterans or first responders who already have a dog with which they have developed a bond, but they also assist in assessing and choosing rescue dogs for the program. Typically, suitable dogs are in the one to two-year-old range, but Gisselle was nearly three when she started the course. Dogs also must have a designated veterinarian, updated vaccination records and monthly heartworm and flea and tick prevention.
After being accepted into the program, Gisselle trained for the Canine Good Citizenship assessment. She had to develop good behaviors before progressing to the next stage. The Public Access test was the final step of her training. She practiced in stores, hospitals, restaurants, and on elevators and stairs. Her most tempting test was walking past food without reacting. After one year of training, which included two to three hours one day each week, Gisselle was able to pass her final test.
Kendle and Giselle were already a team before her training, and Kendle had decided that if Giselle did not get accepted, he would not participate in the program with another dog. Fortunately, she passed the initial assessment.
Kendle served in the U.S. Army 21 years, which included two peacekeeping tours in the Sinai detachment. He believes his PTSD is a result of events that occurred during these tours. PTSD is often diagnosed immediately after a traumatic event, but many don’t realize it can be suppressed for years. Kendle’s symptoms began several years after his retirement from the Army.
In the MPP training according to their website, “PTSD service dogs are trained to assist in a medical crisis, provide treatment related assistance, assist in coping with emotional overload and perform security enhancement.”
With her training, Gisselle has become very attuned to Kendle’s symptoms. She awakens him during nightmares and responds whenever she senses he is upset or anxious, reducing the occurrence of or the severity of anxiety attacks. Kendle is surprised and pleased with how the training has changed her. He highly recommends Missouri Patriot Paws to any veterans or first responders who are dealing with PTSD or TBI.
Kendle’s mission now is to educate businesses and the public about the rights of service animals to accompany their handlers, and the importance of these animals to their handlers.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 established rights regarding service dogs. Businesses may only ask if a dog is a service dog and what tasks it performs. They may not refuse admittance. Even businesses that sell or prepare food must allow service dogs in public areas, regardless of state or local health codes. The dogs do not need special identification, and the handler does not have to answer any questions about his/her disability. No additional fees may be charged because of the animal. The handler and dog may not be isolated, segregated, or treated less favorably than others. There are instances when the handler can be asked to remove their dog: if the handler does not effectively control the dog, or if the dog’s presence directly threatens the health and safety of others.
Veterans and first responders who benefit from the MPP program risked their lives to protect the public, and in doing so, often sacrificed their peace of mind. A service dog, as evidenced by the testimonials on the MPP website, can help them lead a more productive life and improve their self-esteem. When you see a service animal in public, be aware the animal is working, and its presence may be necessary to allow the handler to tolerate being in a public setting. Remember, on this Veteran’s Day, that part of honoring our veterans may include honoring their right to be accompanied by their service dog.
More information about the program can be found at mopatriotpaws.org. Susan Hinkle is the MPP Program Coordinator, and interested veterans or first responders can reach her at (573) 578-2141, or email her at email@example.com.