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Service to others ‘above and beyond’

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Tarah and her 3-year-old black lab Waylon graduated a couple of weeks ago from the K9 Partners for Patriots program.  Tarah served an eight-year period in the army, ending in 2015.

According to the 501c3 organization,

“K9 Partners for Patriots is a nonprofit program for veterans-only, where veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD); Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and/or Military Sexual Trauma (MST) train together with their service dog.  Select dogs are capable of alerting to the scent of adrenaline which enables them –with proper training— to help veterans better manage the debilitating stress and anxieties that accompany PTSD.”

K9 Partners for Patriots Founder and CEO Mary Peter started the program five years ago and the organization recently celebrated reaching the milestone of 200 graduates.

105 pound Waylon is able to sense when Tarah is becoming anxious and directs her focus away from the anxiety.  

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This is a special skill. Gregg Laskoski, Communications Director for K9 Partners for Patriots,  explained that when dogs come to them, they are tested to see whether they can pick up the scent of adrenaline.

“If they can’t do that, they could be a wonderful pet, but they’re not going to be an effective service dog,”  Laskoski explained.

He relayed a recent session they held at K9 Partners for Patriots in which they had veterans and staff members sit in a circle.  Some individuals had PTSD and others did not. One dog they tested immediately tuned in to a Vietnam Veteran. The dog lifted his head, picking up the scent and then placed his front paws on his shoulders.  

“With that ability, that enables the dog to work 24 hours a day for the veteran.  When the adrenaline level rises, the dog picks up the scent and takes immediate action,” remarked Laskoski.

“He can sense when I start getting antsy,” said Tarah.  She said Waylon will lick her face or her fingers to bring down her adrenaline.  

K9 Partners for Patriots isn’t just a dog training program for veterans.  They support the veteran when they are in need.

“We let the veterans know that we may be a training center, but we’re so much more because we truly care about them,” said Mary Peter.

For several weeks, Tarah was having trouble with her car which had over 300,000 miles on it.   K9 Partners for Patriots reached out to several organizations in the area to see if anyone would be able to help her.  

Vans, Cars, and Trucks in Brooksville stepped up.  The locally owned used auto dealership kept her old car running, while they prepped a ‘07 Toyota Rav 4 for Tarah.  They donated the vehicle to her free of charge.

When they approached Vans, Cars, and Trucks, Laskoski explained that the business owner Larry Van Fossen, immediately said they would figure something out and get it done.

“The first thing he did was try to make Tarah’s car as safe as possible.  They must have worked on it for three or four weeks,” Laskoski recalled.

Then the Vans, Cars and Trucks crew put in a tremendous amount of work getting the Rav 4 in the best condition possible for Tarah.

“This is a huge contribution for a local Hernando County business to step up for K9 Partners for Patriots, for one of our veterans.  It speaks volumes,” remarked Laskoski.

Van Fossen said, “I felt honored that I got the phone call.”

Mary Peter gave Mr. Van Fossen a challenge coin which their veterans also receive. The coin signifies veterans and their K9 partners overcoming battles together.  

“We only give these out for special occasions,” explained Mary Peter.

She further added, “A lot of the veterans have challenge coins they received in the military for things that they did above and beyond.” She said that when the veterans graduate from K9P4P they receive a challenge coin which lets them know that they’ve done something above and beyond in taking back their life and getting back on track.

She has received challenge coins from veterans in her program as well and says that they mean the world to her.

Addressing Mr. Van Fossen, Mary remarked, “You don’t know what an impact you’ve made on this veteran’s life.”

Van Fossen said that when he told the crew about the project, they jumped on it and were excited to help out.

“The world is full of problems and we can’t solve them all,” Van Fossen stated.  “But if we see a problem in front of us, we can do something. We can’t do everything, but we can all do something,” he said.


Leslie Stein
Leslie Stein
Leslie Stein has over 35 years experience as a Speech-Language Pathologist working with neurologically impaired adults. She received her undergraduate and graduate degrees at the University of South Florida in Speech Pathology.
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