By AMY GAREIS, News-Herald Staff Writer
BOWERSTON – A new program aims to match service dogs with wounded warriors who are facing their own battle with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Ohio Valley K9 LLC, which is located outside of Bowerston, is extending its services through the Dogs 4 Warriors program to provide dogs to veterans inflicted with PTSD, a condition that statistically has led to the suicide rate of one veteran every 65 minutes because they are unable to cope. Ohio Valley K9 Operator Sheila Slezak, said her frustration with other so-called trainers and kennels wanting cash for such services led her to do it for free.
“[I felt] sheer frustration with the fact that a lot of places are charging $8,000 to $30,000 for a service dog and they are not trained. People are under the misconception that the VA and government are paying for it. It’s disgraceful,” she said. “I have the property, ability and connection to dogs and will get a dog and train it at no cost.”
Slezak only decided to start her program in mid-December and is providing some of the dogs she initially imported from Europe for her K9 service with law enforcement officers, while others are being sought or donated. One family even donated its pet because they believed it was the right thing to do.
“There are certain breeds–German Shepherds, Labradors and Golden Retrievers—that work well, but it’s a matter of opinion. Each guy has different issues with what they suffer and each dog is specifically picked according to where the guy lives, if he has kids and other pets,” she continued. “Some dogs are trained to help those with brain injury who need a dog for balance, plus a dog can wake them up from nightmares. They are always there with them.”
The veterans and dogs are matched and Slezak does an initial meet and greet to introduce them. Later they will spend two weeks training on their specific conditions before finally taking the dog home, but Dogs 4 Warriors will still be available afterwards for further help.
“We’re available 24/7 for them. We have two matched so far and by the end of the week hope to have five or six matched. We look at the entire situation and some people can come for two weeks at the beginning and two weeks at the end,” she noted.
Slezak added that it was the least she could do for veterans who put their lives on the line for our country, while quite a few of them have had multiple deployments.
Trevor Armstrong, a U.S. Army veteran from Pennsylvania, pictured above, was one of the first soldiers matched with a dog from the free Dogs 4 Warriors Program through Ohio Valley K9 LLC outside Bowerston. The two-year-old German Shepherd was imported from the Czech Republic for Ohio Valley K9 services but will assist Armstrong with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and other related health issues.