Toys & Training

Service canine helps ease Frederick veteran’s nervousness

FREDERICK, Md. (AP) — Joe Nieves, 40, sank into the sofa of his front room. His service canine, Jem, a 3-year-old Labrador-golden retriever combine, hopped up subsequent to him and rested her head on his thigh. He began petting her, operating his palms over her ears.

“I imply, take a look at her. She doesn’t need to be right here proper now,” he stated. “She could possibly be, like, within the bed room, however she desires to be right here and meaning so much to me.”

Jem is a service canine specifically skilled to assist veterans with post-traumatic stress dysfunction, like Nieves. Jem is a buffer for Nieves when he feels overwhelmed or disconnected from the world, he stated.

The 2 have been paired in March. She has helped him greater than he may have imagined, he stated.

Nieves, an Military veteran, was recognized with bipolar dysfunction and PTSD in 2006.

He additionally has nervousness stemming from his deployments to Iraq in 2004 and 2005, he stated. Like many veterans, he carries invisible scars of what he witnessed abroad.

“It’s humorous, as a result of quite a lot of the issues that hang-out individuals are the issues that occurred to them,” he stated. “And issues did occur to me, however the issues that hang-out me probably the most are the issues I noticed occur to these round me.”

Due to Jem, Nieves went to his first occasion in about 5 years — Superior Con, Washington D.C.’s Comedian Con conference, in June, which attracts tens of 1000’s of “geek tradition” followers.

Jem is skilled to carry out many duties to help Nieves. Most useful, Nieves stated, is how she helps him with nervousness in public. For instance, she could be a barrier, standing both in entrance of or behind him to stop individuals from getting too shut.

She will be able to enter locations earlier than Nieves does, which takes the stress off him, he stated. He’s an introvert, and folks shift their consideration to Jem as a substitute of him once they stroll in.

“I feel it’s a facet impact of the command. For me, that’s actually good as a result of the eyes aren’t on me, they’re on her … and that’s actually refreshing,” he stated.

Quite a bit occurred to Nieves throughout his deployment. To at the present time, one occasion stands proud.

One night time, Nieves was monitoring a checkpoint at his base in Iraq and a mortar hit a constructing 100 yards from the place he was standing. Six or seven troopers have been sleeping inside, he stated. The roof of the constructing exploded in a shroud of metallic.

“It was like gradual movement, like within the motion pictures. It’s simply pure, gradual movement. … It’s just like the 100 yards simply shot ahead, and it’s simply sitting in my eyes and in my face,” he stated.

He heard the mortars earlier than they hit. In that second, he stated, he knew what mortal concern was. He didn’t know whether or not to maneuver or keep the place he was to keep away from getting hit.

Fortunately, all the troopers survived with minimal accidents, he stated. However the potential of shedding his total squad that night time haunts him.

In 2012, he was medically retired from the navy.

Nieves tried many issues to deal with nervousness, however they by no means caught. For instance, his spouse, Katharina Nieves, obtained him a digital camera for when he went out together with his two daughters.

“The digital camera was to assist me focus down by way of the viewfinder. So I’m not seeing the whole lot else. I’m simply seeing her and my ladies after I appeared by way of the viewfinder,” Nieves stated.

He knew service canines have been an possibility, however he was discouraged from getting one. It wasn’t till round 2018, when he met the service canine of a veteran pal throughout Wounded Warrior Undertaking assist group conferences, that he felt reinvigorated {that a} service canine may assist him.

In 2019, he put himself on a listing for Canine Companions.

Canine Companions has six coaching facilities throughout the U.S. and spends roughly $50,000 to lift and practice every canine, stated John Bentzinger, a public relations and advertising and marketing coordinator for the group.

A veteran goes by way of an intensive course of to get a service canine. Nieves stated the group’s matching course of goes effectively.

The group picks a number of canines that could possibly be paired with a veteran. It didn’t take lengthy for Nieves to appreciate who his can be. It was love at first pet.

“She actually was good, the proper quantity of power,” Nieves stated.

Jem has been a recreation changer exterior the house, Nieves stated, and has turn out to be a part of his household. Nieves has one other canine, an brisk and attention-seeking French bulldog named Nemesis. She’s beautiful, he stated, however Jem offers one thing completely different.

“The love and affection, like I’ve skilled earlier than, nevertheless it’s completely different together with her and never in a greater method than the opposite canine in the best way that solely she will present,” he stated. “I’m eternally grateful … even for simply having any person lay on the sofa with me.”

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