Jody McCarty and his dog, Dallas, have a very special bond. “I think in a lot of ways, he saved me. He definitely saved my marriage,” Jody said about his Chocolate Lab, Dallas. But this story is about much more than a man and his dog.
McCarty served two long tours in Fallujah, Iraq, with the United States Marine Corps during some of the most intense combat of the war on terror. Suffice it to say that like many soldiers, Jody came back a broken man, suffering from both PTSD (post- traumatic stress disorder) and TBI (traumatic brain injury).
Before Dallas, McCarty says effects from PTSD were putting a strain on his marriage; he had anger issues, became reclusive and rarely left his house. “As soon as I went inside Wal-Mart or places like that, I panicked. I just couldn’t be in there.” He also wouldn’t go to his daughter’s school events, and never saw her cheer at ballgames.
But everything began to change when Tri-State Honor Dogs partnered Jody with Dallas, which has allowed Jody to ease his way back into social settings again. Last year, Jody hit some major milestones: he was able to take his family to Disney and he watched his daughter cheer for the first time. According to McCarty, “That’s exactly the purpose of Tri-State Honor Dogs – to get veterans and first responders back into society. Dallas has really straightened me out.”
With Dallas by his side, his home life is better. His marriage is strong again. And he’s a more connected father to his daughter.
The Difference a Dog Can Make
A trained dog can sense depression and anxiety in its partner. Some dogs can even sense oncoming seizures and strokes. Jody says Dallas reminds him if he misses his medicine. “All he has to do is give me a little nudge. He knows. He’s woken me up from a nightmare before when I was having flashbacks, too,” Jody said.
In public situations, the dogs are trained in a technique called “blocking,” where they position their bodies as a buffer between their partners and others who may be too close for comfort. Like in a checkout line at a grocery store, for example.
But mostly, trained dogs give constant emotional support. “He can sense my irritation,” Jody said. “He gives me a nudge when he knows I need to calm down. It’s just enough to break my attention and remind me to start some relaxation techniques. That’s how we work together.”
Those are examples of ways a dog can help bring their partners back out into society again, ultimately giving them a sense of autonomy and a purpose in life.
Dallas definitely helped Jody find a renewed sense of purpose through the Tri-State Honor Dogs organization. Jody was initially referred to Honor Dogs by Veterans Affairs. Since being partnered with Dallas, McCarty has become a huge supporter and advocate for Tri-State Honor Dogs. He now sits on the board.
The dogs in the Tri-State Honor Dogs program come from rescue shelters or Humane Societies, and are then trained. (They are not trained from pups like seeing eye dogs.)
A “coupler” finds three or four dogs that are capable of being a match. Then the veteran or first responder meets the dogs to see if their personalities are a match.
In Jody’s case, he met three dogs and immediately picked Dallas. “We clicked right off the bat,” he explained.
When a match is made, Honor Dogs pays for any veterinarian and adoption fees. The partners spend a few days at home together to bond and acclimate to each other. Then the training begins.
The training for Emotional Support training is a nine-week program. The training for accredited service dogs is a seven-month program.
The first nine-week session for service dog training covers basic AKC (American Kennel Club) testing, followed by a one-week break until the second level begins. During that time, the dog wears a “dog in training” vest, learns to obey commands with distractions and begins field testing.
Level three is the public access test, where the dog must obey commands in public places like restaurants, food courts, stores, etc. Upon completion, the dog graduates, and gets the vest designating it as a service dog.
The dog and veteran or first responder train together as a team. “It’s a lot of hard work. We ask for dedication. Altogether, it’s 120 hours of team training” McCarty explained.
Those classes are held on Wednesday nights at the McCutchanville Fire Department by AKC certified trainers.
If you know a veteran or first responder who may benefit from a partnership with a trained service or emotional support dog, contact Tri-State Honor Dogs at [email protected] or visit tristatehonordogs.org. Phone number is 812-319-5333.
About Tri-State Honor Dogs
- Mission: Providing Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals for Veterans and First Responders
- Based in Evansville, but three out of seven veterans/first responders placed with dogs are from Owensboro.
- Established in June 2015.