Episode 278 Michelle Axmaker Former Zookeeper Helps Veterans With Service Dogs Through Warriors Heart Canine Program Transcript
This transcript is from episode 278 with guest Michelle Axmaker.
[00:00:00] Thanks for tuning in to the Drive On Podcast where we are focused on giving hope and strength to the entire military community. Whether you’re a veteran, active duty, guard, reserve, or a family member, this podcast will share inspirational stories and resources that are useful to you. I’m your host, Scott DeLuzio, and now let’s get on with the show.
Hey everybody. Welcome back to the Drive On Podcast. Today my guest is Michelle Amaker. Michelle is a former zookeeper and currently works with Warriors Heart to train service dogs for veterans and first responders. We’re going to be talking about how Warriors Heart helps military veterans and first responders with service dogs.
And so welcome to the show, Michelle. I’m glad to have. Thanks for having me on today. Yeah, absolutely. So for the listeners who maybe aren’t familiar with you, uh, could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?
Absolutely. So let me introduce my buddy first. This is K9 Valery. She’s a Belgian Malinois and she [00:01:00] works here at Warrior’s Heart as a training aid.
So she helps teach people how to work a trained dog. My background with animals really started from the early beginning stage. My father is a veterinarian, so I grew up on a working horse ranch. I showed horses competitively around the country growing up and into my early adult years. My first professional career with animals was at Bush Gardens in Tampa, Florida, and I learned how to train and care for exotic animals.
And from there it’s just progressed into more and more dogs through the Lackland Air Force Base at their military working dog center. So that’s where my love of veterans started and where I started to gain some knowledge about P
t s. That’s, that’s a interesting career. Um, I know I, I’ve taken vacations down to, uh, the Bush Gardens and, you know, gone, gone to, you know, different things like that.
And you, you see all these animals. I’ve been to zoos, you know, [00:02:00] all, all over the place. You know, there’s a zoo here in Phoenix. There’s, I’ve been to the San Diego Zoo other places I, I’ve been to, and there’s, there’s all these animals and. It’s like they, they don’t just exist on their own in these cages or whatever.
There’s a lot of work that goes into caring for these animals. Everything from just the day-to-day feeding, cleaning their areas where they live, um mm-hmm. . And, and then they’re medical care as well. I mean, there’s things that, that take place there as well. So, um, you know, I, it’s interesting seeing someone who’s behind the scenes and, and what they’ve dealt with and, and everything like that.
But, uh, I’d like to know a little bit more about like how you got from going from being a zookeeper to, uh, a canine trainer and how that whole process took place.
Well, so my Jews were in Florida. But I’m from Texas and I was very, very homesick. So I decided to move back to Texas where everyone talks like me.
[00:03:00] and I found a great job at Lackland Air Force Base at their military working dog center. And that includes their veterinary hospital, their training facility. It’s everything. Military working dog. There’s, there’s over a thousand dogs that are housed there, so that’s where my professional career started with the canines.
From there I transitioned over to field trial dogs, which are dogs that are trained to find birds on scent. And then, uh, my P T S D took control of my life. I didn’t work for a little while and I discovered Warrior’s Heart in my very own backyard.
I had a service dog at the time, so I was very, very interested in Warrior’s Heart’s Service Dog program, and I’ve been here about three years now.
So how does the Warriors Heart Canine program. Help the military, the veterans, the the first responders, and, and basically everyone’s struggling to [00:04:00] deal with things like P T S D or other conditions that they may be dealing with.
How, how does that program work?
So, warriors Heart is in Bandera, Texas, and we specialize in what we call the warrior class. So that’s veterans and first responders and active duty military. Um, they have to have a problem with addiction and a co-occurring diagnosis, so that could be P T S D, anxiety, depression.
They’re gonna come into our residential treatment center and spend about 42 days with us. We offer the canine program as an elective, so it’s a therapeutic program that helps people feel better. As they progress through their time here at Warrior’s Heart, they may find that working with the dog helps them deal with their P T S D, their depression, their anxiety, and may want to add that dog into their life permanently.
So our program allows them to discharge with [00:05:00] a trained service
dog. That’s awesome. And so going through that program, uh, and you said it’s about 42 days, uh, for that program, is it additional. With the service dog, or is that included in that same time period? That’s
included in their 42 days, so they can spend up to four hours a day in our canine department working with the, the beauty of our program is that we’re training those warriors how to train their dog, so they’re starting from scratch, teaching that dog how to sit and walk nicely on a lead
progress forward into their p t s mitigation. So everybody’s P T S D symptom is gonna differ. So they’re able to train that dog to mitigate their disability that’s very specific and oftentimes private just to them.
Right. And I think that’s a, a key component there, because everybody is going to be different with their.
Symptoms and [00:06:00] everything that they’re dealing with. Um, and so there’s no off the shelf type of solution that you’re gonna just take a dog and, oh, here’s, here’s a dog for you and it’s just gonna work. And I, I know I, through talking to other people who’ve dealt with, uh, service dogs and this type of training, um, It’s better to have the individual who is going to be handling this dog, you know, in the, the future long term, to be the one who’s there during the training because there’s certain signs or things that they give off that the dog will pick up on.
And that’s gonna be the, the trigger for the dog to go do its job, to whatever the thing is that the dog is trained to do. From my understanding anyways, that’s how that works. And so if you have somebody who’s completely unrelated to the person who is gonna end up getting this dog and they’re the ones training and they’re maybe mimicking [00:07:00] symptoms or, or whatever it is that they’re doing to train the dog, it’s not gonna work out quite as well in the long run because the dog’s not familiar with that individual’s triggers or the the signs that they’re giving off.
That’s exactly right. So the longer we get to spend time with our dog, the stronger that bond is gonna be, the more the dog starts to look to that human or that handler for their direction versus the Warrior’s heart trainer. Right. Over time, that relationship builds upon itself and the dog begins to smell the odor change in the human, so they know that person’s odor when they’re calm level, grounded, happy, feeling good, versus when that anxiety starts to spike and go up, they’re gonna smell the chemical changes going on within that person’s brain and know that it’s time to jump into action, go into work, and do their job to mitigate that symptom.
it’s amazing how well dogs are [00:08:00] suited for this type of work. Um, uh, a few years ago, and this is unrelated to P T S D or addiction or anything along those lines, but a few years ago, my wife, um, she had never been epileptic ever in her life and she started, uh, having seizures and, and she was just having these problems and she was home.
And our dog, who had been around her for years at that. Like you said, got to know her, the, the sense and knew her pretty well. Um, when she was starting to go into a, a, a seizure, the dog would come over to her and just start kind of like clawing at her. Um, and it was, she was completely not trained at all for this.
This is just her coming out and doing this all on her own. At first, we couldn’t understand why the dog never did this to us, to any of us, uh, ever before. And then we’re trying to figure out why. And then a short while later, my wife started saying, oh, I’m, I’m [00:09:00] feeling like I’m about to have this, uh, seizure.
And we started to put two and two together and we realized, yeah, that’s what the dog was trying to do. It was like, There’s something’s wrong, something’s going on. I’m trying to tell you about this. And so we started picking up on that and, and so anytime the dog would come over and doing that, my wife would get to a safe place where she wasn’t gonna, you know, hit her head or, or anything like that.
But I mean, it’s just so incredible how. Intelligent, these dogs are to know like something is wrong. The, the dog probably doesn’t know what’s wrong necessarily, just knows that something is wrong and is trying to alert. Um, my, in this case, my wife, that something was wrong. And, and so, um, you know, when, when people come on the show and they, they talk about their service dogs and, uh, all this stuff.
I, I’m so. Interested in, in the whole process and how, uh, how it works. And I, I just, I know that it’s, it something that will work for people, um, just because dogs, I mean, these dogs are so intuitive and they, they, their senses about them are, [00:10:00] are just so incredible. Um, more than you or I or any other person would be able to do these dogs are able to do it, you know?
That’s right. They call them man’s best friend for a. One of my favorite quotes is by Theodore Roosevelt, and he said The outside of a dog is good for the inside of a man, and that is so very
true. Absolutely. I mean, I, I just absolutely love, like, everything about dogs. I, they’re, they’re just so incredible to me.
I, I just love them and, um, you know, so I, I know that, uh, and I know a lot of veterans are the same way. They just love dogs. Uh, whether they worked with dogs in the, their time in the service or not, they’re, it’s just a, a dog, uh, dog friendly environment. So I, I, I think this is a great connection, right. Now, I know there are, there’s a difference between a, a service dog and maybe something more along the lines of like an emotional support animal, and sometimes people use those terms maybe interchangeably, [00:11:00] but like I, I think there’s a difference.
Could you explain what the difference is between that?
That’s a great question. So the emotional support animal, or e s A canine or dog is a therapeutic benefit to its handler just by being there. So they make us feel good because they’re there like any dog would. They have to be prescribed by a mental health professional.
So you’re gonna get a piece of paper or a canine prescription stating that you have this dog that helps you feel better. They do not have the same public access rights as service dogs do, but they are protected under the Federal Housing Act. So an e ESA can live in non pet-friendly. Now the service dog goes a step beyond that.
They are actually trained to mitigate a disability that affects someone on their daily life. So think about P T S D and maybe having some social anxiety. A lot of our warriors [00:12:00] aren’t able to go to the grocery store, get their groceries, check out and leave because they feel so uncomfortable being around strangers, maybe not knowing where those exits.
A search dog in that case is gonna be trained to watch that Warrior Six to help ground them and keep them moving forward. Instead of focusing on where are those exits? Who’s behind me? What’s going on? What was that noise? The dog is gonna mitigate a disability. So that’s the main difference between your E S A and your service.
Now service dogs are also protected by the a d a and they’re allowed public access anywhere the public can go within reason that service dog can accompany their handler.
Yeah, no, no. I, I travel for work, uh, fairly often and I, I know, I see, uh, dogs walking around in the airport and, uh, they’re, they’re going to travel with.
They’re person , you know, on the plane. And [00:13:00] I know growing up w that was, it would be extremely rare to see, uh, dogs walking around in an airport like that. And now all over the country, you go into airports and you see areas that not only do you have, uh, you know, the public bathrooms, but you also have, uh, places for pets to go and relieve themselves and stuff.
Cuz naturally they’re gonna need to do that at some point as well. Um, and so it, it’s definitely, uh, become more of a thing where, where. These dogs are allowed into these public areas. Um, and it’s, I think it’s a good thing because it, it does allow people to do some of the simple things like you just mentioned, like going to the grocery store or getting on a plane and traveling.
Right. That, that is stressful for some people. Without having experienced any sort of trauma, um, and someone who has experienced some trauma, they, they may not physically be able to get on that plane without having their, their dog there to help ground them and, and calm them down and all that, that kind of stuff.
Um, so it, [00:14:00] it, I think it’s a good thing.
Yeah, so the service dog enables a lot of people to just go through the daily routine to get everything done that they need to get done in a positive and healthy way. Um, it keeps ’em from leaning on things like addiction. And staying at home and completely isolating from the world.
So the service dogs do help people get out even on airplanes and warrior’s, heart discharges, some really large dogs. We’ve had several great Danes fly home. Um, so yeah, they’re allowed on that airplane and they do not have to pay a fee for a
ticket. Yeah, that’s in interesting too. And I, I’ve seen them go on and usually they’re, they’re on the smaller.
Size, uh, side of the, the size of dogs. But, um, uh, you know, sometimes, uh, you do get a bigger dog and, and you, you think to yourself, gosh, I hope they have the leg room. I hope this .
Yeah. So some of our warriors are [00:15:00] really large people. We’ve had guys that are six foot six, so a great Dane to them would be the same size as a lab compared to me.
So yes, some people do need a much larger dog. Based on their body size alone.
Well, that’s interesting. I never thought about it that way. Um, that, that the size of the dog is, you know, proportionate maybe to the size of the person. Um, but I, I could see someone who’s shorter, like, you know, five foot tall or somewhere around there.
Uh, a great dane might be too much, and that, that might be more intimidating to that person and maybe have the opposite effect as opposed to, you know, a lab or, or a smaller dog.
That’s correct. And that’s a big part of what I do. So I’m gonna match the right dog up to the right person. So not only are we looking at their physical structure, I wanna know what kind of lifestyle do you lead?
Are you active? Do you run every morning? [00:16:00] Um, do you travel a lot? Are you the type that wants to Netflix and. What kind of dog is gonna fit best into your life? You know, some people live the camper lifestyle and a great Dane just would not work in a small camper, right? Um, same thing with inner city type small apartments.
A big, big dog is not ideal for them. Warrior’s Heart is actually using some small dogs as well for people who live in those smaller environments. We’re using dogs that are around 20 to 30 pounds, so that might be a DIN or a Boston Terrier. Anything between 20 and 150 pounds will work in our program, depending on that
And, and I, that’s good too because you know, someone who has a more sedentary lifestyle, they’re not out and running around, they’re not active all the time. Having a dog that is a high energy dog needs, that outside activity needs to go running or, uh, go for long walks [00:17:00] and things like that, that matches just not gonna work out.
That dog’s gonna end up having energy with no place to put it. And, and so it’s, it’s a good thing that. Uh, make that connection and, and match the right person to the right dog. Uh, and there’s a, there’s a right dog for every type of person out there. Uh, I’m sure there’s so many different types of dogs, different temperaments, different uh, energy levels, different sizes.
Um, there, there’s gonna be the right one for just about everybody, but, um, it’s just a matter of taking the time to focus in on what the differences are in that, that individual and, and make sure that you get the right dog to the right. That’s
So what are some of the other things that the service dogs can be trained for?
Uh, to, to do through the, the Warrior’s Heart, uh, canine program to help, uh, people heal? I, I know we, we talked about like P T S D and uh, you know, that type of thing. Social anxieties, uh, are, are there other things that you train the dogs for as. [00:18:00] Absolutely.
So think of any physical behavior that comes along with your anxiety.
For a lot of folks, when they start getting anxious or they start to maybe disassociate, that knee is gonna start bouncing. They’re gonna start tapping that toe. So that’s an indication to the dog that their anxiety level is raising. Uh, and we’ll teach that dog, or the handler will train that dog to touch them repeatedly until the handler acknowledges the dog.
Okay, you’re right. My anxiety is going up. What do I need to do to reduce that right now? Do I need to go to a meeting, call a clinician? Have I eaten today? Did I get enough sleep last night? Maybe I just need to hug my dog and go for a walk. So the dog at the very basic level is encouraging their handler to get out of bed in the morning, to stay on a routine and to have some purpose.
And oftentimes that leads to [00:19:00] people not taking their life by suicide, right? It’s giving them some purpose and some passion in their life. It’s keeping them motivated, keeping them happy, giving them moments of joy, which often leads to a much better outlook on their. A hundred percent of my clients have been able to reduce their medications just from working with dogs.
So it’s pretty scientific that dogs help us live better lives.
Yeah, and that’s a huge part too, reducing the dependence on those medications because, uh, sometimes, you know, you ever watch the television commercials with some of the medications that they talk about, sometimes the side effects that they’re, they’re.
Putting in the advertisement seem worse than the disease or whatever the, the thing that they’re trying to help cure or prevent. It’s like I, I kind of would rather just not have any sort of medications and if I could replace that medication with a dog, uh, that would be ideal. In a perfectly world, that would be an ideal situation.
Um, obviously there are some [00:20:00] situations where you can’t completely replace medications that there. Whether it’s a, you know, a physical thing, a mental thing, there’s certain situations where you’re gonna need some medications. Uh, and, and I’m not at all advocating that people just throw out their medications.
Boom, I got a dog, let’s just toss all the medicines. Um, you know, definitely you need to work with your doctor and make sure you have the right, uh, right approach to that. Especially going cold Turkey on certain medications, that’s not a, a good idea. So definitely, I’m not suggesting that, but, um, if there’s a possibility, There could be some reduction in the amount of medications that are taken.
Um, that would be wonderful. I, I think that’s, that’s a great thing for, for everybody. I mean, we, we don’t need to keep putting more medications into our bodies that are doing all sorts of things that we don’t know what they’re doing. And dogs are gonna give you nothing but love. So , so that’s a, the better situation.
And we can also train our service dogs to let their handlers [00:21:00] know as a reminder when it’s time to take some of those medications that they need. So we’ll train the dog based on a tone so they can set an alarm on their phone. Then the dog does that repeated touch again, when it’s time to go take that medication.
That’s. Uh, that’s a funny thing about dogs too. And, and I was talking about how smart dogs are. Um, I found that, uh, with one of our old dogs that she’s since passed away, but she used to follow me into the office every day. It was, and it, on the weekends when I wouldn’t go into the office, cause I work from home, when I wouldn’t go into the office on the weekends, she was.
Like visibly, you could tell she was, she was kind of angry that I wasn’t going over there. So she, she kept me on track. I, I would go into work just to keep her happy, , but um, but throughout the day, I would usually get up for lunch around the same time every day. And around that time, she would just get up before me.
She would just get up and she just kind of knew it was about [00:22:00] that time. And she would, she would head over, she would go, you know, follow me over. And then, um, towards the end of the day, same thing. I’d work till about the same time at the end of the day. And when it got to be about that time, she would get up and she would walk around, uh, she’d go over towards the door and she’d start.
Just indicating, Hey, let’s get a move on. I’m hungry. It’s dinner time. Let’s go. Um, and on occasion I would have to work late and so I would, I would tell her, you know, just hold on, hold, hold it a little bit. I gotta, I gotta stay here for a little bit. Well, you, you can’t see it from where you are here, but off, off the camera here to the, to my left, there’s a bathroom door and there’s a, a small bathroom off to the side of this, this office.
She would walk into the bathroom. And closed the door behind her. And so now she’s basically locked herself in the bathroom and then she’d start barking and I’d have to get up and go do something to get her out. And so she was a pain in the butt, but she would definitely get me and, and keep me on schedule [00:23:00] because, um, because of that and I.
Try to figure out like how does she know what time it is and from what my research and what I’ve tried to figure out. It’s because of certain scents and smells and you know, your body changes throughout the day and they sense different things throughout the day. And she started to just associate the certain smell that I would give off at five o’clock or whatever time it was with that’s the time we gotta go back over and, and get some food and.
That’s why she would just start being a pain in the butt. . Isn’t that amazing? It’s so crazy.
One step we use with the service dog, so they get on that routine. They know our odor, they know when it’s time to do certain tasks, so they’re reminding those handlers, Hey, stay on tasks. Stay on your schedule. I got you.
Yeah, yeah, exactly. And, and again, this is the same dog. Uh, had no training. It [00:24:00] was, was the, uh, I can’t say no training. We taught her, you know, sit and stay, how to walk on, on the leach and everything. We, we did all of that kind of stuff. But, um, but no specialized training for any particular service dog type type thing.
Um, it’s the same dog that would alert my wife when she was about to have seizures. So she was incredibly intelligent as far as that type of stuff would go. Um, or maybe she’s just a creature of habit, but e either way, , she. Was very helpful in those situations. Um, and, and in a way, like I, like I said, I, I didn’t have her specifically for a service dog type thing, but there were times when I would work way too late and I, I would just keep working, working, working.
And, um, she was able to keep me on, on schedule and, and keep me from becoming that workaholic. And so it was, it was helpful for me, uh, despite the fact that she. Especially trained for any particular condition. Right? It, but it was still helpful [00:25:00] for me and I, I just loved having her company. You know, she’d just lay at my feet and, and just kinda nudge me every ni now and again.
It was just nice having her around and, and for that, um, you know, while she wasn’t especially labeled as, you know, service dog or an emotional support animal or anything like that, still provided me with that emotional.
She was a therapeutic dog for sure. She kept you on task. She kept you on schedule, but she also was a companion to you and that’s really important, especially for our folks that live alone.
Just having somebody else there to keep them company.
Right, exactly. And, and that’s something I didn’t even think about at the time, um, that, that we were talking about this, but yeah, the people who are living alone, um, especially over the last few years when there were lockdowns and people had really had no place to go, um, you know, their, their normal, so social interactions, if they would go into the office to go to work or they would go out to a restaurant to eat or whatever, all those things were closed and they had [00:26:00] nobody around to talk to, um, or not even talk to, just to interact.
And having a, a pet around a, you know, an animal like a like a dog, would be an incredibly rewarding thing to have because now you have that emotional support. Absolutely. You, you have that outlet, right?
Yes, yes. Dogs are amazing creatures. We’re, we’re so lucky to have them. I don’t know if we always deserve them because they’re just such wonderful animals.
Um, some of the dogs that come through here, I believe that they are soulmates for their handlers. But yeah, they’re, they’re needed in so many cases, they’re absolutely a necessary part of people’s day. just to get ’em up, get ’em moving, and get ’em motivated to continue their
day. Now, for any of the listeners who are out there who are interested in, uh, taking part in the Warriors Heart Program or finding out more about, uh, how to get involved, what are the.
[00:27:00] Basically, walk me through the steps of what someone can expect. Um, day one, they, they pick up the phone and call or send an email. And how does that whole process work and how do they get involved with, uh, the program? Sure.
So once you know that you need a little bit of extra outside help, the hardest hurdle is just picking up that phone and asking for help.
So many of our warriors are trained that you do not ask for help. You figure it out, you do it on your own, um, or you’re not good enough. So just being able to ask for help is a huge, huge step. So they’ll call Warrior’s Heart, and on the other end of that line, another warrior is going to. So most of our staff are veterans, first responders or family members to those warrior class.
We’re all connected in some way. Um, many of us are in recovery ourselves or suffer with P T S D or some other co-occurring diagnosis. So we truly [00:28:00] understand the battle that they’re facing. So they’re gonna answer that phone, they’re gonna tell them how to get in, they’re gonna make their reservations.
They’ll come down to Warriors Heart in Bandera. And day one, the first thing you’re gonna hear is welcome home, because this very much is home to everyone here. And you will hear that phrase every day till the end. It feels a little corny the first day, but towards the end, our warriors are saying it to the new warriors that are in taking.
So we take care of you. We’re gonna give you the tools you need to succeed. We’re gonna teach you things that we’re missing. We may be able to add a service dog to your program. We’re gonna make sure you understand how important aftercare is and. But more than anything, it’s a brotherhood. So everybody who comes to Warriors Heart for treatment understands what their brothers and sisters have been through because they have also walked in those boots, so to speak.[00:29:00]
So they’re able to call those buddies, email those buddies when they discharge and have that connection through Warrior’s Heart.
So they, they get there, they, they go through the program and, um, There’s that follow up too that, that you’re, you’re talking about. And I think that’s important too. It’s not like a, uh, go check the box, do this program, and now everything’s rainbows and unicorns.
Your life is good. Um, having some follow up where you can, you can call or email or text or whatever it is that you’re comfortable with, um, to just make sure that people are on the, the right track and that they, they’re. Doing what they need to do and not falling off, off track, I think is an important part of the overall process because, uh, too, I think too many times people kind of fall through the cracks where, you know, well, last time I saw him, he seemed like he was fine.
And then y next thing you know, [00:30:00] six months later, you know, they’ve had all sorts of other issues that you never knew about because there was no follow up. And so, um, I, I think. Is a important aspect of the whole thing is, um, you know, just like in sports when you know you’re swinging a baseball bat or you’re, you know, swinging a golf club or throwing a ball or, or whatever, there’s af after.
You make contact or, or you release the ball, the follow through is just as important as the rest of the, the swing or the stroke or, or the throw or whatever. So, um, you know, you, you have to pay attention to, uh, the whole picture and make sure that, um, that there is that follow through when it comes to, uh, taking care of these warriors.
It’s a battle for our lives and none of us can do it on our own. It takes that brotherhood and that sisterhood to do it. It takes a team. It very much does. And they get that while they’re here. They, they meet people that they are connected to for the rest of their lives. They [00:31:00] hold each other accountable.
Um, it’s just an amazing program and I haven’t heard of any others that are quite like ours in the sense of the brotherhood and the love that they leave.
And I know when I am talking to other veterans or people connected to the veteran community, uh, through this podcast or other places, um, a lot of times when I first start talking to them, like on this podcast when we hit record, that’s like the first time that I’m actually talking to them or, you know, just a couple minutes before as, as we do a little kind of.
Talked with each other, but by the end of the episode, it feels like we’ve known each other for years. And there’s just that connection that, um, that veterans have. Um, and, and you know, even to some degree connected with first responders because there, there are some similar experiences. They’re not the same.
Obviously they’re, they’re different circumstances. But, um, but I’ve had that same situation. I’ve had, I. [00:32:00] Uh, police officers. I’ve had firefighters on the show, uh, you know, other people along those lines in the first responder field. And I’ve had a similar connection with them, uh, as well. You know, some of the terminology, some of the lingo that they use is different than what maybe I would’ve used, uh, when I was in the military.
But it, there is still a connection there. And so I think, um, It’s especially important that you have these people who are, uh, connected to the military. The first responder that the warrior class, if you, if you want to call it that. Um, you know, it’s important because a lot of times we don’t wanna open up the people who don’t understand where we’re coming from and, uh, you know, when you have those, those people there, it makes a whole lot easier to open up and to raise a red flag when there is something wrong.
That’s exactly right. It’s that brotherhood. Um, it’s understanding what other people have been through and the whole community that we treat are selfless and have spent their careers giving service to [00:33:00] others. So we let them know that it’s okay to take a step down for a minute and let us take care of you, and they very much wanna continue that with their brothers and sisters that are here in.
Yeah, absolutely. And, and you said earlier like one of the hardest things to do is just pick up the phone and make that phone call. Um, because you, you, you are wired to basically think like you’re supposed to just handle this on your own and, and you, you’re strong, you’re capable, you can just do this. Um, and I know for myself, when I first reached out to get help, it was one of the scariest things that I ever did.
I, I picked, but I picked up the phone. I made the call, but I had no idea what I was walking into when I went into that first appointment. I didn’t know anything about the process. I just knew that I needed, something needed to change and I needed to do something. Um, and so I walked into my first appointment.
I didn’t know if they’re gonna, Put a straight jacket on me and lock me in a padded [00:34:00] room or . I didn’t know what the process was gonna be, but I didn’t care. I just knew something had to happen. And for the listeners, that’s not what happened at all. Um, it was very much a, um, you know, a, uh, you know, a comforting, calming, uh, situation.
Um, and, and it was helpful and I, I knew that after hanging up the phone making that appointment, I knew that the weight of the world was, A hundred percent on my shoulders, like someone else was gonna help me carry that. It’s not that they were gonna take the weight away, but they’re just gonna help me, help show me maybe how to carry it easier.
Um, and so, um, and how to deal with the weight of the world as opposed to, um, you know, just trying to figure it out on my own. So, um, Michelle, do you have, uh, any more, uh, advice or tips for people who may be, um, you know, training a service dog or an emotional support animal, uh, based on your experiences, anything that, that people might be [00:35:00] able to take away as, as, uh, you know, things that might help them in their journey?
Sure. So the service dog and the e s a dog, they’re not for everybody, but for some of us it’s the puzzle piece that’s been missing. If you think it’s gonna help you, you should absolutely try it. I know that in my personal journey, having a service dog just wake me up in the morning when he was hungry, kept me alive, and it kept me from taking my life because I knew that he depended on me.
And ultimately, that’s what these P T S D dogs are designed to do, is to keep everybody in the fight for their lives. I’m so glad that I have Otis, my service dog, because otherwise I may not have made it to warrior’s. To make a difference in people’s lives. Um, basically through my service dog, I found my passion.
I found my purpose in life. I have figured out the reason why I [00:36:00] went through trauma in the first place, and that was so that I could end up working with service dogs and the people who deserve them.
Yeah, that’s incredible. Now I do have one other question, and. I hope I phrased this the right way, uh, before I, I ask it, and if I don’t, I may cut this out of the episode, but I’m gonna try to phrase this the right way.
So dogs versus humans lifespan are significantly shorter. Right. And I, and this question just kind of popped in my head as you were just, uh, saying how, you know, these dogs help help these people. They save their lives. They, they keep them from. You know, the, the going into these dark areas, um, you know, as a service dog is getting up there in age and maybe not as physically able to do the job that they were tasked to do originally.
Um, I know when I’ve lost dogs, it was a very emotional thing. [00:37:00] Is there support and resources for people to continue having that, uh, a service dog? Uh, you know, even in the, the final stages of that dog’s, uh, that dog’s life where they may have a new dog come in or, or something along those lines. How does that process work?
That’s an excellent question. So, um, we all know that dogs just simply do not live long enough. When they start to get into those senior years and they’re just not physically able to do their job anymore, that’s when it may be time to start considering bringing a new service dog into the dynamic. Most service dogs retire really well onto the couch.
Um, they enjoy having that rest time and tolerate having a new service dog take up that role just fine. Um, some people are even taking their retired service dogs down to the VA to just meet and greet, um, or to the library to read with [00:38:00] children. There’s lots of jobs that the service dog can continue to do.
But retirement is also a great, great thing for them. Everybody deserves to just nap on the couch. Um, the way we look at service dogs is it’s a tool to lead us to whole health and healing, right? So we don’t wanna use that crutch, if you will, forever. We wanna be able to get well enough that we no longer need the dog.
So for some people, The retirement of their service dog is their step into, I can do this on my own now. Um, for some people, for others, it’s time to get another dog or maybe a third dog or down the line. It’s different for everybody. But yeah, if service dog is what makes your life complete and easier to live, absolutely.
Start training your next one when your original dog is ready to start slowing down.
Yeah. I think a good [00:39:00] peace of mind knowing that there is, that, that next step, because you know, it, you might, that might create an, an additional anxiety of, oh no, what am I gonna do next? And knowing that there is that resource still available, uh, and, and that you can, you can have that next dog and, and let, let the older dog.
Slip into retirement and, and enjoy, uh, you know, barking at the mailman and, you know, all of that kind of stuff, like things that nor normal dogs do. Um, you know, it, that’s, that’s a good thing. I think it’s a good comfort and peace of mind knowing that, um, knowing that that is an option. So, um, Well, Michelle, it’s been an absolute pleasure speaking with you today.
I do appreciate you coming on. I, I love talking about dogs. Dogs are one of my favorite things in the world, so . Um, so I, I really do, uh, appreciate this and I enjoy the conversation. Um, thank you again for taking the time to join me. [00:40:00] Likewise.
Thank you for having me on. I love to talk about what I get to do at Warrior’s Heart and where my passion and my purpose lies.
Thanks for listening to the Drive On Podcast. If you want to support the show, please check out Scott’s book, Surviving Son on Amazon. All of the sales from that book go directly back into this podcast and work to help veterans in need. You can also follow the Drive On Podcast on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, and wherever you listen to podcasts.
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