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Service Dogs Ready

April 23, 2020

Service dogs are a lifeline for many veterans, especially those with post-traumatic stress disorder. While many people are still getting used to social distancing measures, these human-dog teams do them every single day.

Rhonda Lockwood was in the Army for 20 years before retiring in 2003. She struggled in the years that followed, and was introduced to Operation at Ease. The Schenectady-based organization teams veterans with rescue dogs and helps to train them to become service animals.

“We paired her with a dog from Mohawk Hudson Humane Society,” said Joni Bonilla, the founder of Operation at Ease. “She was simultaneously the prettiest and the smelliest dog we ever pulled.”

Now smelling much better, Lockwood’s dog Bella serves as a buffer between the community and her human, making sure no one gets too close.

“If I’m at the pharmacy and there’s something behind me, I can’t. I can’t just stand there,” explained Lockwood.

“What we are experiencing now is what people with post-traumatic stress live with every day,” said Bonilla.

The emptier grocery stores and social distancing measures are things these veterans look for, even in the best of times. They try to always practice social distancing, something many don’t understand.

“One of our veterans, actually, a Vietnam veteran, said that to me at the very beginning of this. He said, ‘Well, maybe the good thing that will come of this is how people will see,’ ” said Bonilla.

Service animals also offer emotional support, something veterans like Lockwood rely on.

“She kept me calm, just doing little training stuff with her in the house, playing hide and seek, stuff like that. It keeps you going,” said Lockwood.

Operation at Ease is still training dogs, but has temporarily moved programing online.

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