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Dogs help veterans cope with PTSD

A recent training session with A Veterans Best Friend, from left, Christie Brekken with Timber; Glenn and Leah Larsen with Tipper; Kathy Ball with Guster; and Billie Johnston with Falcon. (Photo by Ed Galucki)Buy Photo
A recent training session with A Veterans Best Friend, from left, Christie Brekken with Timber; Glenn and Leah Larsen with Tipper; Kathy Ball with Guster; and Billie Johnston with Falcon. (Photo by Ed Galucki)

Going to the dogs is not a bad thing when one finds themselves in the company of Greg Sporer of Cabot and Kathy Ball of Ward. The two have combined their life purposes to develop a novel means of helping veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) through service dogs.

“It’s a God thing,” Ball remarked about how she and Sporer came to combine forces in A Veterans Best Friend, a PTSD service-dog training ministry. Through the ministry, veterans are provided service dogs at no cost. Ball said she is director of training; Sporer is overall director.

Sporer said he is retired military where his work was as a mental health specialist, a PTSD therapist. “When I saw patients, I would have them work with dogs. That’s how I discovered that, wow, it makes a big difference in [veteran’s] life,” Sporer said.

“Having a dog helped with the nightmares, helped break the isolation,” he said. “[Veterans] would be a prisoner in their home. But if they had a dog, they’d go out. They’d go to Walmart.” Adding dogs to therapy made it much more effective, Sporer said.

Medication is not always the answer, Sporer said. When counseling and therapy are called for, a trained dog can make a great difference to someone with PTSD, he said.

“I saw that when they had a dog with them, they were more willing to get out of the house. Lots of veterans close themselves up and won’t come out,” he said.

So, as he continued in his work as a PTSD therapist, he began looking for ways to include dogs.

“I called Kathy about a year and half ago,” Sporer said. He called her after learning of her dog training.

Ball said she has operated a dog-training business for about six years, but had only recently become certified to train service dogs when Sporer called. “Greg called me and asked if I wanted to participate in a mission? And I asked where are we going?”

Ball recalled that before Sporer’s call, a veteran had called her and asked her to train his dog, but he required private lessons. While the request was not out of the ordinary, the conditions she found “were very different,” she said.

“When I went to his house, in December, the interview was done outside on his porch. He was very reclusive. He was very nervous,” Ball recalled. Soon into the interview, she realized that he wanted a service dog, “something to help him go out in public,” she said.

Before she could do that, she needed to be certified in a detailed process set out by the American Kennel Club, which she completed, Ball said. So, when Sporer called asking for help she was ready to provide it, “It’s a God thing,” she said.

“I knew God wanted me do something. So when I received [Greg’s] phone call, I just knew that this is what I’ve been preparing my whole life to do. Is to help our veterans and train service dogs … This is my statement of faith, this is what I’ve been called to do,” she said.

There is plenty of room for others to help in the outreach, Sporer said. “We need volunteer trainers, or someone can sponsor a dog with $25 a month,” he said.

Need volunteers to train dogs, if not a trainer then sponsor a dog with $25 a month. There are a number of costs to be met, feeding, medical care, the dogs are spayed or neutered, Sporer said. “All that mounts up a lot.

for help,” she said.

A Veterans Best Friend not only prepares dogs, but veterans, too. Glenn Larsen and his wife, Leah, of Ward are in the program working with his dog, a 2-year-old boxer named Tipper.

“A Veterans Best Friend has made a huge difference in our lives,” Leah Larsen said. Her husband, Glenn, was diagnosed with PTSD. “[Tipper] goes everywhere,” Leah said.

Tipper has helped get him out of the house, Glenn said. “If I start getting a panic attack … it’s like she can smell the adrenaline. She will get up in my lap and get in my face so I look at her, I can pet her and concentrate on her,” he said.

Having Tipper has gotten them out much more, Leah said. “[Glenn] did not go out as much as he does now. And, he’s more relaxed when he goes out,” she said.

Generally, reception for Tipper has been positive, although there was one time a restaurant owner asked them to leave, Leah said.

Although that should not have happened under the Americans with Disabilities Act, they chose to leave rather than the stress of a confrontation. But, information was sent to the restaurant to inform the owner of the law so the next service dog might get a better reception, Leah said.

Sam High, the Lonoke County veterans affairs director and a member of the board of directors of A Veterans Best Friend, said the effort is a good work. “Greg has a big heart for what he is doing. From what I have seen, I am convinced that A Veterans Best Friend does make a big difference.”

Ball said it takes much work to get to the point of a trained dog. “We pre-select the dogs, and the right one is hard to find.

“We need a laid-back back dog that is alert at the same time; intelligent, social, a thinker,” she said.

All the dogs are rescues, Ball said. “Guster” the shepherd/lab mix she is currently training was found in the trash last summer, she said.

The dog needs to be less than 4 years old, Ball said. “It takes a year to year-and-a-half to train a dog, and then we want to see five years of service. The younger they are the quicker to learn,” she said.

Volunteers are needed for trainers and to foster a dog in training, sponsors are needed “desperately,” Ball said. Costs of insurance, training aids, food, medical, all mount up rapidly, and spaying and neutering is expensive, she said.

Anyone interested in taking part in A Veterans Best Friend can contact Sporer at 501-422-8310, go online to www.servicedog4ptsd.org; or go on Facebook and search on A Veterans Best Friend.

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