VETERAN + SERVICE DOG TEAM STORIES

Jim + Bomber: our 100th team

Jim Koch met Bomber, his golden retriever, on September 27, 2019.

Bomber was the 100th service dog to be trained by Northwest Battle Buddies and paired with a Veteran.

In Jim’s words, “He’s magnificent.” 

“I don’t know that anybody could put into words the difference it makes.”

JIM’S CONTINUING STORY IN HIS OWN WORDS… 

Q: Jim, tell me about the program.

Well, I guess what I would say to you is, is that it’s not that hard. I don’t think for the average veteran that is lucky enough to get a service dog, it’s that hard. But they have a lot to do and a lot to teach in a short time. So it’s kind of like being in the service again, they tell, and you do. And if you don’t do it right, they correct you. But you know, I look at the first week when we all got together, there were ten disparate veterans; eight guys and, and two women with a variety of different afflictions from a variety of different wars. We represented virtually everybody, Marines and Navy and Air Force, and of course, the Army. But we were a bunch of people that didn’t know each other, didn’t know a whole lot about our dogs. We were introduced to them after a face to face meeting; they made sure that all the questions in the surveys and qualifying they did up front, was in alignment with what they saw when we came down. And then we were introduced to our dogs on our second day.

And what I saw was a bunch of disabled veterans that were glad to see a dog, but we were really a pretty jumbled up mess. I remember on graduation day we did our final test, and I was stunned at just watching us as a group, how much, how far we had come. We looked like, and we were, in control of our dogs and our dogs knew what to do. And I’m not sure that I would have believed that possible after my first week. So yes, as Shannon says, “There’s a right way and a process to do everything,” and they teach you how to do everything step by step. And then you do it over and over and over, just like you do in the military. So, it becomes muscle memory.

And that’s very, very important. And I didn’t realize how important it was. I thought, gosh, we’re going to the same malls and the same Walmart. And, and we went through the airport and TSA in places that I would never go. But when you know what to do, and you don’t really have to think about it, you’ve done it enough that it just kind of comes naturally to you. So the only thing I could say is because we were all military and we were used to being told what to do and how to do it. And if it wasn’t done the right way, then you practiced, and you did it until you got it right. Their commitment was to teach us the right way and make sure that we were comfortable doing it, and we knew how to do it. And the dogs and the trainers, or handlers, in our case, had a shared vision.

Q: Have you had any challenges since you brought him home?

One of the things that is a challenge for me is complex thoughts. What I discovered when I brought the dog home was the things that we practiced were very much real life, but they weren’t exactly the same. For example, we would go to Walmart once or twice a week, and we would grab a cart, and we would go shopping. We never bought anything, but we went through all the motions and through the checkout and all of that. And so when I brought my dog home, I thought, “Not a problem, I’ll go do the grocery shopping.” Well, what’s a big problem? What I discovered is that instead of pretending to go look at the vegetables and put them in a bag, when we actually have to unfold the bag, and you’ve got to make sure that your dog is safe and your cart is positioned right, and he’s not going to get his tail run over, actually doing it all by yourself was harder than I thought. But I don’t even think about it now

Q: What would you say was your biggest takeaway from the program?

It got me out of the house, off the couch. Well, and I also have responsibility. I mean I’m married, but my kids are grown. I live with my wife, we’ve been married for a long time. We, we started together in 1971, she’s a tremendous partner and is incredibly supportive. And so she would do the grocery shopping. I just couldn’t stand all the chaos going into Walmart, just not a place I would go on purpose. But I mean they took us on the light rail. We went through the airport. We went through TSA and screening. We knew we were going to the Vancouver mall or to Walmart almost every day, to the point where it was no longer an event. It was no longer a challenge. It wasn’t something that you had to kind of build-up for, be concerned about. It was just, do the same things in your practice, the same commands, et cetera. And the dogs are trained.

Q: Was there a time when you came back, and there was an instance or some scenario where the dog really performed or that you noticed really stood out to you? Like, “Wow, this is changing things.”

I think the big difference, and they made it quite clear, the expectations were that we had a responsibility to the dog, and the dog was to help us and take care of us, but it was reciprocal and had to be equal. One of the things I really like about what Shannon does, she talks about fairness all the time to the dog. If you have undue pressure or an unclear command, you confuse the dog. She has a long driveway, and every day, they would bring the dogs out to us, and we would put their gear on them, and we would just walk along the oval driveway, and it settled the dogs down and got their brains thinking right. It was also very good for the vets. Because it was kind of a long oval, I don’t know how long ago the nickname came about, but they call that NASCAR.

So you know, they bring the dogs out. Shannon says, “Okay, NASCAR, everybody.” And we walk around, and she watches us with the dogs, and when the dogs were ready and when we’re ready, then we start training. But I still do NASCAR every morning because I live in a cul de sac, and it just gets me up and the dog up and gets us with a shared vision.

I take a hundred percent complete care of the dog. Golden retrievers have two coats, an undercoat, which is very thick, it’s like a sponge. So, every time he has to go out, it takes me a good half an hour to dry him when we come back in. So, five times a day, I’m drying and brushing him. So, it occupies my time. It gives me the ability to have something to do that somebody is depending on me to do. But I think to be honest with you, it’s, it’s the unconditional love that that dogs provide, and the support. When I’m walking down the street with my dog, every third or fourth step, he is checking me out. I’ve never had a dog do that before.

Q: Do you feel he helps you most by getting out in public, or what do you see as the biggest change in your life?

The fact of the matter is that the dog is watching me all the time. If I get up and go to another room, the dog gets up and goes to another room. That bond is only getting stronger, and in my opinion, will only continue to get stronger. But I take a great deal of pride when I take him out with me, whether we’re just going to walk for exercise or whether we’re going down to the VA.

Q: If you could say anything to the donors, what would you say?

Thank you. I don’t know that anybody could put into words the difference it makes. I’m 72 years old, and I thought that pretty much everything was in the rearview mirror for me. But for the first time in for the first time, I’m looking forward. I don’t think it’s just the dog though, to be honest with you. I think it’s the, the people, the commitment. Ovie is phenomenal. Shannon is, I’ve never met anybody like Shannon. She’s focused like a laser beam. She’s committed. She works incredible hours, but the love that pours out of her for her service dogs and for her service vets that she’s helping, it’s appreciated. But it’s also genuine and it matters. I would tell you that if you met her in person, you’d never forget her. She’s doing amazing work. She’s an amazing woman.

Q: Is there any last little experience you’ve had since coming back that you would want to leave people with?

Well, I was concerned at first because although I’m a dog lover, I thought I was too old to train another dog, so I wasn’t going to have another dog. But I think the commitment that they have at Northwest Battle Buddies, not just to the veterans, but to the team of veteran and dog, and their ability to handle them differently, I thought was fascinating. Because typically, my experience in life has been “one size fits all” –they teach everybody the same way to do the same thing no matter really what it is. But that’s not true at all of Northwest Battle Buddies. They’re gonna leave with the same skills, and they’re not going to leave until they have learned the skills and demonstrate the skills consistently, but everything is focused on the relationship between the dog and the vet.

THE REST OF THE STORY from Shannon Walker, the founder of Northwest Battle Buddies

When I was choosing a Veteran to be paired with our 100th service dog, I knew he/she had to be a very special person. Having our 100th dog was a lot of responsibility. I needed someone who was very kind and gracious, someone that didn’t mind the extra attention that a normal service dog would bring. The Veteran had to be able to handle interviews, and of course have the character and self discipline that all of our NWBB service dog handlers have to have. When I met Jim, he was exactly what I was looking for to represent our 100th Team. Jim is always so respectful, he greets you with a smile and a handshake. As I saw his relationship grow over the weeks of training with Bomber, his smile got bigger and bigger. He began everyday with enthusiasm and a great attitude, even if it meant going somewhere he was dreading to go. With Bomber was at his side, he faced everything we asked him to do with tremendous courage. I had high hopes for Jim and Bomber as a team, and I have not been disappointed. Jim is 100% accountable to his service dog and to NWBB. I could not be more proud of them!!

Please stand with us and make a difference.

Jim’s story is an example of the daily struggle that our American Heroes face while battling invisible wounds of war. Every year, 8000+ Veterans lose their lives to suicide. The struggle of PTSD is a life sentence; however, there is hope.

Operation Never Quit is our $22+ monthly giving program.  Joining Operation Never Quit is an opportunity to say “Thank You,” not only for our freedom, but for the sacrifice our Veterans continue to endure.

Please join ONQ22 and stand with NWBB as we fight to make a difference in the lives of our American Heroes.