Hero Dogs, Inc.
Hero Dogs Help Rehabilitate Veterans
BY LAURA DAILY
Army veteran Luke Wayman and Ike were paired by Hero Dogs.
The pair’s final exam had been fairly easy—answering questions, demonstrating skills, minding manners in public—but then the testers threw Ike a challenge. It was a plate of juicy, delicious beef stroganoff, sitting in the middle of a local grocery store—and he couldn’t touch it. “He knows he can’t have it,” lamented Luke I. Wayman, who went on to reward his protégé with a treat for staying on task.
Ike is a black Labrador retriever. In January, he and Wayman, a former Army medic, became the first successful graduates of Hero Dogs, Inc. The Brookeville, Maryland–based nonprofit matches highly trained service dogs with military veterans living in the region, free of charge.
Scientist, dog lover, and Brookeville resident Jennifer Lund, PhD, founded the organization. Lund, an electrical engineer by trade, grew up with dogs, and in graduate school began fostering puppies for guide-dog associations. While she worked in the field of neural prosthetics—devices implanted in the brain that interface between the brain and nervous system to control prosthetics, such as artificial eyes and limbs—Lund also became involved in training dogs, and she opened her own company, See Spot Sit, in 2002.
“But I wanted to do something more meaningful than housebreaking your puppy,” she recalls, so she scoured the area for a service-dog program. “Thousands of military personnel return or rehabilitate here, but if they wanted a service dog, they usually had to go elsewhere. There’s a huge learning curve and, for many veterans, leaving town for a service dog program… doesn’t work.”
Convinced she could craft a better model, Lund, also a married mother of two, founded Hero Dogs, Inc., and her first pup arrived in March 2010. The program requires two and a half years of animal training from start to finish. A puppy spends 14 months with a local foster family, then another six to eight months at the Hero Dogs facility, working with trainers on a daily basis to hone service skills. Only then are dogs matched with vets. The duo trains another six months, working together on tasks and solidifying their bond before final certification.
In April 2012, Lund introduced Wayman to Ike. Says Lund, “Traditional service dogs are taught to do a specific task—for instance, guide the blind, hear for the deaf, or assist someone in a wheelchair. Hero Dog clients have multiple challenges; maybe [it’s] mobility, hearing loss, or psychiatric issues like PTSD. Our dogs can do it all: open and close doors, retrieve, alert to sounds, pick up things—you name it.”
Lund now finds herself as a trainer, administrator, motivator, and fundraiser. “After my second child was born, I swore I wouldn’t go back to full-time work. That backfired,” she says with a laugh. Her days are filled with family matters, dog classes, staff meetings, attending events, and reviewing veterans’ program applications. “I’m surprised at how much stuff there is to do and how little time I get to spend with the dogs,” Lund admits.
Each Hero Dog costs about $30,000 to train and match. Lund draws no salary, and more than 20 volunteers help at the kennels, in addition to dozens more who help out in other capacities. Her goal this year? To raise $500,000 in cash and in-kind donations and match four dogs with veterans (two more applicants were matched with dogs in January). “Eventually someone will have to replace me to run the organization or to train the dogs,” she says. “I want it to grow bigger than me.”
If Ike and his new partner are any indication, Lund is on track. “I accidentally dropped my keys; Ike grabbed them and handed them to Luke,” she recalls. “Ike and I spent two years together, so before he would have brought them to me. I thought, ‘Now we know whose dog he is.’”
[W]Hayman credits his canine companion with helping to ease his anxiety. Ike also alerts him to sounds like a ringing telephone. “He’s a good friend and partner who goes everywhere with me. More important, he forces me to think outside of myself, take on more burdens, and, in a good way, to push myself.”
And others are poised to benefit from Lund’s nonprofit. “As the full scope of PTSD comes to light, Hero Dogs becomes more vital for veterans like me integrating back into civilian life,” says Wayman. “But I’m biased,” he quips. “They gave me a dog.” 1-888-570-8653 Read more at http://capitolfile-magazine.com/living/articles/hero-dogs-help-rehabilitate-veterans#6kyxxJD3ycXgA2Sr.99
It takes two and a half years to train dogs like Ike.
Jennifer Lund utilizes a wheelchair in the training process.
Radar opening a cabinet.
Maverick carrying groceries.
Brookeville, Maryland – January 16, 2013 – Hero Dogs announces its first graduation of a service dog and a military veteran who was wounded while serving in the United States Armed Forces. After a total of 2½ years of training, Hero Dogs General Eisenhower (“Ike”) and his partner Luke I. Wayman USA, CPL, Ret. Combat Medic, 82nd Airborne Division, 3rd Brigade, 1st of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment will graduate from Hero Dogs on January 20.
For the first sixteen months of his life, Ike was stationed with a volunteer Puppy Raiser who was responsible for teaching him good house manners and basic obedience, and for exposing him to all of the sights and sounds he would later encounter in his day-to-day travels with his veteran partner. Ike was then transferred to the Hero Dogs training kennels where he mastered skills to assist in activities of daily living for any veteran. Once Ike was deemed ready for duty, he was matched with CPL Wayman based on compatibility between Ike’s temperament and skills and CPL Wayman’s lifestyle and needs. The team then spent an additional eight months training weekly under the supervision of Hero Dogs’ trainers, honing Ike’s skills to meet CPL Wayman’s specific needs and learning to work together as a team. Their training culminated with a three-part examination which tested CPL Wayman’s knowledge of training and dog care, Ike’s demeanor and obedience in public, and the team’s performance of specific service dog tasks to assist CPL Wayman.
Hero Dogs trains dogs to meet multiple disabilities – mobility, hearing, and/or psychiatric disorders. These dogs can perform tasks such as retrieving objects, opening and closing doors, providing mobility support, or alerting their partner to important sounds. According to Jennifer Lund, Founder and President of Hero Dogs, “It’s a rigorous training process. Not every dog is suited to the demands of being a service dog, but those that graduate from the program will bring life-changing independence to their veteran partners. We are immensely proud not only of the team’s progress, but of all of the achievements of our volunteers that have led us up to this point.”
Founded in 2009, Hero Dogs, Inc. is a Maryland 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation whose mission is to provide independence and improved quality of life to our nation’s veterans by raising, training, and placing service dogs with injured or disabled military veterans who have served honorably in the United States Armed Forces.
For more information, visit http://www.hero-dogs.org or call 888-570-8653.
As we have explained in the past, training a service dog is a long process. Service dogs start out life as puppies, and just like every other puppy, they pee on rugs and chew shoes and nip and jump. Our dedicated puppy raisers teach them good house manners, and to sit and stay and lie down and come when called. All good dogs should know these things; our service dog puppies must go far beyond this standard. Our puppy raisers gently expose them to crowds and noise and traffic and strange and novel sights; they teach them to be calm and quiet and responsive in stores and restaurants and churches and offices and theaters, in cars and on buses and subways – in short, everywhere they go. Our trainers perfect their abilities to retrieve and carry, to push and pull, open and close, brace and steady, alert to sounds, redirect behavior, and find help.
Through all of this, the puppy is growing and maturing both physically and mentally. At two years of age, the dog has scarcely become an adult – and the process of becoming a service dog is not yet finished. Now the dog must learn to work with his veteran partner, to attend only to him or her, and to adapt his skills to the veteran’s unique needs. This is the stage that Hero Dogs General Eisenhower “Ike” has reached, and he would like to tell you about his new adventures in his own words.