Service dogs show their skills at disabilities program

By Jeffrey Landenberger DLA Disposition Services

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The Hart-Dole-Inouye Federal Center’s People With Disabilities Program on Oct. 5 had four special guests — including two who literally work their tails as they train to help former military personnel with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Kharma and Lucy are training to become service dogs. The German Shepherd and the yellow Labrador retriever were joined by their trainers, Sarah Rodeheaver, owner of Dog Zone, and Kelly Lapham, a trainer at the company. 

DLA Disposition Services Director Mike Cannon noted in his opening remarks the achievement potential and resiliency of people with disabilities, recalling that in the recent Paralympic Games, the run times for four visually impaired runners in the 1500-meter race beat the time of the gold medalist at the recent Olympics for the same race.  

Cannon went on to talk about the 183 DLA Disposition Services employees who have identified themselves as having a disability. Like those four Paralympic athletes,  those workers give their all to help their colleagues support the warfighter every day, he said.

Rodeheaver started Dog Zone in 1994 but has been training dogs since 1988 not only in service duties but also in obedience, scent detection, tracking and other disciplines. She partnered with The Battle Buddy Foundation in 2014 to train PTSD service and mobility dogs for combat veterans enrolled in the foundation’s programs. Rodeheaver and her team now have six dogs serving with veterans through the foundation and are working with five dogs planned to be placed with veterans after completing the program.

It can take up to 18 months to train one dog, depending on the tasks the dog must perform, Rodeheaver said. Common skills are anxiety alert, mobility support, nightmare alert and retrieving objects. She also explained that when a service dog wearing its service vest, it is not the time to pet or play with the dog. The vest shows the dog is working and needs to focus on the needs of its human companion.

Ray Zingaretti, the director of Logistics Information Services, shared a story about a service dog who may have been especially perceptive. He once attended a multi-day class with 71 other people, including one with a PTSD service dog. Zingeretti did not know if the dog was trained to do so, but if an instructor went long in a session, the dog would make a show of stretching in the middle of the classroom, which signaled the instructors to give the class a break.