ASSUMPTION¬†— Gary Shuck sat, shaking one of his legs as if he was feeling nervousness or anger.
Lieutenant Dan, a¬†13-month-old Australian shepherd, knew what to do. The dog, nicknamed LT, went up to Shuck and pulled at a pant leg with his mouth.
‚ÄúGood boy,‚ÄĚ Shuck told the dog.
Shuck, the founder of the nonprofit Soldiers and Dogs, which pairs veterans with service dogs, was demonstrating what the dog could do for a veteran.
The dog broke Shuck‚Äôs thoughts, said Jim Bugg, a Soldiers and Dogs board member.
‚ÄúHe‚Äôll take the veteran‚Äôs mind off of that. Like even if he‚Äôs thinking suicide,¬†(the dog)¬†understands emotions, and he‚Äôll go up to him and hit him or do something, and then the veteran, that goes out of their mind because they concentrate on something else,‚ÄĚ Bugg said.
Part of Soldiers and Dogs‚Äô mission is to educate the public on what the soldier or veteran deals with after battle and returning to civilian life. Since the nonprofit began doing presentations last October or November, board members have made some 20 appearances.
The goal of the presentations is to make people aware of veterans‚Äô issues and how a dog can help.
‚ÄúThese dogs will do something for you, if you are having an issue,‚ÄĚ Shuck said.
‚ÄúAnybody with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), they‚Äôre hard to find. They‚Äôre not standing on the street corner saying, ‚ÄėI‚Äôve got PTSD. Help me.‚Äô They‚Äôre very reclusive. It takes family.
‚ÄúThat‚Äôs why we‚Äôre talking at the meetings. It takes family to help get the veteran to go seek help, so we‚Äôre trying to educate, and the family needs help sometimes, too. They need some relief.‚ÄĚ
Soldiers and Dogs‚Äô goal is to prevent suicide among veterans of all eras who may suffer from combat fatigue, depression, isolation and other issues. The nonprofit pairs soldiers with dogs and trains them together.
Gary Shuck‚Äôs wife, Rosie Shuck, said that an impetus for the organization of Soldiers and Dogs occurred after Gary read that each day 22 veterans commit suicide.
‚ÄúI‚Äôm an old Vietnam Era person. ‚Ä¶ I‚Äôve probably researched this for five years. We just see the military doesn‚Äôt get the respect that they should, I think, and they have issues when they come home when there‚Äôs a war,‚ÄĚ said Gary Shuck, 72, who served in the Army from 1966 to 1967 during the Vietnam War. He was assigned to a helicopter assault company.
‚ÄúI see the effects and have read about it. … We‚Äôve been to probably 20 presentations over the central area, and when you walk the dogs in, you watch the smiles, and they‚Äôre not smiling at me. You‚Äôll see the difference in people.‚ÄĚ
Bugg, 79, said he heard Gary Shuck talk about how the death of 22 veterans a day through suicide was unacceptable.
‚ÄúHe understands it. He‚Äôs been in combat, so he knows what they‚Äôre going through. It comes from his heart because he feels empathy with all these veterans that are having the struggles,‚ÄĚ said Bugg, who served in the Air Defense Artillery from 1961 to 1963, mostly with the Chicago-Gary Defense Area.
‚ÄúWhen I got out, they were just starting to send advisors over to Vietnam in ‚Äô63. That was just the beginning, but Gary got dumped right in the middle of it.‚ÄĚ
Gary Shuck said that his initial goal was to support national organizations that pair veterans with service dogs.
‚ÄúThen Jim came up with the bright idea of ‚ÄėWhy don‚Äôt we get our own dogs?‚Äô and somebody said, ‚ÄėWhy don‚Äôt we train them?‚Äô I‚Äôm learning, and it‚Äôs new in that part,‚ÄĚ Gary Shuck said.
Soldiers and Dogs uses rescued and donated dogs to be trained as service dogs. Service dogs are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act National Network. Service dogs take from eight months to a year to train.
Mike Reynolds, owner and director of Pro-Canine Professional Dog Training in Decatur, has been training dogs for Soldiers and Dogs.
‚ÄúOur thoughts are train the dog 8 months to a year ‚Ä¶ but when we get to that point, we‚Äôll say (to a veteran), ‚ÄėIf you‚Äôre ready and you want a dog, we‚Äôll bring you together and train you once a week together and let you get used to each other,‚Äô ‚ÄĚ Gary Shuck said.
Paired veterans and dogs complete training customized to the veterans‚Äô needs. At least two dogs currently are working with veterans.
The 2-year-old Labrador named Colonel Roscoe, also known as Tank, went out to a veteran but returned because the veteran wasn‚Äôt quite ready. The veteran doesn‚Äôt like somebody behind his back because it makes him nervous, so Tank is being trained to sit there to make him more comfortable.
‚ÄúSome things you‚Äôve just got to see what the veteran‚Äôs issues are,‚ÄĚ Gary Shuck said.
‚ÄúWe are learning, so there‚Äôs no real ‚ÄėA, B, C, D, and here‚Äôs a veteran and do this.‚Äô ‚Ä¶ The dogs and veterans still have to be compatible. We need to do the basics — sit down, going to the public, be quiet, invisible — and then see what the veteran‚Äôs issues are and go from there. Then put the two together and train the dog a little more –‚Äėfinish‚Äô the dog I would say.‚ÄĚ
Recently, Gary Shuck demonstrated for visitors to his home how LT can be quiet and obedient while sitting.
‚ÄúHe can do that for two hours, if I take him to a meeting, or something. He knows he‚Äôs supposed to be quiet,‚ÄĚ said Gary Shuck, who trained LT.
‚ÄúThis is what they‚Äôre supposed to do when I go out in public, and that‚Äôs a good percent of training is just be quiet, watch me, and that‚Äôs what they do.‚ÄĚ
Gary Shuck said Soldiers and Dogs isn‚Äôt competing with any organizations.
‚ÄúBut if it works here, we just thought other counties would maybe see what we‚Äôre doing and start their own,‚ÄĚ Gary Shuck said.
Jim Bugg said Soldiers and Dogs is a great program.
‚ÄúIt just takes awhile. You‚Äôve got to train the person that‚Äôs got the dog and the dog, and it takes awhile. You can‚Äôt do it overnight,‚ÄĚ Bugg said.
¬†Contact Tamara Browning: email@example.com, 788-1534, twitter.com/tambrowningSJR.
Want to help?
Soldiers and Dogs welcomes volunteers and help with fundraising, promotion, supplies (dog food, vests, crates, leashes, health care for dog), financial support and advertising.
Send donations to 375 Secretariat Place, Mount Zion, IL 62549.
Make checks payable to Shelbyville Area Community Foundation (put ‚ÄúSoldiers and Dogs‚ÄĚ on the memo line).