MARQUETTE — You’re probably familiar with seeing-eye dogs or dogs who help people with hearing impairments. But for people whose scars are mental or emotional, another type of service dog is needed.
Onyx Rutledge is not your average dog. Her job is to look after her owner, Michael, a retired non-commissioned Army veteran.
Michael suffered a traumatic brain injury during his service and developed post-traumatic stress disorder.
“When I retired from the Army, I had spent my entire adult life in the Army, 22 years. Coupled with the PTS, that culture shock of entering a completely new life, I probably couldn’t have gone without her for the first couple years. She provided friendship, companionship, and I knew she was looking out for me. And that provided me a lot of comfort as I went through that transition from one completely different lifestyle to another,” said Rutledge.
Onyx has been with Michael for 11 years, but becoming a service dog doesn’t happen overnight. There’s lots of training involved for both the dog and the human.
“Everyone comes in here thinking, ‘Oh you’re going to help me train my dog,’ and they come out going, ‘oh you taught me everything.’ Which is key! Because it’s about the person training their dog, we just help them discover how to do so,” said Kim Benson–Custard, a Professional Certified Dog Trainer at TacoMo Dog Training.
Bonding is an important part of that training as well. If the pair don’t mesh well, the dog won’t be excited to do her job and the owner won’t get as much out of the relationship.
“You have to be the one who’s there, feeding them, taking care of them because if you really want them to be bonded to you and be connected, they want to feel like you are the world,” Benson–Custard added.
While these animals do have a job to do, they’re more than just workers. They’re friends and family.
For more information on TacoMo Dog Training, call (906)-251-1230