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Canine companions

Mizzou ROTC members volunteer to prepare service dogs to assist veterans with PTSD and children with autism.

Nov. 9, 2020

Contact: Sara Diedrich, diedrichs@missouri.edu

University of Missouri ROTC cadets are training service dogs in partnership with the non-profit Retrieving Freedom for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and children with autism.

The three-month program pairs groups of ROTC students with aspiring service dogs, They aim to socialize the dogs and prepare them for placement with veterans and children. In each student group, there is one primary handler for the service dog and alternate students switch off with the primary handler to train with the dog.

Kylie Schatmeyer is an Army Military Science-4 cadet and a primary handler involved in the program. She trains Blaze, a Labrador retriever. She knows the service program benefits ROTC volunteers and the dogs equally.

“You have to really work with these dogs in order for them to understand a command,” Schatmeyer said. “It’s great practice for ROTC because you have to be that mentor and leader and have patience.”

The program is an extracurricular and volunteer opportunity for cadets, but that does not take away from its importance.

“When we first went to Retrieving Freedom, we got to see veterans with their dogs and the impact it has on them,” Schatmeyer said. “They told how helpful their dogs were in dealing with the issues they were struggling with.”

Travis Akin is a freshman ROTC cadet and a secondary handler for Blaze. Akin decided to join the program to better himself and help others.

“I’ve seen people who struggle with PTSD and other disabilities,” Akin said. “So being involved with something like this is a meaningful experience.”

After the ROTC students finish their program, Retrieving Freedom will take over with the dogs and place them with veterans or children with autism in need. Cadets will be sad to see the dogs go, but know they had an impact.

“I know how much impact dogs can have with emotional and physical support,” Schatmeyer said. “Helping whoever Blaze goes onto is important to me.”

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