Lois Schenk is thankful to have a new friend to celebrate the new year with.
But her new acquaintance isn’t just any old pal, it’s her new service dog, Kento, who’s been trained to help her with day-to-day tasks and assist her in dealing with her Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Schenk, a local Navy veteran originally from Angola, has spent the last few days going through intensive training on how to handle and work with her new canine assistant.
She said she heard about the service dog program from a colleague where she works at Indiana Tech as a veterans’ representative. She said this was the first time she’s asked for help with her PTSD troubles since exiting the Navy.
“I’ve never asked for help before, but now, I figured a service animal would help me.”
Helping Schenk become comfortable with her new helper pup were two officials with local service dog agencies, Beth Johnson and Dawn Whalen.
Johnson is an advanced trainer with Ultimate Canine, a dog advocacy group located in Westfield, Indiana. And Whalen works with Whalen’s Heroes, a service dog agency in Indianapolis.
On a recent December morning, Johnson and Whalen visited Schenk’s home on the east side of Fort Wayne to continue Kento’s training.
One of the first things Schenk had to learn was the commands necessary to control Kento and make sure he does what she needs.
That includes, of course, the usual dog commands such as sit, stay, come, and heel. But for service pups like Kento, it also includes orders such as snuggle (which can clam Schenk if she’s feeling anxious); or shield (which tells the dog to stand between her and a stranger who may be getting too close); or circle (which tells Kento to huddle around her legs as a means of protection).
Schenk said she and Kento already have begun bonding. A few days ago, when Schenk was talking about some past troubles she had, she began to tear up slightly. Kento – sensing something was wrong – walked over and laid his paw on her lap for support.
She noted, as well, that Kento slept with her in her bed for the night just a few days after coming to stay with her. Having him with her at night is important, Schenk said, because she often suffers from night terrors, and needs a reliable way to stay calm.
On one of the pair’s first public outings, they went to the grocery store, a couple of local malls, and then to Red Robin restaurant to eat.
“They were very accommodating there,” Schenk said, “In fact, our waiter told us, ‘Anybody messes with your dog, they mess with me!’ “
Schenk said bringing Kento with her in public is very much like having a child – with a crucial difference.
“How I look a it, it’s just like bringing a kid with me, but they’re better behaved,” Schenk said with a chuckle.
Schenk, 40, was born in Angola and went to school in Steuben County. She joined the U.S. Navy right out of high school.
While in the Navy, Schenk worked as a boatswain’s mate. During her years in the service, she was sent on five deployments, including to Japan for three years, and for 12 years at the Naval stations in Norfolk and Virginia Beach, Virginia.
For many, the service dog trade has become a passion. Whalen is no different. Whalen said she began her journey with service dogs a few years ago while attending training for another skill.
“I went to training for a real-estate career, and during the training, there were a couple of vets there who spoke about the hardships and troubles they faced every day. And they basically talked about how these dogs saved their lives.
“So, I left there wondering what I could do, and I chose service dogs, because not only does it help the vet, but it helps their whole family, as well.”
Kento, who has beautiful, shiny golden fur, is a two-year-old Golden Retriever who was actually born at a facility in South America. He began his training to be a service dog when he was not much older than a puppy.
Shenck noted that service dogs like Kento are not just a way to help veterans in their day-to-day lives, but to reward them for the sacrifices they’ve made for our country.
“It’s very welcoming and this is one of those things, where people are always saying, ‘You helped us, how can we help you?’ Well, this is exactly the kind of way people can help veterans.”