Sunday, July 4, 2010. 4:30 pm. I receive an email from a friend addressed to me. “I’m looking for a home for my 3.5 year, trained Lhasa Apso. Thought you may want to consider taking him.

This friend was the Education Specialist at the Soldier Family Assistance Center (SFAC) at Ft. Stewart and had been helping Lenny and me transition after his Afghanistan tour.

What kind of training had Duncan received, I ask her. How would he fit into our lives? I’m as curious as I am cautious about getting a dog because we’ve never owned one before. But, we go meet Duncan. After observing him interact with his owner and her other dogs, Leonard and I know he’s right for us…Duncan remains calm our entire visit (I never hear him bark once). We take him home and he becomes an important, therapeutic part of our healing and recovery. He also becomes a dear member of our family.

As a trained dog that provides affection and comfort, Duncan, by definition, was a therapy dog to both of us. Small and affectionate, he fit the bill as a sweet and calming companion for us both. While Leonard recovered at home, I took walks with him at least 4 times each day, something both Duncan and I looked forward to. It was indeed a comfort to both Lenny and me to have him around.

Duncan

About 18 months after Duncan joined our family, Leonard and I met a female veteran at a retreat in San Diego who had a Lhasa Apso service dog that looked almost identical to Duncan! A service dog is a type of assistance dog specifically trained to help people who have disabilities, such as mental illnesses or a mobility impairment. I was stunned. I had always thought that service dogs were big breeds and had never considered that Duncan’s breed would even fit such a big role. But service dogs are not just for those with physical disabilities that are apparent. The Lhasa Apso service dog that the woman owned helped her with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Finding that out was a true revelation for us! When Leonard and I got home, we began to train Duncan to know what to do when Leonard had a panic attack. When my husband was in a crowd and became anxious, Duncan began to sense it and would pull him away from the crowd. Duncan has been considerably helpful to Leonard since then and has helped make our lives easier during particularly difficult moments.

Today, Duncan is still a therapy dog and helps me, but he is also my husband’s service dog. Duncan received his Canine Good Citizen registration, and is also Public Access Trained. He accompanies my husband when we go into public places, including airplanes and hospitals. We have been challenged several times (usually at restaurants) about Duncan’s presence, butADA laws protect anyone with a disability that needs a service animal. And, even though Duncan is registered as a Canine Good Citizen and is professionally trained for access into public places, there really is no official training required in the U.S. for dogs who provide services to those with disabilities. We preferred that Duncan have this training though, so he knows how to behave in public and won’t embarrass us or cause a disturbance of any kind or give service dogs in general a bad reputation.

Duncan has become a part of our family. I sometimes also think of him as Duncan, the Wonderdog:)

Duncan, service dog

Duncan and Leonard at Wounded Warrior Event. East Cobb, GA

 

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