APG News Story and photo by YVONNE JOHNSON http://www.apgnews.apg.army.mil/archives/pdf2013/Feb1413.pdf
A Wounded Warrior and employee with the U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command (ATEC) recently gained a new best friend, courtesy of a Maryland charity that provides service dogs to injured or disabled veterans.
Kelly Keck, an equal employment opportunity specialist in ATEC’s EEO Office and Lady Liberty recently met when representatives from the charity introduced him to the 3-year-old golden retriever, called “Libby” for short.
Keck and Libby are still in training but warmed to each other enough to begin spending 24-hours a day in each other’s company, organizers said. The service dogs, referred to as “Hero Dogs,” enhance warriors’ lives by retrieving items, turning on lights, opening doors and various other tasks.
Hero Dogs also help calm the symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder, according to Keck. He said when Libby senses his agitation, she places her head on his knee and applies pressure in a, “Don’t worry, I’m here” kind of way. “She settles me down,” Keck said.
He said the greatest advantage is that Libby can bring him things he needs like his wheelchair, which she pulls by a rope. And she almost eliminates the need for him to bend over and pick things up, which can cause dizziness. “She can open and close things but the most relevant part for me is reaching for things down low or on the floor, and even going up stairs,” he said.
Keck expressed his thanks to EEO supervisors who have supported his special needs requirements. “I especially want to thank the ATEC commander, chief of staff, EEO supervisors and entire ATEC family for helping me by ensuring I have every accommodation needed to be successful in my job,” he said.
Happily, happily, happily, I spent the holidays with my puppy raising family. Wow, did I have fun! I played with Hero Dogs Scotty and Jack, my best friend-ever Sancho, and my “big brother” Jake. I also played with all the girls and the kids who came all the way from California! FUN!
Of course, it wasn’t all play. After all, I am a service dog in training. So, I worked on retrieving specific items such as shoes, phones, and keys. I also worked on walking down the stairs one at a time. You have no idea how tempting it is for a Labrador to leap off the last three to four steps. It’s kinda like flying!
But, there was something in the air… and I felt I needed to say goodbye to everyone. I snuggled individually with each person in the family and kissed them as a way of saying thank you for loving me and helping me become such a fine girl. You see, when I return to Hero Dogs, I will begin the final phase of my training. I will meet my forever partner. We will work together, we will learn to know each other, we will learn to trust each other, and most certainly we will love each other. We both have been waiting for a long time, and now, I can’t wait to get started!
Libby is ready to find the right partner. Her training is really progressing, and she’s eager to start working with her own Veteran. She’s studying advanced mobility, which is a real challenge, but one she is working hard to master. She’s learning how to pull a wheelchair and retrieve a wheelchair to a fallen person. She’s perfecting her ability to assist a fallen person to stand, and she’s practicing hard to accurately punch automatic door buttons and elevator buttons. Libby adores the volunteers at Hero Dogs who play with her and groom her. Her favorite volunteer activity is playing ball! Watch Libby in action in Hero Dogs PSA.
Libby has been working hard at advanced skills since she moved into the Hero-Dogs facility in August. She is perfecting the skills she learned as a puppy and particularly working on getting things, holding them, and placing them in a person’s hand. She has also been very busy attending events for Hero-Dogs. She has matured into an elegant, self-assured, and motivated yellow Labrador.
Libby was featured on the cover of the Winter edition of Maryland Dog magazine.
There are so many facts I could tell you about the month of August. In this area, it is the rainiest month of the year, it is the month when Columbus set sail on his first voyage of discovery, it is named after Julius Caesar’s grandnephew Augustus, the birds are planning to fly south for the winter, the squirrels are scurrying around gathering nuts and provisions for the winter… But, to me, it is the month I said goodbye to my puppy raiser and my whole extended family. I went from being a puppy to becoming a serious service dog in training. On august 6th, after dinner, Walter and Maria, took me to Jennifer’s house. They hugged and kissed me, and I ran off to play with Miri and Zephyr! A note from Maria:
Dear Hero Dogs, Thank you for the unique opportunity to raise one of your puppies. It has been an extraordinary journey filled with joy, laughter, learning, patience, and devotion. Libby has taught me about what is important and what is not, about perseverance, about staying focused, about taking small steps, about companionship, about dignity, about selflessness, and about loyalty. Although she has now left me, she will forever remain in my heart. When I feel sad about not having her with me all the time, I remind myself that she is fulfilling her destiny and doing what she loves and was meant to do. Godspeed, Hero Dogs’ Lady Liberty!
And so, our trip continued…
We stayed in California for ten days. In Napa and Petaluma, I went on some great walks. It was cool and there were no bugs. I also got to meet my cousin Sammy. He’s a setter like Zephyr and just as much fun. I also got to meet the other three little kids, Jack, Susannah, and Charlotte. They hugged me. Uncle Rob liked going on walks with me, Sammy, and Maria. One day, we all went to Dillon Beach – that’s on the Pacific! There were lots of dogs there and the water was really cold. But, it felt so good. The kids, Sammy, Jake, and I kept jumping in the waves and running along the beach. Then the fog rolled in – like a blanket covering everything. We couldn’t see anything, so it was time to leave.
In San Francisco, I saw the Golden Gate Bridge, and Alcatraz, and the hilly streets. In Patterson, we went to a fruit market. It smelled good, but I didn’t touch anything. I walked around with my head held high. Calico is a ghost town we visited in the Mojave Desert. Have you ever been in a place that is so hot that you want to do a dance so your feet don’t touch the ground? Well, that’s how it was in Calico! It was 111⁰F. HOT! Phew, we didn’t stay too long. We went on to get our kicks on Route 66. Do you know that song? I didn’t. But, by the time we went through Barstow, Kingman, Winona, Amarillo and Oklahoma City, I felt like I could sing it! “Won’t you get hip to this timely tip: When you make that California trip, get your kicks on Route 66.”
The Grand Canyon is the biggest hole I have ever seen! I walked around what they call the South Rim with Jake. There were lots of other dogs, but I was the only one allowed to go into the souvenir shop since I had my vest on and behaved so well.
After standing on the corner in Winslow, Arizona, we went to the Petrified Forest, the Painted Desert, Gallup and Santa Rosa New Mexico, the panhandle of Texas (wide-open spaces, the color of my fur), and Oklahoma. After all these places, I can walk on any surface! But, I sure missed grass. Then, we got to Arkansas, and guess what – GRASS! Then Tennessee and Virginia – lots of very green grass! And, finally home where I ran all around the house, chased the kitties, and played with Sancho. It was good to be home, again.
The rest of the month, went by quickly, but boy was I busy! In addition to playing with Sancho a lot, going on long walks, and running the usual errands, I went to the Brookeville Animal Hospital with Jake and Calvin to get a shot, to a shoe store where I picked up Maria’s shoes every time she took them off, Bed, Bath, and Beyond where I still love the pillow aisle, and to the Hero Dogs quarterly meeting where I got to play with all the other puppies. Let me tell you a little more about that meeting. It was the last meeting for Maria as my puppy raiser. You see, I am ready to move on, and, as Maria says, go to college. She was a little weepy when all the other raisers hugged her and gave her cards. JoAnn gave her an album with pictures of me from the time I was little. To prove how ready I am to move on, I showed off by opening and closing the sliding glass door!
Finally, I did something I had never done. I went to the movies! Although it was dark and noisy and smelled of popcorn, I settled on my “place” and took a nap. No big deal!
California dreamin’…I’ve been doing a lot of that this month – but, more about that later. First let me tell you what else I’ve been up to this month. In addition to my usual running errands with Maria, I did some really cool stuff. Jake, Sancho and I met in Annapolis with our people for the Lab Rescue Walk. There were a zillion labs there! All colors! All sizes! Nothing could be better than walking with my Jakey and my Sanchi in beautiful Annapolis surrounded by other dogs that look and act like us – well, maybe a big hamburger and a tennis ball would be better. Uuumh! At any rate, we took a dip in a doggy pool, got a bag full of doggy treats and a lab bandana, and received lots of admiring looks along the way. After the walk, our people had lunch at a restaurant that had tables on the sidewalk. I settled under the table (I have gotten really good at this). Jake and Sancho followed my example. I think they were hoping that a yummy morsel would fall their way. I know better! It was a fun day.
This month, I also got to see all my other doggy friends. I played with Miri and Zephyr, and Maggie, and Yogi, and, OF COURSE, all the other Hero Dogs. Teddy and I went to the Damascus Library to practice skills. We walked next to a wheelchair, hit the button to open the door, walked in and out of a narrow door – with and without the wheelchair, and practiced being quiet and attentive.
One day, Maria said, “Come on. We’re going downtown.” You may think like I did that downtown is old town Gaithersburg. But, that is not so. She meant DOWNTOWN. It was a glorious (I don’t usually use that word) day in D.C. – great temperature, beautiful skies, and not too many tourists. We went to three museums – Natural History, Hirshhorn, and American Indian. Wow! I have never seen so much stuff. I was very good walking around all the people and waiting as Maria looked at things behind glass walls. I stayed close to her and practiced “heel” and “side.” As we went back out on the mall, I saw a bunch of birds walking around. Yes, they really were walking. Maria called them pigeons. Being a dog that really likes birds, I decided they needed to be chased. Oops, momentary lapse of judgment. As I tried to bolt towards them, I remembered, I am a Hero Dog! Quickly, I regained my composure and moved on like I never saw them. Have you ever had that happen to you?
Later in the month all Hero-Dog puppies were invited to a picnic and Big Train baseball game at Cabin John Regional Park. Hero-Dogs was one of the groups being sponsored and recognized. Although we didn’t get any of the picnic food, all of us Hero-Dogs were very good. Little Radar had to go out on the field with Jennifer. He is very cute. He looks like me!
Okay, now I can get back to my California dreamin’. Maybe you have guessed it by now. I went to California! I went in an RV with three girls (Allie, Elena, and Isi) and Jake and Maria and Walter. California is really far. We were on the road for ten days before we arrived in San Francisco. “If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair…” I did! (Look at my picture). The first day of the trip, we drove only to Pittsburg which isn’t very far. The next day we drove through Ohio and into Indiana where we spent the night. Then, off we went to Illinois. We stayed at a park that was in the middle of a corn field. You could easily get lost in all that corn. In Iowa, I walked along some beautiful country roads. Nebraska is very flat, very hot, and has lots of corn and huge thunderstorms. The storms scared Jake, but I reassured him. I am not scared of loud sounds! Wyoming was different. I spent a lot of time smelling the air and the ground. This isn’t so crazy when you consider that there wasn’t much grass. I had to get used to getting busy on dirt and rocks! My people did not like the Great Salt Lake. I, on the other hand, thought it had some very interesting smells. So much so that I rolled on the shore and had to be washed off before being allowed on the RV. Nevada had even less grass than Wyoming, if you can believe that! The high desert is very dry and stark, and the funny thing is I kinda liked walking around there. Our first stop in California was in the sierras. It was green and beautiful. I hiked through a pine forest. It was cool and there was grass (!) and a mountain stream. In California, I also played with Uncle David and Aunt Debbie’s Dalmatians. It was so much fun. To be continued…
I don’t know about you, but sometimes when I brag, something happens that’s not so great. Remember last month when I told you how amazing I am at picking up coins? Well, I should have swallowed my words because what happened is that I swallowed a penny – quite by accident. Let me tell you how it happened. JoAnn, Abe, Maria, and I were invited to Takoma Park Elementary to talk about Hero-Dogs and to demonstrate some of our skills. We did two shows. The first one went like clockwork! The kids loved us. Abe is so cute, and I’m so gifted! Oops, I shouldn’t brag! Anyway, I was showing the kids some of the things I can do that will make me a good service dog. Maria threw down a quarter, and I picked it up. Then she threw a penny. The kids were clapping, and I got excited and dropped it. So, I picked it up, and it sort of disappeared. We weren’t sure if it rolled under the furniture or if I swallowed it. On the way home, we stopped to see Dr. Marcie because, again, I had some teenage acne-thing under my chin. Maria told her about the disappearing penny, and, immediately, Dr. Marcie x-rayed me. Sure enough, she said, “She has a penny in her belly!” Poor Maria, she was so distressed. Everyone else knew it would eventually come out. All Maria had to do was… well, never mind. To make a long story short, the penny did come out 103 hours and Maria was so relieved!
Later in the month I went to the Joint Forces Open House at Andrews Air Force Base on two separate days, and it was fun! I went last year, too. But now that I am older, I really appreciated everything that was going on. I climbed onto different kinds of planes, and met lots of nice people, and the Thunderbirds were terrific, and I didn’t mind that they are very loud. Teddy and Patton were there with me. I think all three of us represented Hero Dogs very well. Before I forget, I have to tell you that I have perfect eyes! Hope, Ike, Teddy, Maverick, and I went to the Eye Center where Dr. Smith took me into a little room and put drops in my eyes. Everything looked funny! Then, he aimed a light at my eyes and peered at me. Weird! “She has perfect eyes,” he announced to everyone’s delight.
You are probably wondering how I’m doing with my skills training. Well, I would say I am doing pretty well. Teddy, Ike, and I continue meeting with Jennifer on Fridays, and she is making us do more advanced things. For instance, I can pull doors open, I can open and close drawers and cabinet doors, I can walk nicely next to a wheelchair, I can sit and stay in unfamiliar places, I am beginning to learn how to “go” somewhere when told to do so…and, I am VERY good at settling at boring meetings with Maria and staying still for hours! I can also scoot under a chair or table at a restaurant, even though there are lots of delicious smells and crumbs all around me. I know the meaning of “Leave it!”
Well, the final thing I want to tell you is that I went on another road trip, this time to Kinzers, Pennsylvania with Sancho, Jake, and my humans including Elena and Lisa. I was so much better this time. I walked nicely with both Jake and Sancho! I saw lots of new things: a parachutist landing in the campground, a hot air balloon lifting from the campground, a tiny little plane throwing candy to the ground, lots of Amish horses and buggies, and a goat named Tibby. I was interested in the goat because it was small and black and white like my kitty Calvin. I like to chase Calvin because he doesn’t smack me like my kitty Ally. So, I thought the goat would like me to chase him, too. But, goats have these things on top of their heads (I think they are called horns), and when I got near Tibby he put his head down to show them to me. He was nice and let me sniff him. I did not chase him! I visited him every time I went for a walk, and I think he liked me. At night, I sat by the camp fire with Jake and Sancho and rested. It’s a good life!
You won’t believe all the things I did this month! I went to Florida, I practiced my service dog skills with my buddies, I passed the CGC test, I rode on an RV, I met some goats, I helped make paper cranes, I rode on the metro…S-L-O-W D-O-W-N L-I-B-B-Y. (I have to remind myself to slow down sometimes, especially when I am excited!) Well, first of all I met Teddy and Shannon, Jennifer, and Joann at the Damascus McDonald’s parking lot. From there we walked all around Damascus. Since I am the oldest, I hit the button to change the light at the crosswalk. It changed! A little blinking person told us we could cross the street. Impressive! When we got to the fire station, the doors of the fire house opened, and the fire engine came out with lights and sirens. It was kinda cool. Teddy and I sat and watched. Jennifer said we were good with distractions. After a little more walking, we went into a veterinary office to say “hello,” and then to the Music Café where we learned to sit under the chair while the ladies had coffee. Jennifer kept dropping pieces of scone on the floor and telling us to “leave it.” We were REALLY good until she dropped a piece about one tiny millimeter from my mouth. I could argue that it fell right into my mouth. But, what is a puppy to do?
Another day I went to my favorite school, Friends Meeting School. I am quite famous there, and all the kids want to hug me. Anyway, the second grade class made origami cranes to send to the Bezos Foundation in Seattle to help rebuild homes in Japan. I sat on the floor with a bunch of kids and helped. I didn’t actually fold any paper – it’s a little hard when you have paws – but I did snuggle up on kids and paid attention to what they were doing. They made two thousand cranes, and I helped!
Then, we went on an RV trip. It’s like a house on wheels. I had my bed and my place and most importantly my food bowl. I followed all the RV rules and was a happy calm pup. But, when we got to Hagerstown, guess who was there! Sancho! I love Sancho, and I became a little bit of a crazy girl. I just wanted to play and wrestle with him. It was impossible for me to walk like a well-trained dog! Maria said I must have had some sort of a misfired puppy synapse. I don’t know what that means. The next week, I went with Jennifer to Laytonsville Elementary to show the first grade kids what a Hero Dog does. She said I was perfect, and they loved me. I guess my synapses started working again.
From there, I went to Frederick to the Labrador Retriever Club of the Potomac Show to take the Canine Good Citizen test. I think Maria was a little nervous. Not me – I knew what I was doing, and I passed the test with flying colors. They even gave me a thing called a rosette with huge blue and yellow ribbons. Look at my picture. Don’t I look proud? After my test I put on my Hero Dog vest and walked around looking magnificent. You won’t believe this, but there were more than 1,100 Labradors at the show. I didn’t know there were that many in the whole world. The people said I was a good dog. Although, I have to tell you, I did have one momentary lapse. I saw my friend, Daisy, from puppy class, and we became goofy. The good news is that she also passed her test. Yeah, Daisy!
Later in the month, I went to what they call Hero Dogs’ quarterly meeting. I love going to this because I get to play with all the other Hero Dogs. We run around Jennifer’s field and play inside, too. Even the newest little guy, Radar, came. He looks like me when I was little. Only Ike was not there. They said he was a little indisposed due to his surgery.
Toward the end of the month, we left for Florida in the RV. Isabel, Elli, and Jake came, too. It was a long ride, but we stopped in lots of places and went through lots of states – Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. I’m getting pretty good at geography. In Florida, I met aunt Debby, Nani Irene, Molly (aunt Debby’s 11-year old yellow/golden lab), and Sissy, the neighbor’s chocolate lab. Hey, maybe there are more than 1100 labs in the world. At any rate, we all played nicely together. Molly showed me the goats next door. One is named Billy (not very original) and the other is Newman because he has blue eyes like some guy I don’t know. They just ate grass and were not interested in playing with us. I think that is because it is so HOT in Florida. Another day, we went to aunt Debby’s beach house. That was nice and less hot. But, Jake and I couldn’t go swimming in the gulf because the tide was out and it was marshy. I tried to tell everyone that I wanted to go in anyway, but no one listened. If you decide to visit Florida, be sure you take a fan and bug spray.
Oh, I forgot to tell you. Maria said I am going to be a rich girl if I keep picking up coins that I find on the floor. One day we were at the market, and, when she was getting ready to pay, Maria dropped her wallet, and all the coins and credit cards fell out. Of course, being the well-trained puppy that I am, I picked them all up and gave them to her. By then a small crowd had gathered to watch me accomplish this amazing feat. They actually clapped for me! One guy said, “She did not pick up that credit card!” Oh, yes I did! Another day at Safeway, we were checking out when I spotted a penny. I started to pick it up when the cashier yelled “Stop, she’s going to eat it!” Well, I ignored her and gave the penny to Maria and then saw another one that I also picked up. At the end of the month, I met Ike and Maverick at the Shady Grove Metro Station. We practiced getting on and off a Metro bus, sitting with our behind under the seat, and keeping our tails out of the way. Then, we rode the Metro to Rockville and back. We all did well. Jennifer said we could go on the Metro again another day.
Finally, Sancho’s family had a royal wedding celebration to help raise funds for Hero Dogs. I don’t know what the royal wedding is, but I know I had lots of fun because I got to play with Sancho and got to see Jennifer, Joann, Don and lots of other very nice people. The only bad part of the evening was the wedding cake. It was white and big and beautiful. I tried to get close to it because it smelled so good. I was drooling. But, Jennifer said “No cake for Libby!” I didn’t get cake, but I did get a Milk Bone.