NORTH MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) – A local nonprofit is aiding our military veterans and saving dogs at the same time.
The Canine Angels program in North Myrtle Beach specializes in training and providing certified canine assistants to perform endless tasks for disabled vets, according to the Canine Angels website.
The service dogs must pass an extensive test to ensure that the handler has complete control of the dog, which must behave safely and obtrusively in public.
On Wednesday at the North Myrtle Beach Walmart, Head Trainer for Canine Angels, Rick Kaplan, performed a series of test with Katie, the latest service dog, to receive certification.
"It guarantees for us, the dog, for the veterans who owns the dog, that the dog is fully educated, fully desensitize, meaning they are aware of all the sounds, sights, and noises, in a public arena," said Kaplan.
The dog must know how to properly react to loud sounds in public, and it must also present itself safe and friendly should people, especially children, approach it.
Katie is also trained how to properly exit a vehicle, she understands an open vehicle door does not mean she can take off, but rather she must wait for her instruction before leaving the vehicle. Kaplan says all of the training is for the dog's safety and for the veteran.
Each dog is specifically paired with a veteran, Katie for example, is trained to help her veteran when she goes to her permanent home.
"They live on a farm, she's learned how to herd the horses into the barn, she has two best friends that are donkeys," said Kaplan.
Since 2011, the service dogs have helped veterans experience relief from PTSD, fear of crowds, irritability, night terrors and anger.
This program is helping a local veteran, a Marine from Conway, who was struck by an armor-piercing bullet in Afghanistan.
Katie, a rescued Blue Heeler, is helping this Marine regain his freedom. "In Brandon's case both physical and mental injuries, this is a young man that
took an armor-piercing sniper's bullet right in the chest so he is a miracle of medical science that he is even alive."
Kaplan says the service dog is having a positive impact, saying the soldier was so excited about training with Katie, and the two have a strong emotional connection.
Kaplan added, "This dog has turned his entire view of the world around, he is now active in his church, he gives sermons, he works with kids. In fact, the reason I have Katie, is because Brandon is at a conference in Orlando, Florida for children. He is becoming a counselor for kids and learning to give back."
The non-profit based in North Myrtle Beach, relies on donations, they assist veterans nationwide, by pairing them with furry companions, working only with rescued or distressed animals.
Kaplan says it takes about six months to a year for them to become fully trained service dogs but, Kaplan says they are capable to offer veterans something they may have lost.
"Giving them back their freedom that they lost while protecting ours is our mission and the dogs do that," said Kaplan.
Veterans are able to rejoin families after working with the canines and several veterans said they were contemplating suicide until they received help from Canine Angels. For more information about Canine Angels visit http://www.canineangelsservicedogs.org.
From August 2 through August 8, International Assistance Dog Week honors the devoted canines that help people with disabilities lead more independent lives. For more information, visit http://www.assistancedogweek.org/about/.