PHOENIX – Staff Sgt. Terry Stallings served in the Army for 23 years. He was stationed across the globe, including posts in Iraq, Balad, Kuwait, Desert Storm, Mexico, Central America, Alaska, Portugal and Germany.
Veterans Service Dogs
January 4, 2021
After six combat deployments overseas, he returned home and was diagnosed with post- traumatic stress disorder.
Veterans often rely on medications, therapy, sports and other treatment options for PTSD relief. Stallings looked toward companionship.
“He’s basically my battle buddy,” Stallings said. “Wherever I go, he follows me. If I’m laying down, he lays down at the foot of our bed. If I’m in the living room, he lays down next to my chair. He’s always ready to help me.”
“Koda’s learned when I’m having nightmares, he’ll come up and he’ll comfort me,” Stallings said. “He’ll put his wet, cold nose on me at night when I’m sleeping and wake me up because he knows I’m having a bad dream or an episode or something like that.”
Stallings and his wife, Debbie, picked up two Anatolian brothers with the intention of eventually training one or both as service dogs.
“I thought it’d be nice to have one. We actually weren’t even sure what a service dog would do for us,” Stallings said, “but we decided to look around and do some research.”
“One thing we did notice was everywhere we looked and all the inquiries that we did, everything was leading us towards Soldier’s Best Friend as being the best (organization) out of all of them,” Stallings said.
Its staff is made up of war veterans, practicing PTSD therapists, professional service dog trainers, veterinarians and nonprofit professionals.
Whether a dog goes through the adoption process or is brought in by a veteran, the dog must know how to perform basic commands, All dogs are spayed, neutered and vaccinated, and have received all recommended preventative medications before placement.
Veterans who are paired with rescue dogs will not be charged for veterinary services and most supplies during the training process, the organization says, and veterans who own dogs will get veterinary services at a reduced rate during training.
The primary focus of Soldier’s Best Friend is to train the dogs to be service animals, but the program is equally as rigorous for the veterans. Because of their PTSD symptoms, everyday tasks such as going to a store or attending a crowded event can become nearly impossible for some.
Stallings said the training program changed his mind about repetitiveness and perseverance. Because of his military background, he liked to give a command and see it performed right away. He also was quick to get frustrated and react.
The nonprofit’s main goal is to train each dog to fit the veterans’ unique and specific needs.
“Every dog is a little bit different, and every veteran needs something different from their dog,” Walker said. “We do a lot of talking and deciding what tasks the veteran is going to teach the dog because the task work is so personal.”
“I’ve always worried about people being behind me where I can’t see,” Stallings said, “so I taught him to watch my back. He would sit on my right side and look behind me. He’ll actually nudge me, letting me know there are people behind me.”
Koda is there to lend a helping paw when Stallings needs help up.
“If I was sitting on the floor or sitting in a chair and I needed him,” Stallings said, “he’ll come to me and I’ll tell him to brace, and then he locks his front legs up. Between his shoulder blades, I can apply all my body weight on him and stand up basically like a cane.”
At the beginning of the program, however, Stallings was skeptical.
He could tell that Koda did not understand why he was training or going through such repetitive motions, but it didn’t take long to see a change in himself and his dog.
“All of a sudden, the light would kick on, and he’d understand,” Stallings said. “It’s kind of cool to see him get it. It’s almost like he’s smiling, he’s figured it out. ‘I know why I’m doing this.’”
“One day they come in, and they realize they are no longer just a pet,” Walker said.
But the veterans also go through a big change as well.