According to Purdue University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, in conjunction with Florida-based non-profit K9s for Warriors, found that military veterans with PTSD do better on both physiological and psychological measures if they have a service dog compared to if they are waiting to receive one. (Rodriguez, K. E., Bryce, C. I., Granger, D. A., & O’Haire, M. E. 2018)
In the spring of 2017, Navy veteran and home Resident, Steve Rozynski, knew that he could benefit from a service dog and knew that there would be a wait. At the time, Steve was the Tug McGraw Foundation’s (TMF) resident chicken keeper in the Brain Food Garden. Knowing TMF’s ability to connect others, he approached the foundation to inquire about service animal organizations. TMF suggested Operation Freedom Paws, a service animal program that was featured and recognized by CNN Heroes.
Operation Freedom Paws is a program dedicated to empowering veterans and individuals with disabilities to restore their freedom to live life. What was unique about the program at the time, was that the veteran trains the dog with which they were paired. However, there was one catch – the canine campus is located in Gilroy, CA, nearly 122 miles away and Steve does not drive. Steve and his social worker Richard visited the program several times together to ensure it was a good fit for him. Again, how was he going to get down there on Saturdays? Determined, Steve took action.
Knowing that Home resident and fellow veteran, Dave Shenkle, had knowledge on animal training, Steve asked if he could drive him to Gilroy. When the program expanded to include Tuesdays, Home residents drove Steve on Tuesdays.
“I am so grateful to these folks who helped with driving,” said Steve. It was the start of a pilot program to explore the best practices in bringing service animals into the Home. The pilot began with Obie, a handsome black lab that was paired with Steve. The pilot focused on a group of interested residents who wanted to help with handling and training directly at the home. Why pilot programs are important – a pilot study is often used to test the design of the full scale experiment which then can be adjusted. It is a potentially valuable insight and, should anything be missing in the pilot study,
Steve Rozynski and Dave Shenkle training with Obie
it can be added to the full-scale (and more expensive) experiment to improve the chances of a clear outcome. (Thabane L, Ma J, Chu R, Cheng J, Ismaila A, Rios LP, Robson R, Thabane M, Giangregorio L, Goldsmith CH 2010)
"Dogs uplift, provide a sense of purpose and encourage a more healthy lifestyle especially for those suffering from depression, anxiety and other emotional maladies that hinder our ability to live full, happy and meaningful lives." Gila Freeberg, LCSW Veterans Home of California at Yountville
The pilot demonstrated valuable insight in the areas of travel, multiple handlers, pairing, and residents’ knowledge of service animals. In addition, Steve understood prior to being selected for a service animal the following:
• An individual doesn’t own the service animal, the organization does.
• The individual needs to be able to care for the service animal, including expenses.
• If the individual needs a higher level of care, the service animal returns to the organization.
• If the service animal is not a fit for the individual or residential community, the service animal is returned to the organization.
Sadly, pilots don’t always go the way one would hope. After many attempts of trying to correct
the training, Obie could not break the strong desire of wanting to chase the army of squirrels at the home. In addition to the curiosity of squirrels, little dogs tugged at Obie’s heartstrings. What we would think is a normal reaction to other animals, poses a safety risk to the residents and to the service animal. For example, the dog could pull or knock down the individual or others who could be in the dog’s pathway of interest. Understanding the safety
WWII Veteran Penny, hanging out with Obie in
the TMF Brain Food Garden.
risk, Obie was returned to Operation Freedom Paws. He is now with his original family in Southern California living as a family pet. It was heart breaking for all of us, especially for Steve and the residents. Jennifer Brusstar, CEO of the Tug McGraw Foundation, said, “Steve demonstrated the importance of keeping the community and service animal safe. He showed tremendous courage and patience knowing that another match was in the works.”
Dolly's Meet and Greet with the Community Residents. Photo 1: Doug Haskette and Steve. Photo 2: Acting Administrator Lisa Peake, Canine Guardian Assistance Dogs Board Members, Dr. Mara Bleviss, Silverado Veterinary Hospital, Doug Haskette, Steve Rozynski, LCSW Gila Freeberg, Canine Guardian Founder Rochelle Haskett, CEO TMF Jennifer Brusstar. Photo 3: Community Meet and Greet where Steve lives. Photo 4: Jennifer Brusstar made special "doggie" cupcakes for the celebration.
On Friday July 26, 2019, Steve officially was handed a new “leash” on life – Dolly, a yellow lab from Canine Guardian Assistance Dogs.
Rochelle and her husband Doug Haskette started the program to empower PTSD/disabled veterans to live a more normal life. Steve and Dolly
have been training weekly since February 2019.
SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION FROM TUG McGRAW
Giants broadcaster Mike Krukow's dog Patriot, is Dolly's half brother. Mike and Tug were roommates on the road during baseball season.
In asking Rochelle why she does what she does, she said, “Dogs have an amazing effect on the human spirit. They have the ability to know what we need. They know how to chase away our blues by being goofy or by cuddling with us. They know when we aren’t feeling well before we do. And they will never walk away from us! They are more devoted than any human. What do they want in return? Only to be loved and to share their lives with us!”
“It’s my hope that through my journey others will understand the important role service animals play in improving quality life and why guidelines are important in a community. They are not meant to be barriers, but to help Dolly and I have greater success together." Steve Rozynski
Photo: Dolly and Steve picking tomatoes in the TMF Brain Food Garden. Photo 2: Dolly in front of the TMF's Brain Food Garden Tea House.
We want to thank Canine Guardian Assistance Dogs and Operation Freedom Paws for their dedication in helping improve quality of life for individuals affected by brain-related trauma.
Source: Veterans Home of California, Yountville
Photo Credits: Tug McGraw Foundation and CalVet