‘A new leash on life’

Dayton family trains lab to care for area veteran

 

By Megan Hopps
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For as long as Maurine Clipperton can remember, she’s always been in “the dog business.”
Clipperton is the owner All Seasons Canine Country Club, a pet resort in Corcoran. While she loves what she does, she knew she wanted to find a way to give back to others through her work.
“For about 10 years we lived in Grand Forks, North Dakota, where there is an Air Force base,” she began. “As people were returning from the war, we saw the stress it created within families and ultimately, on the community.”
That’s when Clipperton started doing some research. She knew that she could help relieve some of these veterans of their stress by training dogs to be service animals — to help with mobility needs, but also the psychiatric needs that can sometimes follow a veteran home. That’s when she came across Believet Canine Service Partners, a non-profit that provides highly skilled assistance dogs, free of charge, to disabled veterans based in Northfield, Minn.

Foster family, Steve and Cindy Yager of Dayton, left, graduate yellow Labrador retriever Loyal to U.S. Army Veteran Gregg Graves, second from right. Presenting Graves with a certification of graduation is Believet Senior Trainer Justin Ivers. (Sun Press photo by Megan Hopps)

About Believet
“Believet was organized to help disabled veterans gain greater independence and to help relieve the suffering, isolation and despair associated with the consequences of war,” said Executive Director of Believet, Sam Daly. “Beleivet works to enable more productive, independent and freedom-filled lives for disabled veterans. Our dogs give veterans a new ‘leash’ on life.”
Daly founded Believet Canine Service Partners in 2014. “I had the opportunity to train explosive detection dogs for the Marine Corps and was deployed to Afghanistan twice,” he said. “When we came home from that experience I wanted to find a way to continue to serve my community and my country.” And that’s how Believet was born.
“There is no federal funding for service dogs for psychiatric care,” Clipperton said. “If a veteran has a mobility issue, the government will pay for an assistance dog in order for that veteran to live independently, but they do not provide dogs for veterans that require psychiatric care.”
Clipperton said, in Minnesota, there are only about a half a dozen places that provide dogs to veterans and it costs upwards of $25,000 to train and prepare the dogs. There are three to four hundred veterans in Minnesota alone that have applied for a service animal. Nationally, between 20 and 30 veterans commit suicide each day due to complications from war-induced psychiatric complications and there is evidence that supports that when veterans are paired with service dogs, the suicide rate decreases.
According to the Veterans Administration (V.A.), over 540,000 of the nearly 2.8 million service members that served in Iraq and Afghanistan have post traumatic stress. “Those are just the diagnosed veterans that we know about,” Daly said. “There’s an extreme and traumatic emotional environment to combat for our men and women in uniform and our warriors have survival reactions to combat and those reactions can come home with them.”
He went on to say that the thing warriors miss most about their service is the brotherhood — the connection to other people who they depended on for their lives and their safety during stressful times. “This is a powerful human connection,” he said. “It’s the responsibility and privilege of protecting and being protected. Our men and women in uniform often love their brothers and sisters more than they love themselves. They’re blessed with this human connection for the duration of their service and then they come home back into society not knowing who they can count on, who loves them or who has their back.”
Daly knows this can be terrifying and stressful for a veteran returning to civilian life. While service dogs can’t prevent PTSD, they can provide a safe, non-addictive, non-chemical tool for veterans to live a more productive life.
“Assistance dogs can help reduce the need for medications, can help keep families together, help attain and sustain employment, reduce run-ins with the law, reduce chemical dependency and improve overall health and productivity,” Daly said. “If we can learn to understand what combat means to our men and women in uniform, we can help them come back home. We can help them return home to an understanding, welcoming and accepting society.”

The Making of a Hero
Clipperton knew she could help the cause, so she bred one of her dogs, a yellow English Labrador retriever, who gave birth to four male pups. Three of the four were donated to Believet. Loyal, Buzz and Woody were sent off to be cared for, socialized and trained by foster families at only nine weeks old.
“Maurine approached me and asked if we would be willing to care for one of the pups,” said Dayton resident Cindy Yager. “Of course I said ‘yes.’ ”
Yager said that at a very young age, their foster pup, Loyal, was house trained, recognized his name and was used to his collar. Yager said her and her husband, Steve, used clicker training to teach Loyal basic commands like “sit,” “stay,” “lay down,” and “come.” But Yager said the most important thing is to socialize the dogs.
“Loyal goes everywhere with us,”Yager said. “He’s a regular at the Maple Grove Target and Osseo Legion.” The pups would go anywhere and everywhere from Twins games, concerts and parades to grocery stores, movie theaters and hockey games.
“It’s so important to socialize the dogs so they can get used to being around people, especially children and other pets,” Yager said. “The main goal is to desensitize them to loud noises so they don’t panic.”
Since the dogs will be trained to be an emotional constant for veterans suffering from PTSD they need to be able to keep a level temperament.
“Oftentimes, when a veteran is suffering form PTSD, they won’t want to get out of the house,” Clipperton said. “A service dog forces them to do that because they need to be let out and walked. The hope is that through that, the veteran will meet neighbors and friends and establish relationships within their community again.”
And the dogs will do more than that because they are trained to each veteran’s specific needs whether that means waking them in the middle of the night from a nightmare, easing their anxiousness in a crowd or simply absorbing a nervous situation by laying near them.
The pups worked with their foster families for one year before moving on to their extensive, specific training with Believet. Believet trains four types of assistance dogs — psychiatric dogs for PTSD and traumatic brain injury (TBI); service dogs for mobility issues; hearing dogs for deaf and hard-of-hearing veterans and facility dogs for use in healthcare, visitation, or educational settings.
“A service dog provides a sense of security, independence, enhanced quality of life, and peace of mind for military veterans,” Yager said. “Believet trainers will work with the veterans and train the dogs to their specific needs.”
The organization worked with the dogs until they earned a beta certification and are ready for graduation. After they go home with their veteran, Believet will follow up to ensure the two work well together. Believet also works to train young dogs that have been surrendered to shelters.

Volunteers, Donations
Training a pup from infancy is no cheap task, Clipperton said. She donates her time and money through feeding, training, providing medical care and vaccinations, neutering and micro-chipping the dogs.
“It’s so worth it to me,” she said. “The dogs serve as door openers to the life of the veteran. They give them courage and the comfort of knowing they’re not alone.”
Clipperton said that Believet is always in need of volunteers that are willing to help train and spend time with the dogs.
“Through my work, I see the impact and gift that dogs have in the lives of those without the complications of mental and physical trauma,” Clipperton said. “Imagine how life-changing a dog could be to a person struggling with those things. The ripple effect of the lives just one dog can change is incredibly vast.”
For those that can not donate their time, monetary donations are always accepted as the cost to train, house, feed and provide medical care for service animals is extensive.
“Changing the world can happen anywhere and anyone can do it,” Daly said. “If I’ve learned anything it’s that one person can change the world by giving people hope. In serving their country, the men and women we honor today changed the world for the better. You and I can honor our veterans by being the ones who change lives — one veteran and one family at a time.”
Six dogs graduated from the Believet program Sunday, Aug. 27. Five service dogs and one emotional support dog stood proudly alongside their new life-long companion.
Bobbi, Hero, Xena, Woody, Loyal and Riley were the first of many dogs to bravely serve military veterans as the veterans served for their country. The Yager’s pup, Loyal, was handed over to veteran Gregg Graves. Loyal will assist Graves in any way he needs — from retrieving objects, getting him out of the house or simply, providing companionship.
“We need to give up ourselves in support of our injured veterans,” Daly said. “Each served for a cause greater than their own life. They served to defend American core values and stand up for those who can not stand up for themselves. If you’re a veteran who needs our help or know someone who does, we want you to know Believet will meet you where ever you are on your journey and that we understand.”
Believet is able to change lives because of generous sponsors and donors. To learn more about Believet, to donate, or to volunteer visit their website at www.believet.org.