Service members raise, train their own service dogs

15 Sep 2011 | PFC Nik Phongsisattanak

While shopping at the mall, there are many things to look at, but when someone walks in with a dog one cannot help but notice. Dogs usually aren’t allowed in public facilities, unless they are service dogs, then the American with Disabilities Act requires all public places allow access to individuals and their service dogs.

Most people may think service dogs are only used to help the blind, but they have been providing help to people in many other ways.

Paws for Veterans Incorporate, an organization founded by Michele M. Malloy, has developed a way of providing aid to service members by helping them train their own psychiatric service dogs.

Every four to six weeks, Crystal Callahan, head trainer with the Paws for Veterans program and her team of volunteer trainers, have been travelling back and forth from Florida to North Carolina to offer their time and effort to certify service dogs.

“What makes this program different is we’re not handing somebody a service dog that is already trained, because there’s no bonding there,” said Callahan.

Trainers accompany the service members to help pick a dog that are compatible with their owners. Dogs must then pass a temperament test in order to become a service dog.

“The majority of the dogs are from animal shelters, so while the (service members) are being helped, the dogs are also being rescued,” said Callahan.

The dogs, training and paper work is covered by Paws for Vets for service members diagnosed with a qualified disability. In order for service members to own service dogs, they must live in a house and service members living in bachelor enlisted quarters must have their dogs a foster home.

There is a lot of work and dedication that is put toward training service dogs, but these dogs help service members tackle challenges such as post-traumatic stress disorder or anxiety disorder. An individual suffering from PTSD can experience symptoms such as night terrors and in this case a service dogs can address the problem by waking that individual. If an individual isn’t comfortable with not being able to see behind them, their service dogs can be trained to post behind their back.

The service dogs can also help provide balance, check rooms for intruders or remind their owners to take medication.

Callahan said the program offered by Paws for Vets has been in place for about a year. Callahan said she understands how the service members feel because she was also diagnosed with PTSD.

The training sessions that Callahan leads also functions as a bit of group therapy. The service members have many different dogs ranging from tiny Chihuahuas to enormous Mastiffs, but many of them face similar challenges.

“These guys are actually developing a sense of accomplishment and confidence they haven’t felt in a long time,” said Callahan. “This makes a huge difference.”

These dogs do much more than the tasks they’re trained with.

Callahan said when people in public ask the owners about their dogs they’re usually more than willing to talk about them. This gives them an opener and acts as a bridge that can help the service members regain their comfort and confidence in public added Callahan.

Paws for Veterans with the helping ‘paws of man’s best friends,’ are truly making a difference in the lives of service members by healing their wounds invisible to many.

For more information or questions about this program, visit