KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT)– Cindy Kangas is training her 10-month-old Akita at her Knoxville home. But, Shinkeiko is more than a pet, he’s a protector for Cindy, who once felt insecure.
“I have more confidence than I did before,” Cindy said. She found herself in a violent relationship years ago, accompanied by more than 15 years of PTSD.
“I just felt uncomfortable around strange men I didn’t know,” she said, “If there was a lot of yelling, screaming, loud noises, it brought me back to bad things.”
It’s why Skinkeiko, which means ‘true blessing’, is more than a puppy; he’s a service dog in training. It’s the medicine Cindy can’t get over the counter.
“Seeing him jumping on me when I’m home and hugging me and going all happy. That right there is better than popping a pill.”
She’s not in it alone. Cindy trains with experts from Knoxville’s ‘Paws & Badges’. The year-old non-profit works with PTSD victims, including everyone from domestic abuse to first responders.
“I didn’t realize I had walled myself off so completely from family and friends. I spent 9 years in a recliner,” Jeff Hinchey, a former Knox County Sheriff’s deputy, said. Trina Hinchey, Jeff’s wife, added, “I was scared to go home every night. I didn’t know if he’d even be alive. I don’t have that worry anymore because the dog keeps him busy.”
Paws & Badges was founded by a former sheriff’s deputy, Mike Bartelson. PTSD has personal meaning to the man, who struggled with anxiety after a shooting.
“It causes you to shut down. These dogs cause you to get up,” he said.
The organization has already graduated six dogs and their handlers. 16 are currently in the program. Bartelson said the have an application process and check with doctors before moving ahead with training.