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It’s an Honor to Serve Those Who Have Served Our Country

By Ali Imel, RVT

It’s More Than Lip Service

Today is the day we pay our respects the selflessness and sacrifice of those who have served our country, but it takes more than acknowledgement to improve the lives of our veterans and their families. It takes commitment and sacrifice of our own.  That’s why Doc’s Dogs for Vets has teamed up with Yosemite Bark Training Services and Valley State Prison in Chowchilla to initiate a non-profit volunteer program to train rescue dogs to become service dogs for veterans.

Our First Class

On October 24th 4 dogs joined 11 inmate trainers at Valley State Prison in Chowchilla, California and began the journey to become service dogs for Veterans.  They were greeted with big smiles, opens arms and handfuls of treats. Clark, Samson, Sierra and Wallace were specially selected from Fresno Humane Animal Services using specific temperament evaluations to determine their capability as service dogs.

Health Checks Provided by Pet Medical Center and Spa

The dogs then completed medical evaluations donated by Pet Medical Center in Spa in Fresno, California to determine their health status.   The medical evaluations screen candidates for structural imbalances, genetic illnesses and hearing or vison problems.  Once the dogs successfully completed the medical evaluations, they were vaccinated and altered.

Training Directed by Yosemite Bark

All training is using force free, science based methods.  No prong, choke or shock collars, no yelling, hitting or harsh leash corrections are allowed. The program uses a positive reinforcement philosophy that focuses on rewarding appropriate dog behavior which makes behavior more likely to occur in the future.  Using these methods serves a dual purpose to teach inmates they can influence one’s behavior, canine or human, without the use of pain, force or intimidation.

The dogs will live with their inmate trainers at Valley State Prison for 6 months to complete an extensive foundation training program which consists of learning over 50 commands.

Once the dogs complete their foundation training they will then start their socialization process which will condition the dogs to be relaxed and confident while performing their newly acquired skills around hundreds of sights, sounds and smells.

And Finally to the Veterans

After the general training is completed, the dogs will be matched with a Veteran. Once matched, the dogs will start the task training portion which is specifically designed to their veteran’s needs.  Assistance Dogs International (ADI) requires that each dog is specifically trained to perform 3 or more tasks to mitigate a person’s disability.  The dogs will need to successfully perform these tasks in a multitude of environments before they are placed with the veteran and they complete the public service access test and are certified as a team.

Doc’s Dogs for Vets

Doc’s Dogs for Vets (a 501 c 3), located in Raymond, CA was formed by the Pleitez family in honor of their son, Spc. Benjamin Pleitez, an army medic who died in 2012 while serving his country in Afghanistan.

The dogs will go at no cost to Veterans.   Doc’s Dogs for Vets is committed to pursuing their Assistance Dogs International accreditation which has been designed for non-profit organizations.

The purpose of ADI is to:

  • improve the training, placement, and utilization of assistance dogs
  • improve staff and volunteer education
  • educate the public about assistance dogs
  • advocate for the legal rights of people with disabilities partnered with assistance dogs

The journey to become a service dog is a long one indeed, and yet it seems but a tiny gesture compared to the price veterans have paid.  Today we gather together across America to pay tribute, remember, and honor those who have served our great country, but making their lives better is an on-going commitment.  The dedicated volunteers in the Service Dogs for Vets program are up to the challenge.