Non-profit provides free service animals to veterans, feature by Kajlea Richards

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Every year Dr. Ashlynn Reynolds-Dyk’s professional writing class works one on one with a charity foundation. This year Dr. Reynolds-Dyk has chosen an organization from Shepherd, Dog Tag Buddies, which helps veterans receive service animals at no charge.

DeeDe Baker started the organization when her “ husband returned from his 18-month deployment to Iraq,” and “he was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.” Although the VA psychiatrist strongly recommended that Baker’s husband seek primary treatment through medications, her husband was adamant that he did not need the medication.

Print_Copy_Issue_2-022This is when Baker began to notice how her husband was learning how to cope. “He discovered that just hanging with his dogs, whether it was with his little buddy in the garage, or laying on the floor surrounded by four legged love, it helped ease the tension, anxiety, anger, and some of the other emotions that are present with these conditions,” Baker said.

“Montana is ranked 3rd in the nation for veterans, per capita. The number of young veterans suffering with hidden injuries has continued to increase post-9/11,” said Baker. After realizing that the dogs brought her husband relief, she asked herself, “Wouldn’t it be great to find an organization that could help place adoptable shelter dogs with veterans and provide training to them as a team? Wouldn’t it be great to give both dogs and veterans a second chance to lead a fulfilling life?”

After searching for an organization in Montana that did just that, she realized that there were none. So, “In 2015, a VISTA Volunteer went to the local animal shelter seeking a project that was community, veteran, and animal-oriented.” that is when Baker’s idea took on a new life.

Dog Tag Buddies was created to establish a “comfortable, enjoyable environment” for the veterans and the dogs; and as Baker said, “The training does more than just give them a dog, it gets them out of the house, it gets them up and gives them something to do. It takes the veteran outside of what’s going on in their head so that they can enjoy the world that’s going on around them.”

Matt Smith, a Rocky Mountain College student and veteran spoke highly of the organization. “I think this organization is outstanding. When a service animal costs $40-80,000 for training alone and you have a lady who is doing this out of the kindness of her heart, that’s huge,” said Smith.

In fact, you may have seen Smith walking around campus with his own trusty sidekick, Ruby. Smith “got Ruby in 2012,” and explained to me the role she plays for him.

“She’s been on planes, trains, and automobiles with me. Just being with this dog every single day, she’s really plugged into my emotions,” said Smith. “People might think I’m crazy, but I can have full blown conversations with this dog and she knows what I’m saying. I struggle with many mental health issues, but with her when I start getting a certain way, she starts pawing at me and it resets those waves in my brain and calms me down. In fact, she [Ruby] provides many services for mental health; I also suffer from chronic pain. We can be walking around and she has saddle bags on her, she carries things and helps take off a load for me.”

Smith described his deep appreciation and love for Ruby by stating, “She’s incredibly smart and incredibly loyal. Its very difficult to be in a bad or sour mood when I’m with this dog. She constantly keeps my mood elevated.” Smith believes that, “If other vets had the access to service animals, that would be so beneficial. I think a dog can make all the difference in the world.”

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