When Operation Wolfhound in Elfrida contacted the University of Arizona Cochise County Cooperative Extension Office, where kids register for the 4-H Dog Project, to see if there were any youths interested in training a dog to help a wounded veteran, they knew just who to turn to.
Monica Mascarenas, 17, has been training dogs for five years through the 4-H Dog Project. She has trained her own border collie, rescued from the humane society, and worked with other dogs, including training one dog for an older man and several puppies to help elderly couples.
When asked, Monica was happy to be of help.
“It’s great way for me to work on my dog training, as well as give back to the community and to veterans who have given to us – sacrificing for us,” Monica said while working with Cyrus recently in Keiller Park.
Cyrus is a two-and-a-half-year old Alaskan Malamute, probably not full-blooded, she added, but mostly. Operation Wolfhound picked up Cyrus in California on Jan. 8,where he had been living in a foster home guarding horses. Prior to that, he had been trained for basic obedience and numerous tricks, but his owner could no longer care for him.
And, Cyrus had his sister with him all along.
“The hardest thing (to overcome) is the separation anxiety,” Monica said. “He has never been separated from his sister and he whines a lot.”
But Cyrus was always intended to be a wounded veteran’s assistant.
“This breed is built for pulling – they pull sleds,” she said of the Alaskan Malamute. “And he can pull a veteran’s wheelchair.”
The Korean war veteran that Cyrus will assist is a counselor who helps other wounded veterans who have trouble coping after the trauma they have endured.
“He brings wounded veterans outdoors, where there is space and they are not confined, to help them see what they can do,” said Monica’s mother, Tina Mascarenas.
Cyrus has already learned the basics, such as “sit,” “heel,” “stay” and “lie down.” He knows a few tricks, such as “shake” and he is currently learning some new commands that will be used by his veteran, who is in a wheelchair.
“I am teaching him to ‘pull,’ where the veteran can grab the handle on his service vest and be pulled, and ‘Brace,’ where Cyrus stiffens up and the veteran can use him to get up if he has fallen or needs help. He will also learn to ‘pick up’ things, and maintain his manners, because he’s not supposed to sniff at the table or solicit for food,” Monica said. “It’s continuous training, all day seven days a week. You are teaching him constantly, every time he goes in or out, waits for us, or anything else.”
“It’s a slow process, and takes a lot of patience,” Tina added.
“Some days I’m wondering, what did I get into? But there’s a greater reason to do it and I do really enjoy it. That outweighs the frustrations,” Monica said. “Dog training takes a lot of time, doing things over an over again, but when it clicks, it’s exciting.
“The 4-H Dog Project helped me with setting goals and working hard at something. It takes commitment. You don’t get rid of your project at the end of the year,” she said. Monica said the person most helpful to her has been Cindy Traylor of Willcox, an obedience trainer and herding judge.
“Cindy volunteers her time for the kids in the 4-H Dog Project. She expects things from you – and that’s what helps make you better,” Monica said.
Tina added, “Cindy goes above and beyond and out of her way to help these kids learn to be successful with their dogs. We’re really lucky to have her helping our kids.”
Alicia Miller, director at Operation Wolfhound, said, “Although we are based in Elfrida, (Ariz.) we provide free psychiatric service dogs to veterans all over the country. Monica is a new volunteer with us and agreed to train a special dog for a wheelchair-bound veteran. We gave her the dog to train and she is putting in the hours, days and weeks of hard work. “We think such a motivated young person needs to be recognized. The dog will be presented in Reno, Nev., and her work will not only help this veteran, but also all the men he counsels,” Miller said. “Monica is doing such a fantastic job with the dog; once he is fully trained he will be worth around $20,000, but he is being donated to the veteran for free.”
“We need more volunteers like Monica. She is very busy and smart, and she took time out of her life to train Cyrus, which will change someone else’s life for the better,” she added. Fred (Meyling) was an emergency request, as his dog was shot (and killed when he wandered off of property where he was being boarded while Meyling was out of town),” she said.
Kiwanis Club of Carson Valley
Cyrus was brought to Nevada for a concert at the Kiwanis Club of Carson Valley, Nev., where he was presented to veteran Meyling on Feb. 23.
About the event, the Kiwanis Club posted on Facebook, “The opening ceremonies ran a little long, but Fred Meyling receiving Cyrus drove the message home: the need to help our veterans.”
Proceeds from the concert, sponsored by the Kiwanis Club of Carson Valley, will be used to support service dogs supplied to wounded military service personnel. In this effort, the Kiwanis Club has partnered with the G-3-1 Korea Association, which has been working to supply trained service animals for more than four years. G-3-1 paid for Cyrus to fly to Nevada to reach Meyling.
Meyling is a veteran of the United States Army, Special Forces, Green Beret, with a total of 28 years of service. Although a paraplegic for more than 30 years, Meyling is extremely active as a fixed wing aircraft pilot working toward his glider endorsement. A strong advocate for veterans, he works both one-on-one and with groups, such as Wheelers for the Wounded. He counsels other wounded or traumatized veterans and helps by fast-tracking the services they need.
“I have been doing this for many years, in the service and for a dozen years since then. I give them guidance and it also helps to know they are not the only ones going through this,” Meyling said.
Kiwanis Club of Carson Valley President Gary Dove said, “It took a lot of coordination between organizations to make this partnership happen. We have a colonel here (in Kiwanis) whose wife is part of the G-3-1 Korea Association of military wives who raise money to provide service dogs to wounded veterans. It’s been a two-year process to get the funding to get this dog, and even finding Fred was a miracle in itself. But I saw the bond between Fred and Cyrus immediately.”
Operation Wolfhound was founded in Elfrida, about 40 miles south of Willcox, in 2007 to prepare and place psychiatric service dogs into homes of people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), seizures, traumatic brain injuries or hypersensitivity-related issues.
Although the use of dogs for these conditions is fairly new, it is based on years of studies of other conditions where dogs have proven to be highly effective in mitigating the worst symptoms. The numbers are compelling: While counseling alone is 30 percent effective and counseling combined with drug therapy is effective 50 percent of the time, a service dog is 83 percent effective in reducing symptoms, Miller said.
They stress that not all people are suited for a service animal, and those who are must be dog-oriented with family support for getting a dog; motivated and active in addressing their challenges; willing to maintain the training of the dog; and prepared to have a constant companion for the life of the animal.
Veterans receiving dogs must be under the care of a therapist and have a valid prescription for a psychiatric service animal, but they are free of charge to the veterans, despite their value, placed at $10,000 to $45,000 by the U.S. Senate, depending on the tasks they can perform.
Operation Wolfhound has numerous success stories, including:
• dogs have physically stopped four suicide attempts
• seizure alert animals have saved their owners lives by alerting to the onset of seizures and getting help during a severe Grand Mal
• dogs have allowed several veterans to return to the workforce
• dogs have helped more than 50 vets reduce nightmares, sudden rage, flashbacks and public anxiety
• dogs have improved the lives of vets by helping them to reengage and interact with their families again
• vets have been able to return to college and drive cars again because of their dogs assistance
Operation Wolfhound is located at 3732 W. Whitewater School Road, Elfrida, AZ 85610. You may contact director Robert or Alicia Miller at (520) 642-1628 or by E-mail at email@example.com.
Visit them at http://www.facebook.com/OperationWolfhound4vets .
Meyling said Cyrus “is coming along by leaps and bounds.He’s had a lot of distractions and been with four different people in a short time. He’s coming along.”
He said that as he counsels veterans who “have gone through traumatic events, and they don’t know how to cope as they revisit these events, animals can help them decompress.”
4-H Dog Project
A new 4-H Dog Project year has just started, and kids ages 9 to 18 can join 4-H by visiting the U of A Cochise County Cooperative Extension Office at 450 S. Haskell Ave. to sign up. All they need to pay is the $25 annual program development 4-H fee. Call 384-3595 for more information. Kids joining the dog project must be enrolled by April 1 to show at the Cochise County 4-H Dog Show in September.
Club meetings are once a month and the dog project tries to meet every two weeks, Tina said, adding, “Any dog is fine. They don’t have to be purebred. Most are mixes.”