On April 12 in Alumni Lounge, Daemen College Student Veteran Association hosted Christopher Kreiger of WNY Heroes Inc. to bring awareness of what a service dogs is and what to do if you see one on campus.
The event started with members of the Anime Club, Jordan Quinones (President), Louis Kerrigan (Vice President) and Catherine Bachraty (Secretary), presenting a donation of $400 to WNY Heroes.
“Every year we hold a Fubuki Con, Daemen’s Anime Convention, a mini comic con to raise money for something. This year we had about 125 attendees. We remember when the veterans lounge was vandalized and wanted to show support of our veterans. So we chose to donate to WNY Heroes. In the past we have donated to Wounded Warriors,” said Quinones.
Kreiger then told his story about the struggles he had returning home from wartime and how WNY Heroes was formed.
Kreiger joined the U.S. Army in 1997 with primary military occupation specialty as a combat medic, and secondary as Military Police. During his service in Iraq, he was hit multiple times by roadside bombs, one of which left him seriously injured. The extensive injuries he sustained required surgeries on his right leg and lower back. He also dislocated a hip and lost significant hearing in both ears, now leaving him to wear hearing aids. Further complicating his short-and long-term recovery, he experienced a traumatic brain injury (TBI) to the left side of his brain.
Kreiger returned home in 2004 and was released from the military in 2007. His returned home came with continued setbacks. It took two years to receive 100 percent disability pay. In the meantime, he and his family experienced the additional heartbreak of losing their home as a result of financial and physical difficulties from his wartime injuries.
In 2007, WNY Heroes was founded on the basis to leave no service members behind, striving to find the best services available in the WNY Community for Veterans and Service members.
“What makes WNY Heroes unique to other veteran organizations is that all funds raised stay in Western New York,” said Kreiger.
Pawsitive for Heroes is WNY Heroes service dog program that began in 2014. Any WNY veteran can request to have his/her dog trained as a service dog through this program. Each request is decided on a case-by-case basis. Pawsitive for Heroes is funded completely with donations and fundraising, with no government funding.
Once accepted into the program, veterans are given the opportunity to choose their own dog, should they not already own a dog.
“Any dog can become a service dog, no matter size, age or breed. We don’t discriminate,” chuckled Kreiger.
“My dog actually choose me. He came up to my kids and friended them. I knew at that moment he was the one,” said Kreiger.
A service dog is meant for a single individual’s need and is defined as a type of assistance dog specifically trained to help people who have disabilities, and is allowed everywhere. These are different than therapy dogs, which enriches therapy for a short time and are not allowed everywhere, and a companion dog which you need medical documentation to allow to go anywhere.
“Service dogs have more rights than you and me. They are protected by Department of Justice under Federal Law, which allows them the right to go anywhere unleashed because being leashed hinders them from doing their job,” said Kreiger.
Service dogs can be distinguished by the vest they are wearing. This vest is usually made from a uniform once worn by its owner. When the vest is on the dog is trained to know that it is working.
“We ask if you see a service dog, don’t touch the dog, don’t talk to the dog. The dog is working. The dogs don’t need distractions. When you are working, do you want unwanted distractions,” asked Kreiger.
Cadence is a purebred German Sheppard service dog who has graduated obedience and K9 good citizen training through the Pawsitive for Heroes program. Her owner is Jessica Nhaeja-McFarland, a Daemen College social work major and US Army Veteran.
“She is not a pet,” expressed Nhaeja-McFarland.
Cadence can be seen often in the Veteran’s lounge and in classes at Nhaeja-McFarland’s side during the week. Students, faculty and staff need to be aware that she is working.
“At first student were acting negatively due to lack of knowledge of what a service dog was. I actually had a student ask if I could have her bite another student. She is not allowed to show aggression at all and is trained not to. During training I tugged her ears, paws and tail. I even put my hand over her food while she was eating and said enough,” said Nhaeja-McFarland.
The training a service dog goes through builds the comfort, trust and bond between veteran and dog.
“She knows me better than anyone because we spend so much time together. My quality of life has gotten much better since getting Cadence. I am now able to sleep, which I couldn’t before,” said Nhaeja-McFarland.
“Service dogs have saved marriages, service dogs have saved lives, service dogs have improved disabled veterans’ quality of living” said Kreiger.