Louisville Magazine

AUG 2018

Louisville Magazine is Louisville's city magazine, covering Louisville people, lifestyles, politics, sports, restaurants, entertainment and homes. Includes a monthly calendar of events.

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80 LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 8.18 behavior, hypervigilance, and trouble concentrating or sleeping. PTSD symptoms often lead people to avoid taking action because they don't want to think about it. "Sometimes, they're in denial that there's anything wrong," McEuin says. Although Wells was late in learning that he had PTSD, he was early to benefit from Dogs Helping Heroes as the second official dog recipient when he was paired with Johnny Cash. "It was like having a baby at first," says Wells, who has two children and five grandkids. "I just got to know Cash, and what he can do to help me manage my problems, and everything started falling right in line. I started feeling a little better about myself." Central in the training of the Dogs Helping Heroes dogs is the "at-ease" command. A veteran will say "at-ease" or use some signal — often putting their head in their hands — and the dog responds by giving the vet his full attention. He may jump up and cuddle, or paw gently or lick. Many dogs learn to recognize the anxiety that brings an at-ease command before the veteran does and will perform the at-ease behavior before the veteran realizes he needs it. But Cash has taken it a step further. Wells is committed to helping veterans, so he and Cash are at the VA Hospital at least weekly and at many Dogs Helping Heroes events that attract veterans. And this is where Cash shines. For instance, Wells and Cash were at a meeting at the U.S. Veterans Outreach Center on ird Street when Cash walked across the room and began pawing another man. "Are you OK?" Wells asked the man after the meeting. e guy said he was fine. "I said, 'Look, Cash does not get up and come over to just anybody and give what we call an 'at-ease'!'" e man Wells was talking to broke into tears. "He was having a flashback," Wells says. "I've seen Cash get up on the bed with patients (at the VA). It just blew me away. My thing is, I promised them that if I get this dog, I would give back to veterans. I'm adamant about helping veterans." So is Cash, apparently. One February morning, Benson stands in a room full of men and asks them to name the one thing they're waiting for their dog to learn. e answers are varied: to respond more promptly when called, to bond more with his trainer, to show more confidence, to ignore other dogs. en, over the next 2½ hours, Benson works with the men to reach those goals. He does this every week at the Kentucky State Reformatory as part of the Humane Society of Oldham County's Camp Canine program. Although most of the dogs trained here will become family pets, a few will go to Dogs Helping Heroes applicants. Matthew DiBenedetto, an inmate serving 60 years for two murders, says there are other beneficiaries. "As much as we think these dogs are changing somebody else's lives, these dogs are changing our lives," he says. "It's teaching you empathy, compassion, responsibility to care for another life. A lot of people don't have those skills." e dogs help more than just the 20 men in the dog-training unit. "You've got guys on the yard — who's not gonna smile when you see a dog wagging his tail?" e inmate dog trainers take their charges to the prison nursing-care unit weekly and to the psychiatric unit. "at's the highlight of their week, seeing these dogs," DiBenedetto says. Prison staff members have adopted many of the dogs that come through the program. And employees having a bad day often find their way to the dog- training unit for some canine therapy. DiBenedetto singles out the inmate training Boaz, a tough-looking German shepherd with ragged ears. When Boaz came into the program, he was spoiling for a fight with any dog he saw. "e guy who's got him, he's an experienced handler. His timing for correcting Boaz on his behavior is phenomenal," DiBenedetto says. Michele Culp, president of the Humane Society of Oldham County, says Boaz's rehabilitation was considered a longshot. "When we first saw him, we wondered if he was save-able," she says. He was. A few months later, his new owner's Facebook page is full of photos of Boaz playing with puppies as though he were a puppy himself. Benson has worked with inmates since 2010. ey are his toughest assignments. "Inmates challenge me more than any other person I talk to," he says. "Any chink in your armor, they're going to find it. at was a hard lesson for me." For instance, when he changed wording from one week to the next, his students were quick to call him on it. "ey got out their notebooks. ey came up. It was this whole big back-and-forth. It triggered my insecurities," he says. "But it made me grow as a trainer." Even after eight years training inmates, he's still learning. "Not only are my leadership skills improving, the inmates' leadership skills have been improving." DiBenedetto has trained dogs with several different rescue groups over 10 years. So far, he says, none of the training has been as successful as Benson's. With other trainers, he says, "All throughout our training class, the dogs would be barking and just losing their minds. Whereas here, you've seen it for yourself, they're just laying down. ey're quiet. ey're composed. It's all due to Dave's training and the amount of teamwork that we have." No one could figure out what was wrong with Trayceton Harmon Play with or pet a dog and your brain releases neurochemicals inexorably tied to well-being. Researchers found that the longer we gaze into a dog's eyes, the higher the rise in oxytocin levels.

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