City Lifestyle

Paw and Order

Not All Heroes Wear Capes—Some Have Four Legs

Article by Stephanie Hower

Photography by Trevan Hiersche

Originally published in Billings Lifestyle

Belgian Malinois
2 Years of Service

K9 Dual Purpose Service Dog, Billings Police Department

Dutch was born in Holland, where he spent 18 months as a KNPV dog.

“KNPV is a Dutch service dog competition circuit largely recognized as producing some of the ‘hardest’ dogs for police/military service,” says K9 Handler and Billings Police K9 Unit Trainer David Firebaugh.

David, who boasts more than 16 years of law enforcement experience, describes working with Dutch and the K9 unit. 

How does the K-9 unit serve the Billings community?

Our dual purpose dogs are for narcotics detection and patrol—patrol meaning finding people that are hidden or apprehending, fleeing or resisting subjects. The dogs assist BPD patrol and specialty units, the regional drug task force, neighboring agencies and federal agencies with narcotics detection where the officers have exhausted their investigative abilities and the dogs further the investigation by being able to locate drug odor.

Their service and impact on the community are assistance in intercepting large quantities of drugs and currency, both in support of long conspiracy investigations and during street-level interaction on traffic stops or calls for service. The dogs and their handlers respond to business and residential alarms, search houses for suspects before exposing human officers to the risk of the search, track fleeing suspects from stops or incidents, or otherwise provide a tool to search before exposing humans to as much risk.

Describe working with the K-9. What are some challenges you may face? What are your favorite aspects of the job?

Working with the dogs is life-altering. They require constant training and attention to maintain their proficiency…The dogs have energy and drive levels beyond the "normal" house pet and keeping up with their pace and intensity is highly challenging. A personal challenge is I’m allergic to dogs and so require medication in order to be able to maintain my health.

My favorite aspect of being a handler is working with the dogs—mine and others. It is rewarding to see them progress, their handlers progress and watch them do incredible things.

Eagle Mount Equestrian Program
Adaptive Horseback Riding
Equine Therapy

As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, Eagle Mount provides adaptive therapeutic recreation to individuals with disabilities within the community. 

“We are currently restructuring our Eagle Mount Equestrian Program and hope to have it reintroduced and running in the fall of 2019,” says certified therapeutic recreation specialist and Eagle Mount program director Rachel Heveron, who spent time working at the National Ability Center in Park City, Utah.

“During my time at the NAC, I worked closely with a rider who had cerebral palsy. A rider with CP can benefit because it allows the individual to work on core strength, while at the same time attempting to maintain an upright posture. … My individual also worked on fine motor skills by holding on to his reins. Most importantly, adaptive riding allows the individuals to relax and have fun,” Rachel says.

Rachel discusses Equine Therapy and what it entails. 

What is adaptive horseback riding? Who does it help, and why is it effective?

The reason why adaptive riding is so beneficial is because it can help anyone, with any ability. Some diagnoses that can benefit from equine therapy include autism, ADD, developmental disability, visual impairment and hearing impairments. Adaptive horseback riding can not only be done by any ability, but also by any age.

According to A Little Bit Riding Center in Redmond, "Adaptive horseback riding can provide healthy exercise due to the horse’s soothing rhythm, strength and different movements. This can improve the rider’s circulation and muscle tone. As an adaptive rider is learning to take care of their horse, it allows them to gain more independence."

Are there certain equine breeds or temperaments that you seek in a therapy horse?

Though many different breeds are used for equine therapy, the Norwegian Fjord is one that is often favored. The stamina and vigor of this horse combined with its gentle nature, makes it preferred for many equine trainers.

Can you share any interesting facts relating to Equine Therapy?

Equine assistance therapy can dramatically improve the quality of life for people with debilitating PTSD symptoms. Horses are hyper-vigilant when in unfamiliar conditions, and PTSD patients can readily relate to the sense of hyper-awareness. Recovering cancer patients involved in equine therapy find that taking care of a horse relieves their fears, improves their ability to focus on the moment and encourages development of meaningful relationships with other cancer survivors in EAT.

Dog Tag Buddies
Service Dogs for Veterans

DeeDe Baker, founder and CEO of Dog Tag Buddies, is the wife of a veteran. Her husband served in the Montana National Guard for 20 years before his unit was deployed to Iraq in 2004. 

“February 12, 2005, is a day I will never forget,” Deede recounts. “His Humvee suffered an IED explosion on the passenger side while out on a mission." Thankfully, everyone walked away, but her husband was later diagnosed with multiple physical ailments as well as PTSD and a traumatic brain injury. 

“As is the case with any veteran who has served in a war zone, he was changed,” DeeDe continues. “The one thing that didn’t change was his love of our dogs. A miniature schnauzer, Bean, was the catalyst that helped me see how much this dog helped him when he was having a rough day. ... It was this relationship that led us down the path of building a non-profit organization dedicated to helping veterans like him, rescuing dogs and partnering them as teams. Dog Tag Buddies is my way of honoring my husband’s service and our love of dogs and give back to veterans like my husband in a way that makes a difference.” 

What types of dogs do you work with?

Almost every dog in our program is a rescue dog. Dog Tag Buddies' mission is to not only serve veterans but to also help these shelter dogs by giving them a chance to lead a more fulfilling life. 

We look at dogs between 6 and 18 months of age. For dogs that are to become a fully trained service dog, we choose them based on the service our veteran needs. We assess the dogs for temperament, sensitivity to noise, touch, food motivation, health, size and structural soundness.

In what ways are the dogs affecting the veterans’ lives?

PTSD/TBI can make it difficult to participate in seemingly "normal" aspects of day-to-day life, and having a well-trained companion or a service dog can help mitigate some of those symptoms associated with the diagnosis. A big part of our mission is to also help lessen the suicide rate of Montana veterans through our services. Dogs can relieve stress and anxiety, alert the veteran before symptoms become overwhelming, awaken from night terrors, alert to alarms as a reminder to take medication, as well as give veterans a reason to get up each day and participate in life.

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