By CRISTINA JANNEY
Kathylea Wolf did something this week she doesnât do very often â she smiled.
As she praised her new service dog, Jade, she ran her hand along Jadeâs silky white coat and a toothy grin spread over her face.
This week has been a week of big steps for Kathylea.
She has PTSD and severe anxiety disorder and has spent years confined to her small Hays apartment except to go to doctorâs appointments and brief trips to the grocery store.Â Wolf is the survivor of childhood physical and sexual abuse and also escaped from a violent relationship with her ex-husband.
Even those trips to the store and doctor can be excruciating. She looks around corners and carefully plots her way through aisles to have theÂ least human contact possible. She has memorized stores so she can spend the least amount of time in them. If she hears a couple fighting,Â she freezes and goes numb. She starts saying she is sorry repeatedly even though she is not involved in the fight. She becomes terrified if she hears a child screaming.
She has been dreaming for years of receiving a service dog to help her break the cycle of fear and panic that keeps her housebound.
This week she took the first big step to escaping her prison of fear. Kathylea left the safety of her home to travel to the nonprofit CARES in Concordia to train with a greyhound â Jade.
The first two days of her training were difficult. She was not used to being away from her apartment where she feels safe.
âI have had a hard time being away from home in the hotel and around people,â she said, âbut Jade is making me feel more comfortable and safer.â
She said she could feel her confidence growing with Jade by her side.
âI went to McDonaldâs with Jade the other night to get something to eat,â Kathylea said. âI stayed for 10 minutes by myself and was able to eat. Normally, I wouldnât be able to stay. Itâs little successes.â
Kathylea has struggled with sleep for years. She wakes up in the middle of the night with night terrors and has been known to injure herself in her sleep. It is her hope that Jade will eventually be able to wake her from her night terrors.
âI woke up with a night terror last night, but Jade was there, and I was able to get right back to sleep,â she said.
On the third day of training, Kathylea, who suffers from vertigo, got dizzy and fell. She then started to have a panic attack. As CARES staff came to her aid, Jade went into action. She came right to Kathyleaâs side. Panic attacks can be very disorienting, and Jade is trained to go into protection mode and alert Kathylea to any dangers if she has an attack.
The dogs CARES train for PTSD sufferers also can help provide stability and security in effort to prevent anxiety attacks. When a dog senses its owner is feeling anxiety, the dogÂ make a move called âGoing to 6.â
Sarah Holbert, CARES CEO, gave the example of a person standing in line at a grocery store. The dog would move to the personâs rear to be a physical barrier between the owner and other people.
CARES has worked with many veterans who have had PTSD in its 25 years. For someone who has PTSD, the dog provides something more than comfort. For many PTSD sufferers like Kathylea, a dog is difference between being incapacitated and being able to go out in the world and function normally. She said the dogs are not aggressive. It is passive protection.
Kathylea is very easily startled by load noises. During a break in her class, a young child shrieked in the back of the room. Kathylea said, âJade, hug.â The dog nestled into her chest. Kathylea was visibly shaken, but she didnât have a panic attack and was able to continue with her conversation.
The week-long CARES training is intense.
âThey have to learn everything about their dogs,â Holbert said, âbecause they have never met their dogs before. It is coming to Kansas, and it is like Christmas in October.â
The new owners learn to groom the dogs, how their dogs are trained, basic obedience, manners in public and home, and the specific skills the dogs have been trained for their new owner.
Kathyleaâs dog was trained to help her with her PTSD, but other service dogs in her class were trained to alert for high or low blood sugar for children who had diabetes, help people with physical disabilities and aid people with developmental disabilities. Dogs can also be trained to alert to seizures.
Holbert said the dogs not only can help people be more independent, but they can save lives. She gave the example of a diabetic alert dog in action.
âYou just heard that dad talking about the dog alerting and the medical device had not gone off yet,â Holbert said. âThe dog was alerting before the medical device was working, and we hear that all of the time. It is very definitely life-saving for so many people.â
âCarrie, who helped me do the demonstration of the âgo toâ and âgo findâ is a Canadian veteran. She will tell you her dog saved her life, just from the standpoint of being able to go out into public and to go back to work and to live the life she wants to live.â
Holbert explained that there are three types of trained helping dogs â guide dogs for people who are visually impaired, signal dogs for the hearing impaired and service dogs for all other disabilities.
The dogs go through a rigorous selection and training progress. They use a variety of breeds. CARES breeds its own Labrador and golden retrievers, but breeders donate other dogs, such as Newfoundlands, poodles and a German shepherds.
Not all dogs have suitable temperaments to be service dogs. Once the dogs are selected, they train 24/7 with inmates in several prison across the country, including Ellsworth Correctional Facility and the federal prison at Leavenworth. Finally, the dogs come back to CARES to train specifically for the skills they will need to help their new owners.
In addition to lectures and demonstrations by instructors, the new owners did hands-on practice with their dogs. They practiced retrieval commands as well as commands such as âLeave it.â The dogs walked with their owners in a circle and the dogs had to ignore food that had been left on the floor.
The dogs and their owners also traveled to Salina Central Mall for a public access test. The dogs have to show they have a superior level of behavior in public, and the owners can control the dogs in public.
Holbert said service dogs are different from emotional support animals in that they have been trained and certified. Emotional support animals, although are required by law to be allowed in certain federal housing programs, are not trained.
Holbert stressed other rules the public needs to know about service dogs, including how to approach a person with a service dog in public. You should not pet a service dog. That dog is working, and petting the animal could distract it from its work, Holbert said.
âThe first thing is to recognize the person,â she said. âIf they are in a position where you are not interfering with the work, you can recognize the dog and what a nice dog it is. Never pet the dog without asking. Never interfere with the work of the dog without asking because if the dog is going to alert to diabetes, a seizure or a panic attack, that dog needs to do its job.â
For some children who have autism or people with PTSD, interacting with people in a positive way through their dogs can be a benefit, Holbert said. However, people need to be respectful when they do it, she said.
Kathylea said she wants to continue taking steps forward.
âI want to take a walk around the park behind my house,â she said. âI want to go to a restaurant by myself without having to count the cars in the parking lot. I want to be able to go somewhere without just shaking.â
Because of her severe anxiety, Kathylea has to be on medication. She said she would like to reach a point where she could reduce or stop some of that medication.
âI would like to be able to go somewhere without taking (my medication) and waiting an hour before I go out,â she said.
Kathylea knows she has a long way to go, but as she gently smoothed back Jadeâs ears and rested her palm on her head, again she smiled.
Kathylea, who is on a fixed income, raised money through a GoFundMe account to pay for her meals and hotel during her training.
CARES maintains a foundation that helps defray the cost of training the dogs. The national average cost for a service dog is $18,000. Holbert said donations are always welcome to support the program. They can be sent to CARES, P.O. Box 314, Concordia, KS 66901. Learn more information about CARES through its website, callÂ 800-498-1077 or emailÂ firstname.lastname@example.org.