Veteran alumnus sponsored for service dog

Laurel Kraus, Managing Editor

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After just under seven years in the United States Army, which included two deployments to Afghanistan with the 82nd Airborne Division, recent Oakland University alumnus Reed Kaiser returned home in 2015 with more than he had bargained for.

Among his non-visible ailments are two herniated discs and two slipped discs on his spine, torn IT bands in both his knees, and PTSD. While initially on a variety of medications, he quickly realized that he did not want to be stuck to that regimen his whole life.

“It got to a point where a doctor called me and she said, ‘you need to stop taking your medicine immediately and come in for another blood draw because your kidney and liver show signs of shutting down,’” Kaiser said.

He began seeking alternative means of management for his symptoms and after finding acupuncture, was able to get off all pain medication but continued to search for additional ways to combat his mental ailments.

It was early April 2018 when Kaiser was approached by Vito Pampalona, through his connections to Student Veterans of Oakland University (SVOU), who is on the advisory board of Guardian Angels – Medical Service Dogs, Inc., a nonprofit organization based out of Florida which provides support dogs to veterans in need for no charge.

“It couldn’t have been better timing,” said Kaiser, who had already been looking into getting a support dog.

Through Pampalona’s aid and sponsorship by The Yellow Ribbon Fund, a charity for injured American veterans, Kaiser was fast tracked through the process, which usually takes around two years.

On Oct. 25, 2018, he was flown down to Florida to be paired with Bailey, a 17-month-old German Shepherd who was trained for 16 months to achieve national certification.

He then remained in Florida for 10 days to see if the pairing would be a good fit and to learn how to work with the dog. This included bonding, training commands, event exposure in controlled environments and even learning how to bring a service dog through TSA. Kaiser also noted it’s important to never pet a service animal without asking.

Bailey has now been living with Kaiser for just over a week.

“I’ve been out of the military for three years, and I’ve really had no structure those three years and I loved it, but I’ve been feeling like I need some sort of structure right now in my life,” he said. “She’s a reason that motivates me now to get up at this time, start doing this… because there’s certain things you have to do with her early in the morning to get your day started. I already feel way better just because I’m not always depressed, laying in bed.”

Bailey’s biggest aid to Kaiser, who deals with anxious feelings and irrational anger, is as a personal check to notice when he is acting a certain way.

“Initially it’s pulling my mind off the depressing things or whatever may lead to my PTSD,” he said. “The big thing with her and I is that she senses my emotions very well. So when I’m angry, she starts to get really timid and super alert, and basically what she is, is a mirror reflection of my emotions.”

Another OU student has already been sponsored and is just beginning the process through Guardian Angels, while SVOU is currently fundraising to sponsor a service dog for a local veteran and name it Grizz.

Anyone interested in donating can contact SVOU President Tyler Digiacomo at [email protected] or stop by the Veteran Support Services office in Vandenberg Hall.