Gunter, a 24-month-old chocolate lab, stands erect, pressing the length of his body across the front of his trainer’s legs. “Behind,” says Fanie Benecke, director of canine services for iK9. Gunter responds, walking around Benecke to stand against the back of his legs.
Gunter is one of three service dogs trained by iK9 to assist veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and he, along with the other service dogs and handful of emotional support dogs, is waiting to be paired with his “person.” “We call (the veteran) the dog’s ‘person,’ ” said Lizzie Benecke, program and contracts manager for iK9 and canine trainer. “Almost everything that our dogs are trained to do centers on one main purpose and that’s to provide the vet with a feeling of well-being, comfort and calmness, but also to provide an additional sense of safety and security.”
Lee Blackwell, retired Air Force Master Sergeant, was the first veteran iK9 paired with one of the service dogs. The company created the pairing as a side project to the VA’s study to see how well a veteran and service dog would bond.