April has gone to the dogs.
We mean that in a good way. Over the past month, the Journal has published several stories about “The Power of the Dog.” No, not the 2022 Academy Award-winning film for best director. Or the Rudyard Kipling poem. Our stories focused on the true power of dogs to transform lives and help people heal.
As any dog owner can attest, dogs have a huge capacity for caring. Training can harness that natural empathy and turn it into service for people who need assistance — or just a furry neck to hug.
This week, the Journal’s Joline Gutierrez Krueger introduced us to Graham, a burly English black Lab who is the only crisis response dog working with an agency in New Mexico. Graham “works” at the Family Advocacy Center in Downtown Albuquerque where victims in crisis can come for comfort, care and sometimes to report the crimes perpetrated against them.
Graham is often brought into an interview room, if a crime victim wishes, to break the ice, calm fears, ease tensions. Graham, who received his police badge this week, is part of APD’s effort to become more attentive to the needs of crime victims.
Kudos to APD’s administration for being receptive to the idea of a crisis response dog, pushed hard by police Sgt. Amanda Wild of APD’s sex crimes unit.
Wild also won support from the Public Service Company of New Mexico, which wrote the $12,000 check for a crisis response dog. The cost includes a meticulously selected pup plus intensive 18- to 24-month training and ongoing refresher training provided by Assistance Dogs of the West.
The Santa Fe-based agency trains service dogs – mostly Labs, golden retrievers and labradoodles, which have gentle temperaments – from puppyhood for people with disabilities, diabetes, veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and for work in therapeutic settings, drug treatment centers, hospitals, children’s programs and courts across the country.
Assistance Dogs of the West was featured prominently in another Journal story about military veterans who train service dogs at Forward Flag, an Albuquerque nonprofit funded by grants and donations that provides free programs and services to veterans and their families.
“Working with the dogs gives veterans a way to give back and feel good about themselves,” said Ari Jontry, ADW instructor, trainer and veterans liaison. “And it’s a great way for veterans with anxiety to focus on something other than their anxiety.”
Marine veteran Robert Candelaria, 59, told the Journal’s Ollie Reed Jr. “just being with those dogs, you decompress.”
The training program is called the Warrior Canine Connection. ADW brings the dogs from Santa Fe down to the Forward Flag facility at 204 Madeira NE for weekly sessions. Among the veterans involved in dog training is Lisa Veres, 57, who served as a Navy nurse. While many veterans are involved to train the dogs for others, Veres goes to the sessions with her black Lab, Hedy. Veres, who uses a walker because of spinal cord damage, got Hedy through Assistance Dogs of the West and discovered Forward Flag through her association with AWD.
“She will pick up a credit card for me, a dime,” Veres said of Hedy. “If my walker rolls away, she’ll go get it for me.”
On Saturday, Paws and Stripes, another program dedicated to providing service dogs at no cost to veterans, will celebrate graduates of the Veteran Service Dog program who have worked with their dogs to improve their well-being.
In 2010, Paws and Stripes graduated its first team. Since its inception, Paws and Stripes has served veterans; rescued and rehabilitated shelter dogs as service dogs; and refined its mental health programming. Founded in Rio Rancho by Lindsay Kay, the organization has since moved to an Albuquerque facility to broaden its reach.
We salute all the groups and individuals who toil tirelessly to make dogs a force for good. A person’s best friend indeed.
This editorial first appeared in the . It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.