THE FIRST RESPONSE IN THE LAST LINE OF DEFENSE
Once I became medically retired, as a 100 percent disabled veteran,I started the process of looking for a Service/Mobility Dog. I searched the entire country of certified organizations. What I found were many road blocks in the application process where only post 9/11 Veterans, or only men, or PTSD that was combat related (mine is MST), and geographic limits meaning you had to be 50-100 miles within the facility, or worse a 3 year wait time.. I grew very frustrated with process and was worried I wouldn’t find a Service Dog.
One day I found out there were more Service Dog organizations in Florida, so I started looking more indepthly there and that was when I came across Paw and Warriors. I was intrigued by their mission of wanting to work with all Veterans, disabled or not, PTSD, MST, Mobility issues, and First Responders, and there was no specific geographical restraints, or restrictions based on when or where I served. I immediately reached out to LaVonne Bowers, it was October 2018, via email, she sent me an application, which I completed, and then soon after which turned into us having a conversation on the phone, where she took the time to really listen to what I needed both emotional support and mobility. She was 100% upfront which I appreciated and very passionate about her mission and told me she would help me find the right dog. I was elated and finally felt like I had someone in my corner. That was how it all began.
They helped identify and pinpoint the tasks that I needed my dog to be trained for and took the time to match me with the right dog who could support my unique mobility needs. I felt a camaraderie develop with every person I met within the organization, and most important, I felt a deep trust develop, which as a woman with trust issues from my PTSD MST was the biggest blessing. As my medical diagnosis changed and my needs became larger it was never a problem, we just added it to the list of things I needed my Service Dog to do and we jointly tackled these things as a team.
In September of 2019, I had been given the opportunity to fly down to Florida to meet the whole team in person, and potentially my new Service Dog. A couple of weeks before I was to leave on the trip to Sarasota our septic system blew and we were drained of money and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to make the trip. I explained what happened to LaVonne and she immediately started helping me to find the money through other nonprofits that assist Veterans in times of need. I was very impressed with how well Paws and Warriors was/is networked with other Veteran non profit organizations and how quickly and they were able to help me. Because of their help I was able to make the trip.
I was originally teamed up with a different dog named Jax, but unfortunately he wasn’t tall enough for the mobility component for me as I am 5’ 10”. We tried to make it work with Jax but it wasn’t the right fit. I was upset but they told me not give up, I was worried but then was reassured not to worry, there was a back up plan. The next day I met Vago, a beautiful male Great Dane and Mastiff breed, brindle in color, with deep soulful brown eyes, and a literal heart on his chest; it was an instant connection. I felt secure with him, I could stand up straight, he was perfect, and I knew he was it. That matching process was so very important and what I admire so much about how Paws and Warriors works. Later that night I was able to bring him back to the hotel with me and I felt myself collapsing and he immediately caught me. We knew each other for less than a few hours and he instinctively caught me. That was the moment I fell in love with him.
How has my life been impacted? I received Vago in the last week of November 2019, when his trainer Trisha came to my home to go over all his commands and gently transition him to me. This dedication from her, to teach me one on one, and to help my family adjust, made all the difference. I felt my confidence begin to develop with him and we began to bond. He came already trained with skills in counter balance and fall prevention, if I did collapse he knew how to help me stand back up, he helps me with stairs, navigate elevation changes, he wakes me up from nightmares, he alerts me to when I am over exerting myself and paws at me to sit down, he is able to help me with groccery shopping, with or without using a mobility cart, he can go get someone to help me if I need help, he is able to press the handicap button for me to open doors, he always has my six and blocks or alerts me to people that are too close, he attends all my medical appointments with me without any problems and I always get compliments that he is such an amazing Service Dog from all of my doctors.
I’ve now had him for almost 7 months, and during this time I have kept journals to keep track of what training things were working well, and things I needed to work on. What I admired the most on the training end, was whenever I had a training question or needed support to get through a task I was trying to improve on or a new task I was working on introducing, I had access to one of the trainers, Trisha or Rebecca, were always available in a one-on-one video chat or phone call, helping me to problem solve. I simply never felt alone in this process.
Overall, Paws and Warriors gave me a very large part of my life back with matching me with Vago. He provides me with a feeling of safety that I was missing, both emotionally and physically. I feel with him that I am able to face my medical issues knowing I have him right there with me, backing me up, telling me it's going to be ok, to keep going, we are a great team. I trust him and love him so very much. He is my rock.
I am ever grateful to Paws and Warriors, they stayed the course with me through every twist, turn, question, fear, success, and I never felt like I was just another number, I felt held from the moment I spoke with LaVonne that first time, and that feeling never disappeared. I have the utmost respect for Paws and Warriors and would highly recommend them, on every level. You won’t meet a better team!!!
I give Paws and Warriors permission to use my photos in their promotional materials, online, print, or video.
My name is Jerome DeFrank and I served in the US Army from 2003-2013. I was injured in 2008 and though everything found myself in a very dark place but it took till 2016 before I started to really get assistance with my depression and PTSD. In 2017 I had my dog Chief donated to me and he quickly started to fill a role in my life that I didn’t realize I was missing. Chief has been with me non stop since I got him and has been there to save me from my own inner demons. In 2019, I met members of Paws and Warriors and quickly realized that Chief needed a little retraining and after discussing with them the needs we did a one day refresher course and got Chief back on par with me. I can’t thank Paws and Warriors enough for welcoming me to their community and helping me when I had all but given up. I will forever be grateful for their service.
Also- please give a photo cred- PAWs trainer Trisha Antonelli with PAWs SDIT, Sage, after recertifying Jerome and Chief.
I, Jerome DeFrank authorize Krystal Heller and Paws and Warriors to use above testimonial on their web page and social media as needed and desired.
Herkimer has changed my life in every way from finally being able to sleep to having someone there to remind me I'm ok when I forget. I have ptsd and unfortunately flashback night terrors as well and social anxiety to name a few. Not only has Herk made me face my fears about leaving the house we go for walked and Herk even enjoys going into stores so proud of him self. In the few short months Herk has been in my life I've learned more about myself and my ability to persevere knowing that when I stumble I've got my guardian angel right by my side.
Since receiving Willow last year my world has changed dramatically for the better. Will put in point form for ease of reading
1. She has given me the confidence to venture out on errands on my own for longer periods especially during the busy times of pay days in the stores throughout the valley.
2. She has keep my attention during the shows that I do to help raise money for other injured / ill veteran and first responder organizations.
3. Willow has become a partner that I can count on when the rough days invade beyond my control
4. I do not constantly look around for an escape routes upon entering crowded places.
5. I am more confident in stopping and talking with people, Willow lets me know when someone is coming up behind me. I do not feel lonely when my wife is away, she comes up to check up on me during the day or evening.
6. Willow has become a welcomed fishing partner, she enjoys the day trips as well, she does not talk back but has to check out the catches
Thank you to Paws and Warriors, Paws for Veterans, and Wounded Warriors Weekend Foundation.
Cpl (retrd), CD
This girl has saved my life!! I am so great full to everyone involved that made this happen for me.
Sloane is my sidekick, she is always there when I need her and usually not far from my side.
I am so great full to have her in my life and the changes she has made for me. When I do go out she keeps me grounded, and helps so much with my anxiety and panic attacks.
Thank you so much for giving me life again, more freedom and help start my healing .
My little girl Lily is a 5lb Chihuahua, but has the heart and strength of a bull dog,i watch her lead the bull dogs and most people,and when im in public and my voices start,her little paw touching me and her cheek presses against my lips(thats her telling me you got this) if she can do this for me i definitely can power through those voices so i can look after her,so no matter how small you feel, u can power through no matter how big or small the power you give.
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