Home of the Brave
Sit. Stay. Heal. Not-so-basic training for vets
By Al Parker | Oct. 30, 2021
A canine-cuddling couple with decades of dog training experience is working hard to provide service dogs to northern Michigan veterans dealing with disabilities.
Ron and Diane Monroe established Mission Six Service Dogs for Veterans in 2018 and have provided six dogs for deserving vets. But they don’t train only canines.
“We train the dogs,” says Ron Monroe, “and we also train the vets.”
Monroe, who went to high school in Onaway, has a special interest in serving veterans. He served as a military police officer during his Army enlistment, 1983–87. During that time, he received training to become a K-9 handler. Mission Six Service Dogs was born from a blend of Ron and Diane's skills and their admiration for veterans.
But what motivated the couple to create Mission Six was something more specific: witnessing more and more servicemembers leaving today’s military with the kind of scars others don’t see.
“We’re focused on serving vets with PTSD and TBI (traumatic brain injury) Those are some invisible disabilities that are really prominent now,” he says. The Monroes believe the best way to help vets heal those wounds and regain independence is through what the call “the service dog experience.”
While the vets learn principles of canine psychology and building a relationship with their new partner, the pooches learn public access skills and how to perform tasks that help their veterans deal with limitations inherent to PTSD and TBI disabilities.
The handler's education also includes their rights, roles, rules, and responsibilities of having a service dog. They learn about state and federal laws that relate to their new partner.
The dogs — almost exclusively female German Shepherds less than two years old — are donated by Humane Society branches and breeders from across Michigan.
Mission Six depends on donations and fundraisers to keep operating.
“We can't do this alone,” says Monroe. “I can train dogs and train vets, but we need help to fund it. We don't have big corporate funding, but we've had great community support, and we want veterans who think they might qualify to contact us.”
The Leathernecks Motorcycle Club has been a solid supporter of Mission Six. “Several local chapters have become advocates for us,” says Monroe, adding that Mission Six has received a lot of support from the local communities of East Jordan and Petoskey, too.
The continued help not only buoys the organization and its leaders but also has motivated many of the vets Mission Six has worked with to join the organization and aid it in efforts to reach and impact even more vets.
“Most of the vets we serve have become Mission Six team members, helping us in different ways,” Monroe says.
Their efforts to pay it forward is certainly welcome. Monroe, who has worked for the Department of Natural Resources for 33 years, operates Mission Six in his spare time.
“I spend three days a week working on Mission Six – Friday, Saturday and Sunday,” says Ron. “And probably another 20 hours a week in the evenings after work. It's exhausting, but it's so much fun.”
It’s also rewarding.
Brutus native John Williamson, who spent eight years in the Navy, received his service dog, Liberty, through Mission Six last year.
“As soon as the leash clicks, we click,” Williamson told a TV reporter at the time. “It's just been enlightening, and I never thought I'd be this much better.”
The Mission Six team members hope more veterans who think they might need help will step forward. “Having the chance to change someone's life is a rare opportunity,” says Ron. “We've been blessed to at least try.”
To learn more about Mission Six Service Dogs, go to www.missionsix.org.
What Makes a Top Dog?
There are specific standards that must be met for an animal to become eligible as a service dog. Some common traits include:
· A calm temperament. A service dog needs to be well-tempered. That means they aren’t going to become stressed easily, even in difficult environments. These animals should be happy to be petted, but even if a stranger approaches and is mildly aggressive with their affection, the animal isn’t going to react negatively. Most of the time a calm temperament comes from birth, though certain attributes can be trained.
· A social personality. In other words, a service dog needs to be friendly. This is sometimes considered one of the most important attributes as they will provide an emotional boost to their owner, especially during stressful situations. If the dog is too energetic, though, that can cause harm so that social quality needs to be tempered to some degree.
· They must be adaptive. A therapy dog needs to be able to adapt to different environments. Even if there’s a lot of noise in the background or crowds of people, that dog needs to have patience and be able to properly support its owner even in uncomfortable environment.