Paws for a moment


SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — They are committed to helping veterans and first responders.

We’re talking about Big Paws Canine. It’s a national foundation that provides service and therapy dogs for disabled vets and first responders who have been injured in the line of duty.

As a retired military veteran, Ken Laughlin was used to taking orders.

Now he’s the one giving orders to his trained service dog, Macy.

“I’ve had Macy now for a little over six years now,” Laughlin said.

Over that time, the two have created an inseparable bond.

“She’s used mostly as a brace and support dog, basically what that is, if I start to fall that’s what the harness is for, if I start to fall I can grab that, it’ll help me from taking a tumble,” Laughlin said.

Macy was trained and certified as a service dog here at Big Paws Canine in Sioux Falls.

“She gives me that opportunity to be able to get out into the world a little bit more than I used to be, she goes just about everywhere I go,” Laughlin said.

The non-profit has trained over 300 dogs on three different levels.

“First off they learn obedience, second of all public access; meaning how to behave in public with a dog and also tasks, because the definition of a service dog is a dog individually trained to do work or perform a task to assist a person with a disability in their daily life,” director of operations of Midwest Operations of Big Paws CanineGail Dickerson said.

Veteran John Oskar’s service dog is Athena, a four-year-old Bernese Mountain Dog.

“Athena is the name of a Greek Goddess, we couldn’t find any Swiss Goddess’ with a decent name, so we went ahead and chose Athena,” Oskar said.

Like Macy, Athena helps Oskar with his balance.

“Very easy to train, I’m very proud of her,” Oskar said. “She goes with me everywhere, she’s my constant companion and I love her.”

I mean really, look at that face, what’s not to love?

Oskar says, Athena always has his back.

“If I’m standing at a counter, she will lay by my side behind me and if someone is approaching me she’ll stand up to let me know that there’s someone there,” Oskar said.

It takes about two years to certify a dog, but in reality the training never stops.

Because practice makes perfect.

“If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it, that was part of the problem we had when everything shut down with covid, she basically didn’t go anywhere, she stayed in the house and so when they started opening things back up I started taking her back out. I was like, well I got to do some training with her, because she lost a lot of what she had originally done,” Laughlin said.

Big Paws Canine, which has been in Sioux Falls for nine years, is one of only two chapters in the country; the other is in South Carolina.

It’s easy to see why disabled veterans and first responders would come here, but for Dickerson,

“Don’t make me cry, you’re such a bad man,”

…..the rewards for her are priceless.

“First of all, we do our best to work with rescues as much as possible, so seeing these dogs fulfill a purpose in life instead of languishing in a shelter, coming to goodness knows to what end, there’s huge value in that,”

There’s also immeasurable value in seeing veterans, like Laughlin and Oskar, regain some of their freedoms.

“When you see veterans and first responders who are coping with things like PTSD and traumatic brain injury, the thousand-yard stare the person who walks through the door is not the person who leaves through the door after they’ve worked with a dog, so knowing I have a tiny little part in opening their eyes to regain their own power, to get their life back to get out and do what they felt they weren’t able to do up until this point, how do you explain that,” Dickerson said.

You don’t have to, because if you pause for just a moment, this says it all.

To learn more about Big Paws Canine, its mission, and how to donate, click here.

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