Caleb Homer of Mulberry is a Navy veteran who gets help from Chloe, a 10-year-old Australian Cattle Dog. Chloe is trained to detect changes in Homer’s blood chemistry, aid in mobility, and apply deep pressure therapy when needed.
With her training, Chloe has helped Homer, who is diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and a traumatic brain injury.
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Homer, 38, got into trouble when he and Chloe went out to restaurants. The police called him in because business owners didn’t want a dog in their establishments. However, service dogs are permitted in such locations under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“If I have difficulties and problems being able to enjoy a drink at the bar, or go out to eat at a restaurant or even go shopping, then other veterans and other people who have service dogs must have these same problems as well,” he said. Homer. “So, I looked at what I can do to make a difference for disabled veterans who have service dogs.”
Homer says there are great organizations that train dogs and match them up with veterans, but he noticed a missing piece to the puzzle.
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“I didn’t want to step on my toes and reinvent the wheel, so I looked at where the gap exists,” Homer said. “The gap exists in the supply of essential care items.”
So, in 2018, Homer founded the nonprofit organization Service Dog Interactions, Inc.
“Our primary focus is supporting disabled veterans and service dog owners by providing essential care items at no cost,” Homer said.
Service Dog Interactions receives funds through donations to help meet needs like dog food, vaccinations, and to cover veterinary bills.
Karalyn Martin, 32, is a disabled Marine Corps veteran who resides in Fort Worth, Texas. She received financial assistance from Service Dog Interactions, Inc. to help cover chemotherapy treatments for her English Chocolate Labrador Retriever, CoCo.
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CoCo was trained by Next Step Service Dogs in California to help Martin. She has been diagnosed with PTSD, anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression, fibromyalgia, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, and thoracic outlet syndrome.
When it came time for CoCo to receive treatment, Martin was having trouble getting Veterans Affairs to cover the cost.
Next Step Service Dogs suggested that Martin contact Homer’s organization for help, and funds were raised in May to help pay for CoCo’s cancer treatment, which cost nearly $5,000.
“I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to spend my remaining time with my service dog if it wasn’t for Service Dog Interactions,” Martin said.
“I am very grateful, blessed and honored that there is someone who put together an entire organization like that,” she added. “I hope to see it grow so that they have more funds to help veterans in ways that I need them with their service dogs.”
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Coco passed away in August and Martin is currently in the process of getting another dog.
“As much as I miss him as a whole, his services are what I needed,” Martin said. “Without them, things have not been the same.”
Service Dog Interactions also acts as an advocate for people with service dogs.
“We will call employers, schools or landlords and help provide education and training on what the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act say,” Homer said.
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Jermaine Madison, 28, enlisted the help of Service Dogs Interactions in a dispute with his condominium association in Flagler Beach. Madison, an Army veteran, said he was going to be charged an extra $100 a day to keep his service dog, Oogie Boogie.
The dispute between Madison and the association ended with a one-time fee of $100 to keep the dog in the building.
Oogie Boogie, a chocolate Labrador and terrier mix, helps Madison get back on her feet and manage her PTSD. Madison admits to having blackout moments when she feels threatened and grateful to have her service dog.
“He calms me down,” Madison said.
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Oogie Boogie is one year and five months old and received his training from the K-9 Line in Edgewater. His wife encouraged Madison to get a service dog.
“Oogie Boogie is able to get me out of my mindset when I get down or angry and he can’t get me out of it,” Madison said.
When Madison needed help providing food for Oogie Boogie, K-9 Line referred him to Service Dog Interactions.
“That company is a great blessing,” Madison said.
It can take a year to a year and a half to train a service dog. Amanda Taulborg is the founder of ASA Service Dog, a non-profit service dog training, education and placement organization in Lakeland.
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Taulborg, 37, offers a variety of dog training, such as helping owners with PTSD coping, blocking and crowd control.
“Pressure therapy is the most important thing,” Taulborg said of the treatment technique in which the dog lies on the owner. “Deep pressure is probably the most beneficial because it brings the individual out of their fight or flight mode into a more focused state of calm. .”
Once the dogs have been trained, ASA brings the owner in for training sessions. Taulborg sees a difference in clients who have PTSD.
“People will tell me they just don’t want to get out of bed. I’ve had several clients say this is why they get up in the morning,” Taulborg said. “It gives them a reason to get out of bed, it gives them more confidence, it gives them something to focus on when they’re out in public.”
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Providing assistance to his fellow veterans and their service dogs is second nature to Homer.
“It is an absolutely amazing feeling. I was a Navy hospital corpsman, so I was a health care provider and I always had a sense of caring for others,” Homer said. “And that’s how you do it now.”
For more information about Service Dog Interactions, Inc., visit www.servicedoginteractions.org.
Breanna Rittman writes news articles for The Ledger. Send her ideas for her features to BRittman@gannett.com.