Thank you for your service.

Veterans Day is a public holiday that is dedicated to honoring anyone who has served in the United States military. The holiday began as a day to remember the end of World War I and was declared a holiday by President Woodrow Wilson in 1919. Originally known as Armistice Day, the holiday became Veterans Day in 1954. Veterans Day 2015 is Wednesday, November 11.

“Furthering people’s independence and quality of life through the use of Assistance dogs” is Helping Paws’ mission. To date, we have partnered seven veterans with service dogs, to help these men and women ease the challenges of living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Richard Greelis, one of our foster home trainers, wrote the following piece and kindly granted us permission to post on the blog.

To our veterans everywhere, thank you for your service.

Vets shouldn’t need a reason to use a service dog

Someone using a service dog, whether it’s working or in training, deserves our respect.

While there will always be those who abuse benefits of any kind, service dogs have come under the microscope lately. It’s important to understand the way the program works.

Some questions I’ve heard: “Who are all these people walking around perfectly fine with these dogs that have blue service dog ‘packs’ or vests on them?” “Are they really disabled, or do they just like having their pet with them in public places and found this loophole?” “Aren’t they supposed to be in a wheelchair or something?”

You’re not alone if you’re asking yourself these questions, but please consider something before you ask the young (or old) person with the service dog why the animal is by their side.

People who need service dogs come in all shapes and sizes, and not all of them use wheelchairs. Our country has no shortage of soldiers returning from wars fought on foreign soil who bear both visible and invisible wounds. The invisible scar, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), is a real thing. Though it didn’t always bear this name, it has always been a real thing. Soldiers suffering from PTSD after World War I and World War II were called victims of “shell shock.” The Vietnam era saw PTSD for what it was and began treating vets, but the stigma of having this invisible affliction while some of their squad mates had made the ultimate sacrifice often kept sufferers from seeking treatment.

As a result of education and public awareness, post-Vietnam veterans began seeking help more often. That being said, vets suffering PTSD who never seek help probably still outnumber those who do.

With this in mind, try to imagine a soldier first seeking help for an affliction that makes it nearly terrifying to leave home, terrifying to be in a crowd, terrifying to be exposed to loud noises, terrifying to be among strangers. He or she may have had to endure immense fear, not to mention embarrassment, just to find someone who can help with treatment.

Now imagine having this condition and hearing about a program that could allow you to re-enter society, maybe walk down a street again with confidence, and go to work, to a movie, to church and, in the process, to gain a nonjudgmental constant companion that would love them unconditionally and help them with their nightmares.

Sound too good to be true? Unfortunately, it turns out it probably is for now. Why? Because veterans with service dogs are not really accepted as truly “needing” them yet. The program is too novel. Seeing an apparently “normal” man or woman walking a service dog into a public place is just too much, too intriguing, too anomalous for some people to handle. If that seemingly normal man or woman can bring a dog to the mall, why can’t I? I think I’m going to ask what the problem is. This attitude is the killer of the service dog program for victims of PTSD. Veterans suffering PTSD are loath to explain to every curious rude-nick why they need a service dog. It is frightening, painful and embarrassing — enough so that it might turn them away from the new life of independence a service dog could offer them.

Something else to consider when spotting a service dog in public: They don’t get to be nearly perfect canine citizens by practicing their skills in a vacuum. They have to experience inclusion in as many busy, loud, frenetic public settings as possible, so that when they are paired with their disabled partner, they are prepared for whatever environment their disabled partner will lead them into.

So that young (or old) person walking the vested canine through the Mall of America may be a foster trainer preparing a dog for a life of service — and that dog may not have perfect manners — yet. Please respect the stitching on the dog’s vest that asks you not to pet it while it’s working. That goes for all service dogs.

I come from the ranks of the most cynical creatures walking the planet — the police. Police officers learn by necessity to question the motives of everyone they come in contact with, not necessarily to their face, but internally. This is the resulting amalgam of years of having nearly everyone they have contact with lie to them. Having lived that experience, I know that it’s natural to question the motives of those who seem out of place or seem to be cheating the system. But this is an instance where we, as a community that admires, respects and honors our veterans, need to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Veterans made an enormous sacrifice and paid an enormous price to be walking that service dog into a public place. Please don’t ask them why they have a service dog. Please don’t ask what’s wrong with them. Please don’t tell them you don’t allow dogs in your establishment — because if it’s open to the public, you do allow service dogs and you legally may not ask them what’s wrong with them.

And finally, please don’t give them that look. Consider the sacrifice they made and go a step beyond mere adherence to the law. Welcome them into your establishment. Compliment them on their beautiful companion.

And maybe offer this silent prayer: “There but by the grace of God go I.”

Richard Greelis, of Bloomington, is a retired law enforcement officer, teacher and author.

‘Tis the gift

” ‘Tis the gift to be simple,
’tis the gift to be free,
’tis the gift to come down
where we ought to be,
and when we find ourselves in the place just right,
’twill be in the valley of love and delight.”

Our team trainees are coming along nicely! Bonds are growing stronger, and patterns are being established which will guide these new graduate service dog teams throughout their partnerships.

The individuals receiving these dogs had the opportunity to meet the foster home trainers who have brought the dogs to this point. This is always a special occurrence during team training. The recipients hear stories of puppyhood antics, and the foster home trainers see the relationship between dog and soon-to-be-graduate growing.

Midway through the three-week team training course, the dogs move in with their new partners. Exciting and stressful at the same time for everyone! We are happy to report that all teams are doing very well. Among them, the dogs have met family members, human and canine alike; gone to movie theaters and grocery stories; one has even befriended the family goat.

The foster home trainers have the option of “handing over the leash” to the individuals receiving their dogs. A special, poignant moment for all.

To our foster home trainers, you have given a gift like no other. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you.

To our soon-to-be graduate teams, welcome to, or, in the case of our successors, back to, the world of having a service dog. It will be epic.

Photos courtesy of Judy Michurski.

Song lyrics: Shaker dancing song, Joseph Brackett (1797-1882).

LaVonne and Olaf (2)


Emotions are running high at Helping Paws this week. Nine newly partnered service dog teams began their three-week training program on Monday. The students, both human and dog, are eager to work and anxious that it all will work out. The foster home trainers who raised and trained these dogs for two-and-a-half years are excited to see a dream come true, and feeling bittersweet at the same time.

The first few days of team training included presentations by staff as the students got to know each other.


Ella, Kiko, CopperThe dogs waited patiently in their crates.

By the second day, each team is developing that special bond. Building the bond between individual and dog is the foundation of team training, and the base for the team’s working relationship for years to come.

We begin with rewarding the dog for making eye contact with its new partner. This is the same way we began training these dogs two-and-a-half years ago.

Tess and Macy Tara and Miko

Sheila and Ella

We also use grooming to enhance the bond.

Go to Bed is used to have the dogs settle as their partners listen and learn.


 The dogs become accustomed to their partners’ using scooters or sitting on the floor.

team Jan and team Trudy Trudy and Kiko

By the third day, the teams are hanging out together the entire time.

Team Trudy, Team dogs, people listening Go to Bed

Stay tuned to the blog for future posts on our team training class…field trips and meeting the foster home trainers are on the docket!

Puppy Breath and Human Smiles

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Hangin’ out in the puppy pen at Helping Paws on a Friday afternoon, the Max x Myrtle puppies were in for a grand surprise. It’s Puppy Send-Off! These future service dogs would be headed home with their foster home trainers in just a few minutes.vcyYvSGgAXeKFC2zbledexEbL6ERhKub2onBbu9NAfY[1] sl9w7fF11tE9EZk11lZa_0P5pSEymv1AasX5lTP7T4w[1]

Hey, did you hear something??? Sounds like humans squealing – they’re louder than us when they get going!

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Yup, there’s definitely some human hands and feet in the area. Cuddles are coming!!!

Best wishes to  the foster home trainers for the Edge, or “E” litter. You might recall that the pups’ litter names were streets in Stillwater, MN. Bev and Herb logged miles and many minutes at the vet clinic in Stillwater that provided care for Mama Myrtle.

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And the journey begins…it will be epic!


Photos courtesy of Judy Michurski.

2015-07-30 Thursday Class at Galaxy-480 (2)

Back in time – Summertime!

With autumn in the air, let’s take a fun look back to a field trip dogs-in-training took to the Galaxy Drive-In! Dogs from the Matthew x Turtle, Manhattan x Keeley, and Huey x Myrtle litters, along with their foster home trainers, went back in time…rock ‘n’ roll, burgers, servers on roller skates, and, of course, ICE CREAM!

Lounging in the grass is tougher than it looks – lots of distractions in them blades of green!


2015-07-30 Thursday Class at Galaxy-364 (2) 2015-07-30 Thursday Class at Galaxy-281 (2) 2015-07-30 Thursday Class at Galaxy-224 (2)

Minnie works on Watch with foster home trainer Sophie.

2015-07-30 Thursday Class at Galaxy-240 (2)Perhaps there will be ice cream as a reward???2015-07-30 Thursday Class at Galaxy-301 (2)SCORE! Galaxy provides doggy ice cream.

Snuggle is always a favorite skill, as Opal and foster home trainer Michelle demo.

2015-07-30 Thursday Class at Galaxy-380 (2)

2015-07-30 Thursday Class at Galaxy-390 (2)


Hey dude – where’s our ice cream???



A fun time was had by all!

2015-07-30 Thursday Class at Galaxy-432 (2)