U.S. Kennels

service dog Louie at U.S. Kennels in Salisbury

SALISBURY, Md. - U.S. Kennels is a volunteer-run program that transforms local rescue dogs into service dogs and matches them up with veterans in need for free.

The trainers at U.S. Kennels say service dogs can cost anywhere between $32,000 to $64 thousand dollars. The program has been lending an extra paw to veterans with a variety of disabilities since 2017. This match making even takes veterans allergies into account.

Thanks to his training in the service dog program at U.S. Kennels in Salisbury, Louie knows to respond with kisses for Retired Air Force First Sergeant Steve Koester.

"He'll alert to my tick, which is normally when I start getting anxious or whatever the case may be," Koester says. "Initially Louie was kind of standoffish. He was a COVID pup, so he wasn't used to having people around. He would bark. I guess you could say he was jittery or whatever the case may be."

Steve met Louie as a 2-month-old pup at the Grass Roots Animal Rescue. About a year later Louie responds to basic commands and helps the 35-year veteran with his PTSD.

Army veterans Chris Hardy and Dan Ray Atkinson work with the dogs as they advance through different levels of obedience in the Canine Good Citizenship Program.

"It's a four-tiered level of basic obedience, then a little more advanced obedience, then going into the community, dealing with loud noises, traffic, sirens and then in urban settings, learning to go on elevators," says Head Trainer Dan Ray Atkinson.

The service dogs are trained on specific tasks like opening drawers to fetch something their veteran needs. One of the commands the dogs learn is the "under" command. They're trained to stay under tables or benches in public settings so that they stay out of the way until their veteran needs them.

If Dan gets on the ground, his dog Gus gets on the ground to demonstrate a "cover" command. Gus protects or covers Dan as he would if Dan were having a seizure.

"There's no medicine like it, so what I wanted to do was to give back to my brothers and sisters in the military," says Executive Director Chris Hardy.

His dog Brodie helps Chris with his traumatic brain injury symptoms.

"I get kind of disoriented and I lose my balance every now and then, so I need a big dog to hold me up," Hardy says.

Chris and Dan say they have an open door policy. Anyone can volunteer or take a tour of the training.

To qualify for the US Kennels program, veterans have to be at least 70 percent disabled with combat related injuries and get a letter from their VA representative or counselor stating that they could benefit from a service dog.

Click here to donate or volunteer at U.S. Kennels.

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