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The Meaningful Jobs Podcast - Veterans, PTSD & Dogs - An NGO CEO's Meaningful Impact on Society - Transcript




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So welcome to the Meaningful Jobs podcast season three.

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I'm your host Adrian.

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And today we're extremely honored to welcome Kyle Crickle,

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who is from K9 for Warriors,

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a company that trains service dogs for veterans.

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So how are you doing Kyle?

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I hope you're doing well.

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Yeah, doing well, Adrian.

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Thank you so much for having me.

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So the reason why I was so excited for this interview

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is because it's because of the nature

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of K9 for Warriors work,

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because they train up veterans, sorry,

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train up service dogs for veterans.

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And it's really related to what our viewers are looking for,

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which is, you know, meaning of work

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aside from just monetary rewards.

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So, you know, I think based on your profile, Kyle,

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I don't think you've gone into an industry

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related to veterans at first, right?

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So you went on to different marketing roles

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before you got onto where you are.

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So can you tell us a little bit about how this, you know,

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journey came about?

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Sure, so I'm actually from the New York area,

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born and raised,

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and I spent my career after graduating from NYU

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in marketing in the entertainment world.

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I worked in the film industry, the TV industry,

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and then moved into market research

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for the film and television industry,

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and really, really enjoyed that,

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had a great time, learned a lot,

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really got an understanding of analytics,

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which is something that I've carried

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throughout my entire career.

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But one of the things that really impacted me

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early in my life while I was in college was 9-11.

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I was an NYU student

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living just a few blocks away from the towers,

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and it really impacted me significantly.

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I mean, I had my own issues, you know,

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having kind of lived through that trauma.

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And, you know, after the marketing career

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and entertainment career,

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I got an MBA from NYU,

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which I really was fantastic.

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And then I had an opportunity

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to work at the 9-11 Memorial and Museum

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as their head of marketing.

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So I thought this was a great way

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to kind of deal with the stuff

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that I'd been avoiding when it came to 9-11.

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It was a subject that I didn't wanna talk about.

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I didn't wanna watch it on TV.

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I didn't wanna deal with it.

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And when I got contacted about the position,

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it seemed like one of those God moments.

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Like, you know, the world is telling me that,

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you need to really deal with this,

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and here's the way you're gonna deal with it.

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And I took that opportunity to do that.

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And it was a tremendously fulfilling experience.

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And that's really where I found myself,

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you know, realizing that

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when you're working for kind of a greater good,

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there is something that is more rewarding.

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And while at the 9-11 Memorial and Museum,

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I really felt that.

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I felt like I was helping individuals

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confront something that's scary,

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learn more about something that is not comfortable.

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And I was doing it for myself at that time as well.

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And I really, really found a lot of fulfillment in that work.

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And during my time in New York,

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my wife and I decided to, you know,

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kind of look around and get out of the city.

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And K-9's for Warriors

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had a chief marketing officer position.

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And I saw this as a really amazing way

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to continue doing the work that I was doing at 9-11,

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kind of helping people deal with the after effects of 9-11

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by helping the men and women who actually went to war

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because of that day.

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So I saw it as a kind of a continuation

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of the work I had been doing,

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but actually also helping the folks who fought

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in these conflicts after that day.

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So I came down here about three years ago,

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took on the chief marketing and development role,

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had a lot of impact in terms of their ability

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to fundraise and spread awareness of the mission.

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And last year was promoted to chief executive officer

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of the organization, which was an honor,

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something that I don't take lightly.

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It's a lot of work.

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You know, we have 200 plus staff,

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we have 150 plus dogs at any given time.

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We have veterans who have, you know, PTSD.

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It's not easy for a lot of these ladies and gentlemen

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to get through the day.

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So there's a lot of moving pieces.

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It's a lot of hard work,

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but ultimately it's really rewarding.

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It was very interesting when you talked about 9-11

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because we actually had a recent guest

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who also suffered, you know,

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having seen the live events unfolding in 9-11

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and he used music as a way to get through it

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and spreading his love as he's, you know, a musician.

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And, you know, for yourself,

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you kind of use your marketing related skills

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to help others.

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So, you know, without 9-11,

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how do you think your career would have been?

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Do you think it would be completely different?

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Like, would you still be in marketing?

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Yeah, I think that it would be a lot more media heavy

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and less kind of nonprofit related.

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I do believe that.

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Yeah, I think the trajectory would have continued in,

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in media within the marketing world.

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So how did you get into marketing in the first place?

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Like, were you interested in marketing from a young age

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or was that something that you got to come to grips

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maybe in the latter stages of your maybe studies, I think?

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As an undergraduate,

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I interned at entertainment companies,

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Nickelodeon, Comedy Central,

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within their advertising and promotions departments.

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And I really, I loved,

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I loved the speed of advertisements.

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I loved the pressure of having to communicate a lot

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in a short amount of time.

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I'm a quick communicator.

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It's kind of, you know, maybe it's where I was raised,

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probably because I come from a gigantic family

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that doesn't listen.

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So you have to speak really quickly

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or else no one hears you.

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But I know I guess people-

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It started early.

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It started as an undergraduate.

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And then I think the thing that really pushed me

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over the edge when it came to marketing is,

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there's the creative side of it, which I was part of,

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you know, putting together promotions and advertisements.

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And then there's the data side of it,

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kind of the analytics where you're looking at, you know,

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who this advertisement is targeting.

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And then you have obviously the advertising success,

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you know, if it's online,

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there's a ton of digital data behind that.

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But really the marrying of numbers and creativity

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was what really drew me to marketing.

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Because I do feel like I have,

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I'm a very analytical person,

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but I also have a creative, you know, kind of edge to me.

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So that's kind of what drove me in that direction.

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And it did start early.

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I'd say, like I said,

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undergraduate is when I really fell in love

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with the marketing field.

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So obviously you had a few years

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in a for-profit organization in a commercial role

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and then switching to an NGO.

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So, you know, was there like a particular time point

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in your career where you think,

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I've had enough of working in a for-profit role

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and wanting to switch into an NGO role?

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Or is it something that has happened more naturally?

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I'd say more naturally.

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There wasn't a moment where I said,

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that's it for me, I'm done working just for money.

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I think it happened organically.

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The 9-11 Memorial Museum job kind of was presented to me.

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I didn't go seeking it.

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That's why I think it was kind of a larger,

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kind of the larger forces of the universe

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showing me the path.

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So no, and it just,

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the path was kind of illuminated for me

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and I just decided to take the step,

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but it wasn't something where I made that declaration

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in terms of a shift in my career.

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So, you know, moving on and talking about

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canines for warriors,

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can you tell us what your day-to-day role is

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and a little bit about your company?

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So how it helps vets?

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Yeah, I'll start with the overview.

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So we pair, we're the largest service dog provider

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to military veterans with PTSD, TBI, and MST,

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military sexual trauma.

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And we've been around since 2011.

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Early next year, we'll have paired a thousand dogs

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with warriors, which is tremendous.

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The program works like this.

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We procure dogs, majority rescue.

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We bring them onto our campus.

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Once they, you know, we obviously temperament test them.

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They have to be a certain size and weight,

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bring them to our campus, train them to be a service dog,

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which means they perform tasks.

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It's not as emotional support animal.

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And about, you know, 40 to 50% of the dogs

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make it through the program

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and actually graduated service dogs.

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The half that don't, we find forever homes out.

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So we're always adopting dogs.

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But once-

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Sorry, can I ask how you source these dogs?

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Is there like a particular way you do this?

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Yeah, absolutely.

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So we have relationship with shelters

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all over the Southeast.

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We're based in Florida and Texas.

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So the shelter system in Florida and Texas,

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we're always looking for shelter dogs

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that fit our temperament and size and weight.

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We also have a puppy program where people donate puppies.

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And we also have partnerships with organizations

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that provide dogs to us.

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So there's three main kind of ways we procure dogs.

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Rescues being the majority,

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because that is something that we're trying to help,

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which is the, you know, preventing the euthanasia of dogs,

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because it is an issue in this country.

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So in terms of, you know, how your dogs help vets,

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can you tell us a little bit about how that works?

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Yeah, so the program, the way the program works is,

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every month we bring in a new class of veterans, right?

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So in Florida, it's about 12 on campus,

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in Texas, it's about four, it varies.

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And they come here day one,

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they get acclimated on a Sunday.

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Monday, they get paired with their dog.

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This dog is a-

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That's a quick process.

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Yes, but the pairing is,

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how lots happening in the background

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before they even get here,

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in terms of understanding who that veteran is,

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what his lifestyle like or her lifestyle is like,

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what do they have children, what do they do every day,

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and then finding the dog

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that really matches that personality.

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So the following day, they get paired with their dog,

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and then they spend three weeks on our campus.

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It's a residential program.

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We have housing here, we provide meals for the veteran

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to learn how to utilize that dog.

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So the dog is fully trained, it is a service dog.

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The veteran is not training the dog.

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We're really training the veteran how to utilize that dog.

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So the dog provides a lot of different services,

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a lot of different tasks.

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So whether it's, you know,

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the veteran's at the ATM, their back's exposed,

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that dog will actually watch the veteran six, right?

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It'll actually look the other way

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to ensure that no one's coming,

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because there's a vulnerability there with veterans

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when their back's exposed.

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So the dog will look back.

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If you're in a crowded space,

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the dog will actually make space for you

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so you can navigate through a crowd.

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If you have mobility issues, there's a brace command

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where the dog will actually brace its back

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so you can use the back of the dog to stand up.

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There's also my lap, which is a command that's used

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when the veteran is having an anxiety attack,

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and the dog will jump up, put his paws on the veteran's lap,

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and that it immediately has a soothing effect

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on their wellbeing.

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And there's a number of other tasks,

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but I think the point really is that there's a real bond

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that happens where there's more safety felt by the veteran,

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there's companionship,

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there's also a reason to get out of the house,

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a reason to wake up.

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You know, a lot of these folks who are dealing with PTSD,

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I don't know if you know anyone who's ever had it or has it,

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but they like to isolate, they like to stay home,

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they don't wanna engage with the world, they're scared,

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they don't wanna go to the supermarket, it's overwhelming.

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And this dog allows them to kind of get back into life.

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And we see that all the time.

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You know, individuals come here who haven't left their house

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barely at all in three years.

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And then after our program, a couple months with the dog,

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they're going to the supermarket by themselves.

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So it's really a tool to get them back to life.

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It doesn't cure PTSD, it helps them better navigate the world

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and live a fuller existence.

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I think the interesting thing about this

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is that when I did psychology back at school,

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one of the things that I learned,

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treating lonely people was to give them a pet.

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And seeing you guys doing the exact same thing

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and having this sort of positive impact,

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I guess it's a bit of a full circle thing for me

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because I haven't really seen this in practice before.

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So I'm just wondering if your organization

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is one of the first of its kind doing this,

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or do you know any other organizations

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doing a similar thing?

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Yeah, we are one of the kind of pioneers,

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I guess, in this space.

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And because of that, we take a lot of leadership

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when it comes to legislation, trying

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to get the VA to subsidize service dogs for veterans

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and really make the VA understand

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the efficacy of service dogs.

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And because of that, we've done a lot of research,

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third party research.

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So we have the O'Hare Laboratories,

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which is now based in the University of Arizona.

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It used to be in Purdue.

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Do studies of our veterans and the impact of service dogs

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on their mental health.

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One such study was testing the cortisol levels, which

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indicates stress and anxiety in veterans with PTSD

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who have emotional support animals as a baseline,

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and then those who have service dogs.

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And that study really led to some incredibly relevant data

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that really tells the story of what we see every day.

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Which was that the veterans with PTSD who had service dogs,

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their anxiety and levels were equivalent

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to the normal population.

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And those who had emotional support animals were much higher.

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So the impact is there.

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We have scientific research to back it.

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And that's relevant because in order

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to get the government to subsidize this,

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you have to show that it's real, that it's not just anecdotal.

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So my point in saying that is because we were pioneers

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in this space, we've led the way in bringing more attention

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to this tool, this modality, as an alternative treatment

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for PTSD.

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But there are a lot of other organizations

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that have come up within the last 10 to 15 years that

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are doing the same thing.

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And we love it.

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It's one of those things where there's

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a lot of veterans out there who have PTSD.

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We can't take a hair of all of them.

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So the more the merrier.

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I don't see it as competition.

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I really see it as all of us collectively trying

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to make a dent in a really serious problem.

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Speaking about cortisol levels, they

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must be pretty high up as a CEO.

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I don't know about your experience,

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but how stressful is it for you to run a mid-sized company,

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I would say, as a CEO?

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I'd say it has its moments.

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I mean, there's a lot of variables when you're dealing

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with 160 dogs, a lot of them shelter dogs.

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And obviously, shelter dogs have more baggage.

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It's like humans.

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It's like the more trauma you've been through,

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the more you kind of have to work through.

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And so there's the dog aspect of it.

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And then you have veterans who we really

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need to take care of well.

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So there's a lot that we really focus on to make sure

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we do the right things.

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And it takes a lot of effort, a lot of focus.

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There's a lot of great people here

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who are here for the right reasons.

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And that makes my job easier because I don't have

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to be involved with everything.

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But it is stressful.

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It's not easy.

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I would say every day comes with a little surprise.

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But like I said, there's an amazing staff here

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and great people that help solve problems.

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And that's why we're here.

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We're not here to sit in the problem.

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We're here to find solutions.

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So it's a unique organization that

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comes with unique challenges.

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So I'm interested in knowing about whether veterans are,

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whether you guys help veterans integrate back into society.

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Because obviously with a lot of them having PTSD

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and other problems, it might take them a few months

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with a service dog just to recover.

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And after that, what kind of support

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do you continue to give veterans?

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And do a lot of them get another job in society?

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Yeah.

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And so we do help.

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I mean, that's part of what we do, is helping these ladies

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and gentlemen kind of reintroduce themselves to society.

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The dog is a great kind of catalyst for that.

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After they graduate, so after the three-week program,

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we check in on them regularly.

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We have a whole warrior operations department

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that ensures that that transition is going well,

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not only for the veteran and the dog,

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but for the wife of that veteran,

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or the husband of that veteran, or the children

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of that veteran, to really ensure that the caretakers,

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the folks who have been helping this individual with PTSD

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for a long time, are transitioning with that dog

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in their house as well.

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So ensuring that the household itself

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is moving forward in a good direction.

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Because it's a transition.

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Getting a dog is not a small thing.

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And so after the warrior graduates,

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we check in on them regularly.

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If they have issues that are specific to their service dog,

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we help them.

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Let's say that their employer has

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a problem with the service dog.

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We ensure that they have the proper legal understanding

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of what a service dog is and what their rules

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and regulations are.

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And we help that person as much as possible.

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If they have an HOA issue, say their apartment is not

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dog-friendly, we help them navigate that as well.

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So we are helping.