Service dogs are saving warriors

Charles Runner presenting check to Michelle Schaaz


Victor with his dog Spirit

Victor with his dog Spirit

David Laschinger

The Happy Tails Dog Club had a very special group at their March meeting. Because the meeting focused on warrior and service dogs, members of Support Our Troops were also invited to attend.

Michelle Schaaz, a local trainer with Train A Dog – Save A Warrior (TAD-SAW) came to speak, and she brought three former soldiers and their dogs to describe their program. As they entered the meeting room, the audience was standing to honor them. Others like Michelle are based throughout the United States to provide training of a Medical Alert Service Dog for any active duty, wounded warrior or veteran diagnosed with PTSD, Military Sexual Trauma (MST) and/or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). A trained canine “Battle Buddy” can help restore and improve the quality of life for these warriors. The training is done at no charge to the warrior, with TAD-SAW picking up the $2,500 tab to train one “team:” one dog and one warrior.

TAD-SAW evaluates rescue dogs or a current pet of the soldier’s, for their ability to become a service dog. The professional trainers work with the team to build the necessary human-canine bond. Suicide rates among veterans and active duty military personnel have resulted in a death rate that is more than 10 times the number of Americans killed in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan during those wars. By using rescue dogs, TAD-SAW believes they potentially save two lives: the soldier and the rescued dog.

After describing how the process works, Michelle received numerous questions from the audience. Victor, one of the PTSD visitors who brought his dog Spirit, answered some questions. Victor became emotional when he told the story of how he witnessed the death of another soldier during a training exercise. Spirit immediately picked up on Victor’s stress and began cuddling and loving on him.

Some of the canines also provide mobility assistance for warriors with physical impairments. This can include stability when standing or walking, opening doors, guiding their human to an exit and picking up objects.

At the end of the very informative meeting, Chuck Runner generously presented a $2,500 check to Michelle to help TAD-SAW on behalf of the Support Our Troops organization.