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Finding solace in PTSD one wag at a time

Fisher is not just a dog to Christian Boles.

“The bond we share is more than just that of man’s best friend,” said Boles, 40, of Richlands. “He is a four-legged guardian angel. There’s been many instances where I’d be lost without him.”

Diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that stemmed from numerous deployments as a Marine, Boles now finds solace with his furry friend, Fisher, by his side. More often than not, Fisher will begin consoling and cuddling up to Boles before he is aware he is having a problem.

Fisher was already Boles’ household pet when the dog was subsequently trained by Paws-4-Vets to become fully certified as a service animal. Many various types of service dogs exist ranging from seeing eye dogs, PTSD service dogs to seizure alert dogs and more.

“He keeps me in check when I go from zero to 100,” said Boles, who is still on active duty. “He’s my shadow that doesn’t speak — my silent companion.”

Marines and sailors of all ranks have been very understanding when Boles walks into places on base with Fisher.

“Nobody on base really questions why I have a dog with me,” Boles said. “What makes having the dog difficult around Marines and sailors is that it means I’m walking my symptoms around on a leash for everyone to see.”

However, Boles said, when he leaves the base he sometimes runs into problems having Fisher with him.

“People tell me I can’t come into their establishment with an animal,” Boles said. “People ask if I’m blind and when I say no, they often ask why I need a dog. Sometimes they even think Fisher is an attack dog.”

According to the American Disability Act, Boles is legally allowed to bring Fisher with him into all businesses and nonprofit organizations that serve the general public.

“The looks I get burn into me,” Boles said. “The eyes ask the question people don’t or won’t ask. They wonder why I’m there with a dog because I look OK.”

The Transportation Security Administration even gave him a hassle with Fisher last year as Boles was flying out of Colorado, he said.

“They made me strip him out of his vest and gear so they could search him,” Boles said. “Then they separated the two of us. It was very condescending to both of us. Neither of us deserved to be treated like that.”

One of Boles’ biggest pet peeves is when people touch or pet Fisher while he is wearing his vest. He is understanding of children though, he said.

“I tell the children he is like my superhero and his vest is his cape,” Boles said. “When it’s on he’s working for me, protecting me. When it’s off he is a normal dog that you can pet.”

With psychiatric service dogs more prevalent in Onslow County due to the many military bases, Boles said people need to be aware of certain things regarding the many “six-legged functioning teams” that can be seen out in town:

  • Not all service dogs are retired military working dogs.
  • You don’t have to ignore people with service dogs.
  • Please ask to pet the dog while they are working.
  • Do not ask, “What’s wrong with you that you need a dog?”
  • Know that the dogs can be considered saviors by their handlers.

“Every service dog is trained for something different,” said Sylvia Cash, the head trainer for Unleashed Dog Training of Jacksonville. “...Some dogs need to interact with the people, others do not.

“We do not want people to be afraid of service dogs. They are not violent.”

Cash feels as though a lot of people do not want the dogs in their establishments because of an increasing number of “service” dogs that really aren’t.

“You can buy a vest online or get your dog certified on various websites but it’s not really legitimate,” Cash said. “Many untrained service dogs will have a lack of basic obedience. Real service dogs go through a lot of training. If the dog doesn’t have manners like sitting, staying at various distances or not pulling on the leash, they may not be properly trained. ...It’s very few that are fake or poorly trained, but it ruins it for those who are legitimate.”

According to Cash, a properly trained PTSD service dog would attend a six-week basic obedience course with their handler. The course focuses on socialization with other animals and mastering simple tasks such as sit and stay. Next, the dog and handler are taken to public places where the same basic obedience tasks are mastered in public spaces. Finally, the dog would be taught tasks specific to what the handler needs.

Once fully trained, a PTSD service dog offers assistance with emotional overload, anxiety and navigating new and troubling environments.

Currently, the American Disability Act does not require dogs to be trained in a certain manner in order to be a service dog although certain training is recommended for each specific type of dog and their handlers’ needs. Also, the American Disability Act does not require identification for the dog or the handler, but it is also recommended.

Properly trained service dogs should be an accepted part of society, and impersonating a service dog is a class-3 misdemeanor, said Cash.

“I don’t want people to think they need to completely move out of the dog’s way,” Cash said. “But they do need to know that it’s customary to ask the handler if it’s okay to touch the dog first. We need people to know that the dogs aren’t scary — it’s okay to have them around.

For information on service dogs or obedience courses, contact Unleashed Dog Training at 910-333-5881.

Contact Daily News Military Reporter Thomas Brennan at 910-219-8453 or thomas.brennan@jdnews.com. Follow him on Twitter @ thomasjbrennan. 

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