The video U.S. Army veteran Joey Bozik sent to Carolina Canines with his application for a service dog showed just how difficult it is for Bozik to put on and remove his prosthetic legs.
There is strong suction where the socket attaches to the stump, and with only one arm, Bozik struggled to create enough leverage to remove the artificial limbs. Enter Joshua, a rescued black lab/retriever mix who’s probably about 2 years old.
On Monday, Jan. 5, Bozik and Joshua met for the first time, but Joshua had been preparing for the moment for nearly a year, training with a military prisoner in the brig at Camp Lejeune through the Carolina Canines for Veterans program. The program is the first of its kind in that the service dogs are trained by military prisoners.
Carolina Canines executive director Rick Hairston said the program currently includes six dogs working with nine inmates. Joshua is the third dog to be placed with a disabled veteran in the program’s first year, and a fourth will follow within the next couple of months.
The program was started with help from the Veterans of Foreign Wars Ladies Auxiliary, which contributed $31,000 to help get it off the ground. Each trained dog is valued at $38,000 and is placed at no cost to the recipient.
|Staff photo by Joshua Curry |
Carolina Canines placed Joshua, a black retriever, with Joey Bozik, a U.S. Army veteran who was injured in Iraq, on Thursday, Jan. 8.
The process of training a service dog takes 9 to 12 months, and fully trained dogs are capable of performing more than 70 tasks. Prior to his introduction to Bozik, Joshua and his trainer focused on specific tasks that would be of the most help to his new owner — such as helping him remove his prosthetics.
On Thursday, Jan. 8, when Joshua was officially placed with Bozik, Hairston played two videos — Bozik’s application video showing the difficulty of removing his legs,
and another showing Joshua helping with the same task. The task is similar to others Joshua had already learned, like tugging on a rope pull to open a door or refrigerator.
“As far as I know, that’s never been done before,” Hairston said.
In the video, as Bozik pushed from his end, Joshua pulled from the other. Joshua is vocal when he works, Hairston said, explaining the dog’s grunts and rumbles as he tugged.
Bozik and Joshua also spent a lot of time working together in Bozik’s handicap-accessible van; with its specially adapted seat and low floor, it’s hard for Bozik to reach anything that falls, so Joshua has learned to help retrieve keys and other items from hard-to-reach spots in the van.
Joshua doesn’t like the taste of metal, so he finds a plastic part of the keychain to grab before returning it to Bozik.
By contrast, some tasks other dogs have been trained for were not as important to Bozik, who was injured in Iraq in October 2004. Bozik is married, and he and his wife welcomed a new daughter into their lives just before Christmas.
Bozik has had a few years to relearn daily tasks. While many dogs are trained to help load the washing machine, that wasn’t as important to Bozik, who has a front-loading washer and dryer and said he and his wife can handle the laundry.
Bozik said he is looking forward to returning home and introducing Joshua to his new family.
“I think in a way he shares the disability with me,” he said. “If I drop something, he has to remember to pick that up. After a while, it becomes second nature, and the treats will start to go away, once we find the groove in our routine. But Joshua will share the disability with me just like my wife has done in the past.”
For more information on Carolina Canines for Veterans or the organization’s civilian program, call 362-8181 or visit www.carolinacanines.org.