By AMY STOUT
Have you ever wondered why a service dog is needed or how one can be beneficial to a veteran?
I had the pleasure of speaking with Red Avery, with Versa K-9 for Vets, and gained important insight to this very question. Versa K-9 for Vets is comprised of six instructors and guest speakers.
They work as a team to share information and thoughts, as well as vote on any decisions that are made for veterans and their service dogs.
Avery and his team have been training service dogs for the past four years, and they all currently have a service dog of their own.
Versa K-9 for Vets has a goal of assisting disabled veterans, so they can function in life with confidence and positively impact veterans with the prevention of suicide.
They also strive to provide the needed confidence and comradery in the veteran, so they are successful in training their service dog.
They provide the service dog training at no cost to the veteran through approximately 20 weeks of divided sessions in three areas. The veteran and their service dog participate in Canine Good Citizen, which is where the trainer and dog learn basic skills that will help when public access begins.
These skills are the basic lay, stay, sit and leash walking.
They also learn greeting a stranger, walking with distractions, and greeting another dog in a controlled environment.
Public Access Training is when the handler and the dog are taken to a store and use the skills previously taught to them. They provide a distraction to the dog by placing food on the floor, walk down isles, and have strangers stop and ask to pet their dog or just walk by them.
Lastly, task training is where the dog learns a specific task. The tasks may be to detect blood sugar levels or look for an exit during an anxiety or panic attack, in which the dog puts themselves between their handler and a stranger.
The dogs are also trained for detecting the onset of a seizure. Task training is specifically geared toward the veteran and their needs, so the dog knows how to best help their handler.
Certificates are awarded for the completion of the training in all three areas before they are considered a graduate of the program.
The training course is very thorough and requires a great deal of dedication from the veteran and instructors. Avery said visitors are always welcome, and they encourage the spouse of the veteran to attend, as they are also an integral part of the K-9 team.
Instructors conduct an interview with the veteran and dogs prior to their class admittance. If a veteran does not already have a dog, they will work with them to get one.
Avery noted that these aspects are only an insight to what they do at Versa K-9 for Vets. Anyone interested in joining can contact him or a member of the team at [email protected]
Avery said they are excited for an upcoming training class, which will be at 2 p.m. March 28 at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 382 in El Reno. Those who have questions about the training or are a veteran in need of a service dog, are asked to reach out to Avery and his team.
They are available to help make a successful partnership between a veteran and their service dog.