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American Heroes and their Dogs

By Michele C. Hollow of Pet News and Views

Carolyn Jette dreamed of serving her country, becoming an officer in the Navy, and traveling around the world. She enlisted in the Navy in 1996, and upon completing training to become a radio operator, she had her first seizure.

Carolyn and Troy (Photo courtesy of America's VetDogs

Two weeks later she had another seizure, and began the medical tests that would eventually diagnose her with epilepsy. Her dreams of a career as a naval officer were over.

Instead of seeing the world, she went home to Massachusetts. Her seizures grew worse. Medication didn’t help, and despite brain surgery in 2007, the seizures continued.

Desperate to do something to end the pain, she searched online for a solution and found America’s VetDogs, a program that partners service dogs with veterans. At the time she enrolled into the program, she was having six to seven seizures a day. Then she met Troy, a seizure alert dog. Troy and Carolyn bonded almost immediately. If Carolyn is about to have a seizure in her sleep, Troy wakes her before the seizure begins. If it’s during the day, he alerts her so she can take her medication. Troy can also retrieve her cell phone or keys.

With Troy at her side, Carolyn completed college and received her bachelor’s degree in psychology. She plans to continue school to obtain a master’s so she can counsel others who suffer from epilepsy. “Now life is not about I or me,” she says. “It is about we.”

Meet Marine Mark Gwathmey and Service Dog Larry
On his second tour of duty in Iraq in 2004, Master Gunnery Sergeant Mark Gwathmey was injured when he was caught in a building collapse during the siege of Falluhaj. He didn’t realize it, but he had broken his right foot and injured his ankle. They never healed correctly, and as a result, he suffered nerve damage in his right leg.

While on patrol during this tour, Mark was further wounded when a series of IEDs (improvised explosive devices) exploded; the explosion exacerbated his previous injuries, and he suffered an undiagnosed traumatic brain injury, which brought on a seizure disorder.

CeCe and Mark at the Marine Ball with service dog Larry. (Photo courtesy of America's VetDogs)

Larry, a service dog who was trained for seizure alert, was paired with Mark in 2007. Larry helps Mark with balance, fetch, and retrieval. He and Mark have bonded so strongly that the dog now senses when Mark is about to have a seizure and barks during the entire seizure to alert Mark’s wife Cece.

America’s VetDogs
Carolyn and Mark are recipients of service dogs thanks to America’s VetDogs. “Not only does a VetDog provide assistance with daily activities,” says Chelsea Tafarella, Social Media and Special Event Coordinator for America’s VetDogs, “these dogs serve as a social bridge; people focus on the dog, not the veteran’s disability. For some, the dog gives them the motivation to continue to conquer the additional demands they face in their daily lives.”

America’s VetDogs relies on voluntary public contributions to fund its efforts. These contributions come in the form of planned giving, foundation grants, fundraising, and corporate sponsorships. “We have also extended our fundraising to include licensed pet products,” says Chelsea. “We are launching our first product this summer. It is America’s VetDogs Treats made by Bil-Jac, and will be available in stores and online nationwide. We are also coming out with a full line of accessories and toys furnished by a licensed partnership with Vo-Toys.”

Tomorrow’s post more on America’s VetDogs.

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