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Lifelines: Woofs for Warriors pairs veterans and dogs who need each other

Before Kent, a handsome boxador, came into his life last year, former Army Cpl. Scott Clancy, 46, was very close to committing suicide, he said.

“I would check the door 30 to 40 times a day. I was afraid in crowds,” he said. “I would go out to the store maybe once a month.”

But an unexpected perfect pairing with this boxer lab mix changed Clancy’s life.

“I saw pictures and videos of other dogs, but when I saw Kent, I saw something in his eyes,” he said. “And when I (got) on the ground, he came over and our connection was instant. He gave me my life back — I was afraid of my own shadow.”

Clancy and Kent were connected through Woofs for Warriors, a local program that links rescue dogs with veterans — many with post-traumatic stress disorder — and helps train the dogs as service dogs along with the veterans.

“We are not only saving the vet, we are saving the dog,” said Cathy Reichen, president of Woofs for Warriors. “When we are contacted by a vet, we figure out what they need and want and work closely with them and their ‘fur-ever’ friend. The bond, I can’t describe it, but when it is the right dog, the connection, you can’t teach those things.”

The program, originally started by Paul Du Bois under the Mountains to Miracles Program, was so busy with requests, Du Bois asked Reichen and Chris Argento to help out.

“We took over from Paul because he couldn’t keep up with the demand,” said Chris Argento, vice president of adoption and training for Woofs for Warriors. “We match a dog, that has the potential to be a service dog, with a vet.”

About 10 years ago, the Army began using animals to help de-stress combat soldiers in Iraq, and although it’s been slow to evolve, some Army hospitals like Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland use specially trained dogs as mental health therapy assistants who help calm veterans while in therapy sessions.

Kaiser Permanente scientist Carla Greene has been studying the effects of pairing assistance dogs with soldiers in her PAWS research project, and she said that community reintegration problems for veterans with PTSD are common.

Especially troubling are fears of entering buildings, crowds and standing with their back to others in public. For many veterans with PTSD, the fears are debilitating, with many becoming hermits who are unable to tolerate public situations.

According to Greene, preliminary quantitative data indicates a statistically significant difference with PTSD symptoms, substance abuse, depression, interpersonal relationships and overall mental health for veterans with service dogs.

Last year, U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Wellsboro, co-sponsored a bill, HR 4764, “Puppies Assisting Wounded Service Members,” or the PAWS Act of 2016, designed to provide service dogs and veterinary health insurance to veterans who served on active duty on or after Sept. 11, 2001, and were diagnosed with and continue to suffer from PTSD.

The bill was sent to committee in 2016.

Scott and Kent

Scott Clancy entered the Army after high school in 1988 during Desert Storm. In 1991, while on field operations at Camp Pickett in Virginia, he was struck by lightning.

“I woke up in the hospital two days later and all I remember is seeing the steam coming off my skin,” he said. “It entered my left calf and there was a blue flush to my skin and it was smoking.”

The strike to his body left him completely disabled. But it wasn’t until he had a knee replacement in 2012 that the PTSD appeared. And doctors said they think something from the anesthesia triggered latent memories of the trauma.

“They think it brought the PTSD to the forefront,” he said. “I got to the point I would never go out, I gained a lot of weight and my personal hygiene was next to nothing.”

Prescription medicines failed. “I didn’t think anything was going to help,” he said.

And then last year he heard about Woofs for Warriors from the Mountains to Miracles Foundation on Facebook.

“From the time Chris got Kent from North Carolina, it was three months,” Clancy said. “I got him on May 18, 2016.”

Kent was a rescued stray found with horrible mange, said Reichen.

But once healed, he was ready to tackle his new job.

And together, Clancy and Kent started training with Woofs for Warriors.

Today, Kent senses Clancy’s emotions and needs. When they are in public, if Clancy might be in a check-out line, Kent sits behind him, touching Clancy’s feet and facing outward. If someone gets too close, Kent stands up, creating a safe space and alerting Clancy.

When they arrive at home, Kent goes into the house first and scans the rooms to make sure no one is inside before Clancy enters.

“He alerts me my when my blood sugar is too low or too high,” Clancy said. “He will start licking my hand or puts his legs across me.”

Still an issue for Clancy are storms. Because he was injured during a storm, he will not go out, so Kent is trained to let him know when storms are coming.

Right now, Clancy and Kent are working on light switches.

“Kent is OK turning on lights, but I’m teaching him how to turn on three-way lights and how to open handicapped doors at grocery stores,” Kent said. “He’s working about five hours a day, and he always has a great smile. He just loves it, he loves to work.”

Woofs for Warriors

Reichen and Argento are also part of Glens Falls Kennel Club, but their Woofs for Warriors work is keeping them busy.

When they get calls from rescues, locally and in other states, they travel to the location and adopt dogs that might make good service dogs before placing them in foster homes, to see how the dogs get along with children and other animals and observe their overall traits.

“We evaluate the dog, take them to the veterinarian. Basically, they have to be good with people and other dogs,” Argento said.

In the past year, they have placed about 15 dogs with veterans and the program in general has matched about 57, said Reichen.

Just as the dogs are evaluated, so are the veterans who have applied for a service dog through the program.

“There is an interview process and we are an advocate for the dog and the vet. We want to make sure it is a safe home environment. If there is no yard, they have to be willing to walk the dog,” Argento said. “And that’s good for them to get out.”

According to Argento, veterans must also agree to work with the training, which can take from six months to a year.

“They are always training,” Argento added.

Their initial goals are to train the service dogs to meet AKC Canine Good Citizen Certification as well as being able to handle specific situations such as working in crowds and watching the veteran’s back.

“In crowds we teach them to circle around the vet,” Argento said. “Our trainers work with (the veteran and dog) so they are able to go into restaurants, on airplanes, in airports, and basically we teach them how to behave in public.”

Reichen explained that they also provide continual follow-up.

She first got involved with Woofs for Warriors because of her father, who is a Vietnam veteran.

“I did it to honor my father, who has struggled with even discussing it,” she said, adding that her father would be a hermit if it wasn’t for his service dog.

And she is always happy to talk about Clancy’s success.

She shares that Clancy has learned so much about training Kent and that he now researches new skills for Kent.

“He is a unique trainer,” she said. “Scott is a guy who needed it, and he is now a different man. “

Queensbury supervisor candidates spar over taxes

QUEENSBURY — On fiscal matters, the two candidates for town supervisor differ more on their view of the future than their actual policies.

Both want to cut taxes. But Democratic Supervisor John Strough can’t forget 2008 and 2009, when the town “struggled” to pay its bills, he said. The town had no town tax at that time. He’s worried about the future, predicting a slight downturn in sales tax revenue next year.

“We’re very dependent on sales tax revenue,” he said. “The economy goes through cycles. If I’m wrong, and sales tax revenues are strong again next year, I’ll probably cut taxes a little more.”

Republican candidate Rachel Seeber sees a better future.

“I feel we have a very high tax rate,” she said. “We have a big reserve. We could be returning money to the taxpayers and still have a healthy reserve.”

Until recently, the town’s reserve — its general fund savings — was $6.9 million, which is 52 percent of the budget. Seeber argued that was far too high.

“Schools aren’t allowed over 4 percent,” she said, noting that the town’s internal policy was to save money equal to 30 percent of the budget.

“I would like to follow the policy,” Seeber said.

The Town Board recently took that step, in a way — it moved money to another savings account, earmarking it for capital projects. Now the savings will be around that 30 percent mark (about $4.3 million) by the end of the year.

Seeber called the transfers a “shell game,” with the money being moved around to make it look like the town was following its policy.

Strough said the money was actually needed for projects to be completed next year, although final cost estimates have not been set and two interim estimates are much lower than the amount of money transferred.

The board moved $2.37 million toward the $3.5 million highway garage replacement, $150,000 for new vehicles, and $1.25 million for renovations at Town Hall, including a new HVAC system.

Strough defended the moves as a way to ensure the town will not have to borrow for any of the projects. Borrowing would leave the town with a bill that could be difficult to pay in an economic downturn, he said.

He wants to buy as many of the big-ticket items as he can while sales tax revenue is high. He noted that the town has 20 plow trucks, none of which has been replaced in the last decade. Vehicle and building maintenance was also deferred in the late 2000s, and the town still hasn’t caught up.

“We’re in a hole. My job is to bring us out of this hole,” Strough said. “If the vehicles are eaten up and we have an economic downturn and we can’t afford to buy a quarter-million-dollar plow truck, we’ll be in big trouble.”

Seeber is not persuaded by this view of the future. The town has plenty of savings, she said.

“I don’t believe we should stockpile money,” she said. “I believe the taxpayers know how to spend the money in their pocket better than we can spend it for them.”

She wants to reduce spending, cut back on savings and return the excess to the taxpayers. She said she would look through the budget, thinking, “How could we get more money back into the taxpayer’s pocket, where I think it belongs?”

Under Strough’s administration, the town cut costs by outsourcing information technology services, as well as the administration of the activities center, which Queensbury Seniors now run for a stipend.

Seeber would also change the process by which the budget is set each year. She wants a series of budget meetings that are open to the public, with the video posted online so residents who don’t have an evening to spend at Town Hall could still see the discussion later.

The current process “lacks transparency,” she said, noting that the town had just one scheduled meeting with department heads. That meeting was canceled and never rescheduled, with Strough directing board members to talk to department heads one on one.

Strough said he had to cancel the meeting, because an employee forgot to notify the public in time.

Seeber also wants to look closely at the town’s fees. She was not pleased when the Town Board reduced the water district tax levy by 43 percent but increased the water usage fee by $5, which is a 25 percent increase. She felt the board deliberately moved costs from the tax levy to the fee, because the state tracks tax levies for the tax cap, but does not put a limit on fees.

Strough does not think town residents are unduly stressed by the town tax. On average, homeowners pay $137 a year.

He said people need to put the idea of lower taxes in perspective.

“$137 pays for all the services the town offers,” he said.

Seeber said Strough needs a sense of perspective. Some residents worry about being able to buy groceries, she said.

“It’s what does a hundred dollars mean to you versus me?” she said. “I would say a hundred bucks is significant.”

While Strough wants to keep reducing taxes if times stay good, he said he would probably not eliminate the tax entirely. But he said he was working on it.

“When I took office, it was 60.2 cents per $1,000. Now it’s 53.9 cents,” he said. “That’s a 10.5 percent reduction in my term.”