Service dog aids Fairchild
kneels with her medical alert dog, Zeuss, an
18-month-old German shepherd June 22 at
Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash. Ms. Hawks
obtained Zeuss from Schraderhaus K9, a breeder in
detailed research about medical dogs and their
services. Zeuss comes from an accomplished
canine family; his parents are both titled
working dogs, and his brother is a drug detection
dog in Arizona. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Staff
Sgt. Connie L. Bias)
by Staff Sgt. Connie
92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
7/10/2007 - FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. (AFPN)
-- They say dog is man's best
friend, but for a 23-year-old Fairchild Air Force Base woman, a
dog is much more than a friend.
Kimberly Hawks has always loved animals. From the time she was a
child, she has depended on her pets for comfort, support and
companionship. Her German shepherd, Zeuss, is no different. The
sleek, black-coated 18-month-old purebred stays by her side
night and day, offering constant loyalty and friendship. But
that's not all Zeuss provides.
As a psychiatric service dog, the canine is more crucial to Ms.
Hawks' life and health than any animal she has owned before.
After a hospitalization in December, Ms. Hawks needed more daily
assistance than she was receiving, and started looking into the
possibility of obtaining a medical alert dog. After speaking
with her therapist and researching applicable laws and the
American with Disabilities Act, the Fairchild AFB family member
had her doctor write a letter of support and stared the journey
to welcome Zeuss into her home.
Ms. Hawks is married to Staff Sgt. Jeremy Hawks of the 92nd
Civil Engineer Squadron explosive ordnance disposal unit at
"A service dog is basically an animal that assists their handler
with life activities," Ms. Hawks said. "Service animals are used
for all kinds of things -- for people with seizures, blind or
deaf people -- and the animals are trained to perform specific
tasks, individual tasks for their handler."
Zeuss is trained to do things like turn on lights, wake Ms.
Hawks up, retrieve her medications and alert her of medical
emergencies. All of this specialized training takes time to
complete, and the dog owner can choose one of two ways to
accomplish the training; hire out or do it yourself.
"I recommend doing it yourself if you have the energy and time
because you bond with the animal more, and you learn more about
your animal," said Ms. Hawks, who decided to train Zeuss with
help from service animal experts in Spokane. "We train on the
basic commands. Then we also train for a canine good citizenship
test and a public access test."
These tests cover a variety of commands and actions, including
the proper way to enter or exit vehicles and buildings, stopping
at crosswalks and avoiding distraction. After the animal has
mastered certain competencies, a dog trainer administers the
final tests. This initial training process normally takes six
months to a year, she said.
"Really, training is a life-long process; you're always
training," she said. "Luckily, Zeuss is very mellow and loves to
learn, so he's progressing very quickly."
Life with a dog isn't always work and training, though. While
Zeuss has an important job to do, he also enjoys his play time.
"I work a lot with in-vest time and out-of-vest time," said Ms.
Hawks, referring to Zeuss's red service-dog vest. "When his vest
is off, he's allowed to be a puppy, to play and chase around the
house. As soon as his vest goes on though, we have to separate
the friendly animal from the job he's supposed to be doing -- he
has to lie down, be quiet and listen."
That added discipline and responsibility is one of the biggest
differences between a household pet and a service animal.
Service dogs have a much higher level of accountability because
they "must be totally reliable," she said. "You can't go out in
public and have the dog growl at another dog or bite somebody;
he must do his job."
The general populace can help service animals and their handlers
by knowing what to do, and what not to do, around and to the
animals, Ms. Hawks said. "You don't want to pet service animals
without asking, and you don't want your kids to run up to the
animal. (Service animals are) not to be played with."
This "hands off" policy is not because the animal is dangerous.
You should "never be afraid of a service dog," said Ms. Hawks. A
service dog should be well beyond dangerous inclinations before
appearing in public. It is because distractions can be
dangerous. When a service dog is working, the dog's handler
should be the animal's first priority, and extraneous
distractions can upset the animal's concentration.
In many ways, Zeuss should be treated with the same caution and
respect as a military working dog. Though Zeuss's job and
training are completely different from a military dog's -- Zeuss
is not trained to attack or bite on command -- the German
shepherd needs the same courtesy to perform his duties.
"Let the dog work and do his job," said Tech. Sgt. Mike Talley,
the 92nd Security Forces Squadron military working dog section
NCO in charge. "Base personnel should know, when they come
across the service dog, not to reach down trying to pet the dog,
not to try to feed the dog. Let him pay attention to Kimberly
the way he should.
"I also ask base personnel to welcome them and be supportive of
her medical need," Sergeant Talley said. "The military working
dog section is behind them 100 percent, and Zeuss should be
welcomed anywhere on the base possible. As a medical service
dog, he's providing an important service for her and her safety
as she travels around, both on and off the base."
Ms. Hawks said she realizes people will be drawn to her dog,
and there are times when strangers can pet Zeuss. She just
requests people "always ask before petting him," and she's quite
used to fielding petting requests from adults and children
It's no wonder, considering Zeuss's friendly, curious
disposition -- he's about as loving as a pet can get. And that's
what makes him so good at his job as comforter, supporter and
on this story
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