MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII, Hawaii – Lance Cpl. Joshua Jablon has nightmares from time to time.
Fortunately, he has a new friend he can count on to wake him and offer him comfort when necessary. Through Hawaii Fi-Do, wounded warriors like Jablon are learning to heal, with some canine care.
Since July 15, Marines of Wounded Warrior Battalion West — Detachment Hawaii have been working with specially trained dogs from the local nonprofit organization in an effort to help the mental and emotional healing process for the warriors.
During the six-week program, wounded service members interact and train with dogs for up to two hours. On average, about six to eight participants come to each session, and as many as 16 can come at a time. The service member must receive a referral from a mental healthcare professional to be eligible for the program.
On July 29, participating Marines went through training exercises with the dogs, teaching them to fetch items, walk specified paths, and obey commands such as “sit” and “stay.”
Susan Luehrs founded the organization 13 years ago, and with the help of more than 20 volunteers, has brought Hawaii Fi-Do to the local community. Hawaii Fi-Do has also been conducting sessions aboard Schofield Barracks and Marine Corps Base Hawaii for two years. Luehrs said the Hawaii Fi-Do dogs have also participated in a reading program and visited patients in the hospital.
Luehrs said she sees the Marines smile when they work with the dogs and even try to teach the dogs tricks on their own. She said through the program, Marines also learn social skills by interacting with the dog.
Marines also benefit from the program by receiving education about dog care, such as heartworm prevention.
“How you interact with a dog is how you interact with a person,” Luehrs said.
It takes two years and $20,000 to train a service dog for the Hawaii Fi-Do program, and more than 50 have been certified since its inception.
“I think it lifts morale,” said Master Gunnery Sgt. Daniel Carrillo, staff non-commissioned officer in charge, Wounded Warrior Battalion West — Detachment Hawaii. “Anything that lifts [the] morale of a Marine is a good thing.”
Carrillo said when the dogs come to the detachment, the wounded warriors are upbeat and have smiles on their faces.
“It’s calming and relaxing,” said Cpl. Leon Sandy, a patient at the detachment. “It’s not like we do this every day, so it’s something different.”
On July 29, Sandy went through training exercises with Bella, a 4-year-old German short hair and a Hawaii Fi-Do dog.
Cpl. Daniel Hall, a patient at the detachment, is hoping to obtain a service dog, and considers the time with the Hawaii Fi-Do dogs a bonus.
“This guy’s a smart one,” said Hall of Shakespeare, a 3-year-old German shepherd and a Hawaii Fi-Do dog. “He knows how to get his food and he knows what to do as a service dog.”
Hall said dogs make him happy and offer companionship. “They always brighten my day,” he said. Hall said he currently has some trouble walking, and it helps to have a dog with him. He hopes to get a dog like Shakespeare.
“In the past two years, two dogs have even been placed with discharged wounded warriors from the Marine Corps,” Luehrs said.
In order to do so he or she must apply and be certified in handling the dog, and placement occurs once the service member separates from the military. The owner and dog need to live in Hawaii for a minimum of one year for the organization to conduct follow-up training.
Luehrs said Hawaii Fi-Do is willing to share information regarding obtaining a service dog for discharged wounded warriors who are planning to move back to their homes on the mainland. She suggested service members wait until they are fully settled in their homes before considering having a service dog.
Jablon is currently training and living with Ono, a 14-month-old Labrador retriever, and if all goes well, she will move to Minnesota with him. But for now, Ono accompanies Jablon everywhere, including doctor’s appointments. “Wherever I go, she goes,” Jablon said.
Ono will also lick Jablon’s face if he turns off his alarm and goes back to sleep. Since Jablon started working with Ono, he said she has changed his mentality, and he has become more positive. “She’s always there smiling with a wagging tail,” he said.
Hawaii Fi-Do dog Finnegan, a 3-year-old Labrador retriever, has also spent additional time with the detachment. He is trained in various skills such as handling patients with post-traumatic stress disorder, opening doors and retrieving items such as socks and clothes.
Luehrs said the program has been made possible through support from organizations such as the Hawaii Impact Foundation and the Kaneohe Officers’ Spouses Club.
For more information about Hawaii Fi-Do, visit http://www.hawaiifido.org/.