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Abandoned Minnesota dog trains to become veteran’s service animal

Bandit, a 2-year-old Golden Lab, sits in Mending Spirits Animal Rescue volunteer Kathryn Smith's Mounds View home on Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2017. Bandit was rescued from an Eagle Lake home and is training to be a service dog for a veteran.

KRISTINE GOODRICH/THE FREE PRESS VIA AP

By KRISTINE GOODRICH | Mankato Free Press | Published: December 2, 2017

MANKATO, Minn. (AP) — Two months after he was found abandoned inside a hot and filthy home, a golden Labrador named Bandit is training to become a service dog for a military veteran.

Bandit was among a dozen dogs taken from an Eagle Lake house in September after neighbors reported persistent barking and their owner hadn't been seen for days. After watching the house for 30 hours and no one came home, police officers went in to rescue the dogs.

The temperature inside exceeded 95 degrees and dog waste was littered across the house. Bandit and another dog were locked in kennels, according to the criminal complaint charging their owner with misdemeanor animal mistreatment.

There was no food or water. The eight puppies and four adults were taken to a Mankato veterinary center and treated for malnutrition and dehydration.

All of the dogs soon were adopted into new homes, except for Bandit, who reportedly had exhibited some aggressive tendencies toward other dogs.

Mending Spirits Animal Rescue volunteer Kathryn Smith agreed to give Bandit a second chance.

"I was his last hope," she told the Mankato Free Press.

The dog trainer lives in a Minneapolis suburb nearly two hours away from the Mankato-based rescue group, but she occasionally fosters some of its most challenging rescues.

Bandit, however, has been anything but challenging since coming to Smith's home a little over a month ago.

"I knew from the moment I met him he would be a good service dog," Smith said.

The 2-year-old was happy to meet, play and snuggle with her other dogs. He wasn't bothered by treatment needed for an infection. He was receptive to begin training with Smith, who has trained several service dogs for veterans and children with disabilities.

Because of his ailment, Smith had to wait a few weeks to give Bandit his last test of whether he had the correct temperament to become a service dog: taking him to stores and restaurants. He easily passed that test as well, Smith said as Bandit lay calmly next to her feet at a busy coffee shop.

Smith partners with a group called Take a Vet Fishing to identify veterans who have post traumatic stress disorder who would benefit from a service dog.

Bandit will serve a veteran in Wisconsin who is still struggling with the disorder several years after returning home.

While service dogs can cost up to thousands of dollars through other organizations, Bandit's future owner will not pay anything. Smith donates her time and Take a Vet Fishing is paying Bandit's adoption fee to Mending Spirits.

Smith will spend the next several weeks teaching Bandit skills such as how to face the opposite direction of his handler while they wait in lines, which will provide his future veteran a sense of security that his canine companion is watching his back.

Bandit's future owner gave him his name and receives regular updates about his progress. Smith hopes Bandit will be ready for service early next year.

Smith has been training dogs for nearly a decade. She also trains puppies who go on to become K-9 officers for law enforcement agencies.

She also fosters dogs for a few different rescue groups and provides advice to fellow fosters and adopters who are struggling with a behavioral issue.

The last dog she fostered for Mending Spirits refused to come out of her kennel for anyone else. Smith said she was able to help Xena overcome anxiety induced aggression. The German shepherd is now thriving in her new family.
 

Mending Spirits Animal Rescue volunteer Kathryn Smith and her dog Bandit train outside a business in Mounds Vie, Minn., on Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2017.
KRISTINE GOODRICH/THE FREE PRESS VIA AP

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