Melissa & Clutch Successful “Selection" Process
When I asked Melissa about her thoughts on how quickly her and Clutch moved through the program, here’s what she said: "I listened to what the trainers told me. I didn’t go into selection with any preconceived notions, I just kept an open mind about making a connection with the dog. If you’ve ever seen a selection before, you would know that you can tell when there’s a connection between the dog and the person. It was obvious with Clutch and I from the very first time that we were introduced to each other that there was definitely something different there.”
Passing Basic Assessment
Here’s a photo of Melissa and Clutch upon passing their basic assessment which allows them to receive their first of two Paws and Stripes vests and grants them “public access”.
When I asked Melissa how this program has enhanced her day to day life, here’s what she said: "I think for most people, they don’t understand that emotional connection we have with our service dogs and what a big difference they make in our lives, just in a normal day. Even just going to a restaurant for someone who experiences a lot of anxiety; being in a place with a lot of people, and hyper-vigilant, always scanning your surroundings and knowing where your exits are - that’s a normal day for people with PTSD. If you go somewhere, you want to know where your exits are, you want to have your back towards the wall so you can’t be surprised and so nothing can happen without you being aware of it. Your dog can generally hear things before you can hear, detects movement from their peripheral vision that we would normally miss. So for me personally, it allows me to relax because I know number one: my dog always faces behind me so that he can see whatever is happening behind me that I can’t see. And he hears everything - I can tell if he moves or looks at me or puts his paw on my foot, that I need to pay attention - so rather than having to constantly be on guard, he tells me. It makes a lot of difference."
Melissa & Clutch Graduation
And here’s a photo of Melissa and Clutch graduating! When I asked Melissa what stood out about the Paws and Stripes program, here’s what she said: "I definitely feel that us training together and learning each other at our own pace and overcoming obstacles together was what really strengthened our bond. I honestly don’t know that a service dog trained by someone else would work for me. I think it builds a trust on both sides as we meet these milestones together and overcome challenges together and learn each other. If I were going to give advice to a new team coming into the program, I would just say, let your dog be your best friend. That’s really what it is.”
When asked about other life improvements, Melissa added, "I think one of the major improvements for me is that I feel more confident going places in public because I have my dog with me and because I know that when I am really not prepared to go somewhere or if I get super uncomfortable while I’m getting ready to go somewhere, my dog’s going to let me know - which I didn’t have before, I would kind of just deal with it and then whatever impact it had on me, you know, whether that’s tons of repetitive thinking or trouble sleeping because I just pushed through, I would just deal with it; and now those types of things are much less. I have a lot better quality of sleep, I don’t have as many repetitive thought patterns as I used to. The second major thing is that I know that if someone does get too close to me - because that was one of the major issues that I struggled with before, is people getting too close to me, in my space ,which would make me feel super anxious - so now, he buffers between me and other people. So if he notices me getting anxious, he generally moves on his own, but I can also tell him hey come stand over here, which most people tend to even widen that gap because my dog looks mean but he’s not *laugh*.” When I asked how Melissa has observed Clutch’s growth, she reflected: "One of my favorite things is that when he first came home, you could tell that he was very reserved. There’s only so much you can tell from a first visit with a shelter dog; but I could tell with Clutch that his past wasn’t the greatest. He had exhibited signs of being fearful in the beginning but just watching him open up and play with things and come out of his shell was so cute. Clutch is constantly helping me whether he is in vest or not because I have mobility issues, so he’ll help me get out of my chair even if he’s just around the house. But you can definitely tell that when I grab his vest he’s all business. He’s very excited to be doing something that is helping. It’s almost like he stands taller when I grab his vest." So you see, friends, you have truly paid it forward. Two precious lives were immensely enhanced if not legitimately saved with the help of your gifts: a surrendered dog who faced an almost certain tragic fate; and a veteran who has sacrificed so much for this country, yet didn’t feel comfortable leaving her home. Now, they move through the world standing taller and feeling at ease, together.