Camera Ready!

Untitled-25Slider and I recently had the opportunity to participate in an on-camera interview with Jacksonville’s BUZZ Magazine. This segment was filmed for their video blog (vlog) in the area of Community Focus. As a PR professional, I enjoy helping out with media coverage – especially when it is on a local level. It is important that K9s For Warriors creates awareness for our program, so we can acquire additional funding to save more lives. This was the very first time Slider and I ever did anything like this together.


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I have to admit, I was worried about how Slider would behave on the set. I was convinced that I would have a hard time answering questions and staying focus because my mind would be fixated on Slider. You never know how a service dog in-training will respond to a camerasaaasituation they have never been exposed to. Not only was this a location Slider has never been to, but there were a ton of distractions: bright lights, cameras, props, and new people. Slider amazed me. He did great and was not affected by anything. He sat quietly while the interview was conducted and was a wonderful program ambassador for K9s. The camera definitely loved him! It is a great privilege to raise Slider and help prepare him for his training. It is a challenge, but something that is very special and worth it.


Click here to check out the interview.

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Public Interaction 101

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He is not my personal fashion accessory. He is preparing for his training to save the life of a veteran.


 

I’d really like to address the elephant in the room – or actually, the dog in the room. I realize that most people may not understand proper etiquette where service dogs and puppies training to become service dogs are concerned. Working at K9s For Warriors, I already had in-depth understanding; however, now that I have a service dog in-training, who I take to most places with me… I have gained further knowledge on this topic.

 


 

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Slider and I meeting with a group of summer campers. This was a tour that was arranged at K9s For Warriors.

 


Here are some tips for the public and businesses to follow if you see a puppy-raiser/puppy team, such as Slider and myself out and about:

 

Please Do Not Talk To Slider

If you talk directly to him, that is distracting him from his purpose. He is training to become a service dog and needs to focus on his surroundings and his handler. You may talk to me directly, however. I enjoy talking about Slider and the mission of K9s For Warriors. Speaking to the dog and not acknowledging the handler can come off as disrespectful.

 


 

Please Do Not Talk About Slider And I Like We Are Not There

If you have a question, please direct it to me. Turning to the person you are with and asking them questions about us is not appropriate. Furthermore, making statements aloud about us for others to hear when you are not including us in that conversation is not proper. If you would like to interact with us, please do so.

 

Here are some things that I’ve heard people saying to others about Slider and me:

 

“Whoa, who is that girl talking to?”

“Dang, look there’s a dog. That thing scared me!”

A Doggy. Why the heck is he in here?”

“Why does she have him? She looks normal!”

***Yeah… please do not say things like that.

 


 

Please Do Not Pet Slider – Unless I Give You Permission To

Most people really love dogs. I know I do. I understand that is tempting to walk by Slider and reach down to touch him, but you need to resist.When he has his vest on, he needs to concentrate on his mission. You may ask me to pet him. I may say no, depending on his behavior and other factors. Please understand that I am not trying to be mean. If I say you may pet him, please feel free to get down on his level and gently touch him. Remember he is a puppy that still gets excited and may jump.


 

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Slider loves meeting new people, especially kids. This little girl had my permission to interact with him.

 


Please Do Not Feed Slider

He has specific dog food and treats that he has to eat. Slider is not permitted to eat table scraps or even certain types of dog treats. He and I have to follow a puppy-raising handbook. It is very important to us that we obey the rules to ensure that he can become a service dog.


 

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Please pay attention to the vest.

 


FYI

In my wallet I have a card that has Slider’s picture on it. The card has the K9s For Warriors’ logo on it, in addition to the Department of Justice’s logo. Here is what the card says:

I am a service animal and my right to accompany my handler is protected by federal law.

In accordance with the American with Disabilities Act of 1990, businesses may ask:

  • Is this a service dog?
  • What tasks does the service animal perform?

Businesses may not:

  • Require special identification for the animal.
  • Ask about the person’s disability.
  • Charge additional fees because of the animal.
  • Refuse admittance, isolate, segregate, or treat this person less favorably than other patrons.

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A person with a disability cannot be asked to remove his/her service animal from the premises unless:

  • The animal is out of control and the owner does not take effective action to control it.
  • The animal poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others.

Any business that sells or prepares food must allow service animals in public area, even if state and local health codes prohibit animals on the premises.

Refusal to provide equal access to people with disabilities with service animals is a federal civil rights violation, provided by the American Disabilities Act of 1990. Violators of the ADA can be required to pay money damages and penalties.

 


NOTE:

I love engaging with the public. Talking to people is something that I really enjoy. Most of the time, if someone asks to pet Slider, I allow it.

Here is an example of the correct way to interact with a service dog in-training and its handler:

Stranger: “Hello, is that a service dog?”

Me: “Actually, he is training to become a service dog.”

Stranger: “Oh, really? Are you training him?”

Me: “No, I am raising him. He is too young to live on the campus where he will train. He will live with me until he turns one. Then, he will move onto the campus at K9s For Warriors and begin working with our trainers.”

Stranger: “That is really cool.”

Me: “Thank you.”

Stranger: “May I pet him?”

Me: “Sure.”

This was a real interaction that I had in a mall with a fellow shopper. This dialogue was very respectful and positive. Please feel free to follow. 🙂

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This is what Slider is training to do

Ties That Bind: The Beach School and the Veteran Organization

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People frequently talk about how ironic life can be. We end up places we’d never expect to go… or, in some cases, stay. Many times, we find ourselves reminiscing: a happy memory floods our mind, an old photo warms our heart, or an old friend crosses our path.

“Some people come into our lives, leave footprints on our hearts, quickly go… and we are never ever the same.”

I remember seeing the above quote as a child. My mother had it in a musical frame by her bed. I didn’t really understand the meaning then, but those words certainly resonate with me as an adult today.

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Samantha Epstein (Author of Sliding into Service, K9s For Warriors Education Manager, Fletcher Alumni, and Slider’s Foster Mom)

Throughout our lifetime, we make so many meaningful connections with others  – sometimes we go in different directions than them, but other times we are lucky enough to meet these special individuals once again. I grew up in Jacksonville Beach and graduated from Fletcher Middle and High School. I remember sitting in Mr.(Doug) Brown’s American History class when I was in 8th grade. I found history interesting but wasn’t applying myself to my academics… and didn’t until I started high school. I remember a historical project I completed for Mr. Brown’s class. Because we where studying the Civil War – I chose to present a poster about the movie Gone With the Wind and how it related to that chapter of American History. The poster was not well-executed. Looking back, I am embarrassed about the lack of creativity because I grew up to become a marketing and graphic design professional.

Fast forward like a million years – shortly after I began working at K9s For Warriors, I learned about Fletcher High’s community involvement with K9s. “The Interact club has raised thousands of dollars and sponsored multiple dogs for our veterans,” said one of my coworkers. I was amazed because I knew about the time and money that goes into a K9s For Warriors Dog Sponsorship. I was proud. Proud to have come from the beaches community. Proud to have graduated from Fletcher.

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Fletcher Interact students present the check for their fifth sponsored dog to Shari Duval, Founder and President at K9s For Warriors.

Then I was told that Doug Brown was the current sponsor of the Interact Club, a club that I was active in during some of my time at Fletcher. “Wow, he was one of my teachers,” I exclaimed! When I was in Interact… it was fun. During my time in the club, I was involved in many community service projects – but nothing as impressive as what these current Fletcher students have accomplished for K9s For Warriors. I have since talked to Mr.Brown and met several of the students. I am so impressed with their drive and passion to support the mission of rescuing dogs and saving the lives of our veterans.

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Doug Brown embraces “Fletcher,” the first service dog sponsored by the Fletcher Interact club.

Another coincidence: Slider, the puppy I am raising, is the fourth dog sponsored by Fletcher High School, my high school. This unique turn of events reminds me that community connections are important. I am very glad that I still live close to the Jacksonville Beaches, and I have this bond with Fletcher. You can never forget where you come from. You can never change where you grew up… and I wouldn’t want to. Fletcher is currently sponsoring their fifth dog, and I am sure it will not be their last. K9s For Warriors is lucky to have this very special relationship!

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Doug Brown and Fletcher Interact Students congratulate Warrior Michelle and Service Dog Brownie at a K9s For Warriors graduation.

Thank you, Interact, Mr. Brown, and Fletcher. Go Senators!

Do You Know What A BABL Is?

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K9s For Warriors has a rich history of rescuing and training BABLs. With their sharp wit, innate enthusiasm, and gentle demeanor… they are highly trainable, which makes them great service dogs. BABLs have a very high success rate at K9s For Warriors and excel in the unique roles that they are hand-picked to fulfill. Dozens of BABLs have been paired to many deserving veterans throughout the years. A distinctive canine classification, BABLs live by the work hard – play hard mantra. Warriors that get BABLs as service dogs are very lucky, as these dogs are passionate about serving but also take great pride in their sheer ability to “be cool.”

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Due to a long past and many generations of BABLs being selectively bred for their working genes, they have a natural drive and temperament for accomplishing important tasks. They are honored to stand by their warriors’ sides. The minute their vests are strapped onto them, the mission to serve is their only focus!

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I can only hope that Slider will grow up to be a BABL – following in the pawsteps of the others preceding him. Freedom, Dell, Falcon, Deuce, Dozer, Beemer, and Jake are just a few of my personal favorite BABLs! But there have been so many more!

So, what is a BABL you ask?

A BABL is a Bad A** Black Lab.

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Without BABLs, K9s For Warriors, and the world, would just not be the same.

Do you know a BABL? Post a comment!

WHY Raise A Service Dog?

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This is WHY!

It’s been almost a month since I began fostering Slider. So far, it has been a great experience. Since I took him in, I’ve been getting asked a particular question… A lot!

“How can you love and care for a puppy only to give him up in a few months?”

My reply? “How Could I not?”

Here are my reasons WHY I am able to do this:

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I want to – once again – experience the bond that people and animals share. I recently saw a graphic online that said the following: “Anyone who says diamonds are a girl’s best friend never owned a dog.” That couldn’t be more true! There is a special feeling that comes along with caring for a dog and although, technically, Slider is not my dog – he still makes my heart smile. I had a golden retriever when I was five; his name was Oreo (the name doesn’t make sense – I know). I didn’t have him long when I left the gate to my backyard open. He ran away, and I never saw him again. It was a traumatizing part of my childhood. As an adult, I raised a German shepherd by the name of Deacon. He is in his golden years now but is still thriving; however, he lives with my ex-husband. I could just buy a puppy to have all to myself. I don’t want to do that though. In a few months, I will proudly bring Slider back to K9s For Warriors for his official training. It will not be easy, but my heart is in this because I believe in the cause. Until then, I will provide the best home for him I can and enjoy the way he makes me feel as I do that.

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I want to value the contributions of others. I work on the administrative side of K9s For Warriors, as the Education Manager. What I do is very important… I spread awareness through my creative talents. I love that! But, this amazing organization is a success because of the hard work of every department and employee. I have only been in the puppy-raising program for a few weeks, and I’ve already gained an extra appreciation for my counterparts. I am in awe of the dog and warrior trainers. The patience and knowledge that they exercise on a daily basis is inspiring. I think respecting the strengths and talents of others makes us better people – personally and professionally.

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I want to do more to save the lives of our veterans. My grandfather was in the Navy – he was a master chief. My father was in the Marine Corps. I am proud of them and the other veterans out there. I accept that my time with Slider is temporary.

But I look at it like this:

The love that I give him now and the things that I teach him now are going to help him be the best service dog he can be, later.

What I do now is going to save a life. I can sacrifice the joy Slider gives me because the veteran he will serve sacrificed so much for me and other Americans.

I am very excited to experience all the emotions and hard work that goes along with this process! It will be worth it…I just know.

When I first brought Slider home, I was told by the Director of K9 Operations, “Do Not Bring This Dog Back Bedazzled!” (haha)  I understand why he would say that. I am serious about raising this dog though! He is gonna be an awesome service dog!

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Thoughts, Brett?

 

Faux Paw (Pas): Chewing Shoes

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Yup – that is the face he makes when he gets in trouble!

Having Slider in my home has made me very happy. He has a wonderful personality, and for the most part behaves well. Slider is eager to learn and please but still enjoys a bit of puppy mischief. I have to say… it keeps things interesting.

Yesterday, there was a casualty in my home as a result of a faux paw (pas) made on Slider’s part: teething puppy could not locate a toy, so he ventured into my closet for a shoe. I heard him chomping away, and realized that he was very happily devouring a pink, satin high heel.

I removed the shoe from his grasp and redirected him, giving him a Kong ball instead. Then, I sadly threw out the heels – as nothing could be done to save them. What is funny to me is that I was not upset with him. I loved those shoes but love him more. Situations like this are just a part of puppy-raising, and I am willing to embrace it all – the good, the bad, and the “chewy!”

Taking care of him is hard work. I have to make sacrifices in order to provide him with what he needs. It is worth it to me though. He is going to be an awesome service dog, and I am proud that I get to help with his development.

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Surrendered Then Saved

Slider, a seven-month-old labrador retriever, is one of the newest puppy recruits, training to become a service dog at K9s For Warriors. Slider came to the 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization as a surrendered canine, which essentially means the family he once knew no longer wanted to care for him. Being ignored is difficult… being neglected is painful… but being thrown away by the people who are supposed to love you… UNIMAGINABLE! I cannot fathom how someone – human being or animal – could ever recover from that! I believe that Slider has though.


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My name is Samantha, and I am the lucky girl raising Slider. When I first met him, I was very surprised by his demeanor. It seemed he should have been anxious and confused when he was brought to Camp K9, but he was not AT ALL! Instead, it was almost like he had come to terms with the fact that his former family didn’t want him, and he was ready to push forward… accepting the mission of becoming a service dog. He was really cheerful and silly, the type of dog that I prefer. He passed his evaluation with the K9s Intake Coordinator, and we were sent on our merry way together.

I took him to Walmart with me before going home to my Jacksonville, FL, apartment. Because he is training to become a service dog, he can go in any public place with me that I choose. I slipped his red training vest on, and took him inside the store. At first, he was afraid to step onto the glossy, reflective floor. But with encouragement and affection, he quickly overcame his fear. Walking around with him felt right. He was very well-behaved in public, and wore his vest with pride. I have no doubt that he will be a wonderful PTSD service dog. His story started out dismally but will end happily. Slider will live with me until he is old enough to move into the kennel at K9s For Warriors. At that point, he will begin his formal service dog training.


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Slider and I (Samantha)


Every Dog Has its Day

Slider’s will be the day he graduates from K9s For Warriors.

He was surrendered but saved, and now he is focusing

on training to save the life of a veteran.


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Slider and K9s Warrior Trainer Ranger