Local veteran extends service animals to others
Don Anderson is a man of service. For 10 years, his service was to the Army. From 1963 to 1972, he was stationed in Germany, Vietnam and Korea.
For another four-and-a-half years, his service was to the Peace Corps. As a volunteer in the corps he was sent back to Korea to teach animal husbandry and horticulture.
And for 20 years, his service was to the history department at Texas A&M University. As an assistant to the department, Anderson used his knowledge of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union to travel and gather more historical information.
Now, it is Anderson’s dogs that are providing the service.
Anderson trudges along the streets and by the stores of Cortez with two service dogs by his side.
Ms. Ebony and Tarbabie are a pair of black lab-mix dogs with two different purposes, yet, one common goal — to protect and love their master.
They are good at their job.
Anderson suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and seizures.
Two dogs, two different purposes.
It all started when Anderson got Ms. Ebony from the animal shelter. At 5 weeks old, the lovable canine knew her master had a problem and she quickly became attuned to it.
“I started having seizures about eight years ago,” Anderson says. “And right before I would have one, she would go ballistic.”
Anderson was confused by his dog’s behavior. He even considered taking her back to the shelter but out of curiosity he spoke with his doctor first.
“He told me, it sounds like you have a seizure dog.”
A seizure dog?
Anderson didn’t know what to make of this information, so the veteran’s clinic in Durango sent him to a facility in Rio Rancho, N.M. called Paws and Stripes. This non-profit organization was started for vets, by vets, who suffer from PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury. They offer hands-on training to veterans who need alternative help for those disorders. Rather than being numb and inundated with drugs, vets can train animals to be their own brand of medication. All dogs in the Paws and Stripes program come from shelters.
After Anderson went through their training courses, he was able to apply what he learned to his second dog, Tarbabie. She acts as his PTSD dog.
Still a puppy at 18 months old, Tarbabie is an 88-pound black four-legged ball of pure sweetness and excitement. Her training does not consist of just an hour a day. Anderson works with her all day and all night. His PTSD causes him to have night terrors, where he screams out, thrashes around and sweats profusely.
This is where Tarbabie’s training kicks in.
“When I have these horrific nightmares, I can’t wake myself up,” Anderson says. “Ms. Ebony has no clue what’s going on. When I start up, she just takes off to the couch. It’s Tarbabie who calms me down and wakes me up. She lays across my neck and licks my face and I’ll come out of it.”
Each dog fulfills an important purpose in Anderson’s life. And even though he hasn’t had a seizure for almost two years now, thanks to medications, Ms. Ebony keeps a close eye on him and maintains a sharp focus. At 6 and a half years old, she is more calm and well-behaved, as opposed to her energetic counterpart.
Tarbabie is allowed to be more social because her service is not just to Anderson. She also acts as a therapy dog to residents at Vista Grande nursing home. Every Tuesday morning at 9 a.m., Anderson and his girls are there. The residents are able to pet Tarbabie at their request.
“This is her second home,” he says. “She is still a puppy so she gets a little excited to see everyone. But this is her family.”
Anderson gives commands such as “no paws,” when she tries to lift her feet onto the lap of a resident, and “little person” when referring to someone in a wheelchair.
“I use that command for children too.”
Ms. Ebony, however, will not give anyone the time of day. She takes her job seriously and apart from a sniff to the hand and slight eye contact, she is all work. She is there for Anderson and has no time for distractions. When visiting at the nursing home, Tarbabie gets all the attention, which seems to be OK with Ms. Ebony.
Anderson shares their affection with others because he understands the power of pet healing.
“Many of these folks have to give up their own pets when they come here,” Anderson explains. “We don’t do anything special. Just provide a little puppy therapy.”
He walks through the wards, Tarbabie and Ms. Ebony strolling beside him, and any passerby will extend a pat to her head. Depending on the day, Anderson and his girls may visit with 50 patients, he says. Other times they may see only 10. It all depends on the health of the patients and how they are feeling that day.
The trio look forward to their morning visit every week. Rain, snow, cold or hot, Anderson doesn’t mind. They bring lots of enjoyment and brighten the day for many Vista Grande residents.
“He stays faithful with his visits,” says Kim McDonnell, activities director for Vista Grande. “He’s been coming every Tuesday for close to two years. He has a repertoire of people lining up to see the dogs. If they (the residents) are dog lovers, it’s very important for them to get their fur fix.”
McDonnell met with Anderson and his dogs before his volunteering began. She does this with all volunteers to make sure they will be able to withstand the responsibility of the job and continue to visit. She also needs to see any animals that come through so she knows they are well-behaved and well-trained.
Anderson carries identification cards that contain the names, photos and special services for each animal. Before they can enter any place as a service dog, they have to have the proper up-to-date vaccines, specific training and certifications. They cannot accompany an individual inside any establishment otherwise.
“We also have visitors who bring their pets to see their family members and they share their dogs with the residents too. That’s what we like to see around here. Visits from pets or children make everyone happy.”
Anderson is among friends at Vista Grande. And so are his faithful companions.
They work hard to provide him with a great service. He spoils and loves them dearly. It is no surprise that Ms. Ebony and Tarbabie give back to their owner as well as to others. They were raised by someone who knows the value of service.