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Training Service Dogs became a beacon of hope; Saving lives is what the dogs do

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Veteran James Smith with Loki, a German Shepherd.

Sitting in a college class some time ago, a K9 handler with her service dog at her side heard her dog whimpering and would not stop. The handler (who asked not to be identified) and dog Oliver Queen walked to the front of the room where the professor stood. The handler asked several questions of the professor regarding possible medical issues and the professor said he was fine. Oliver tapped the professor on his chest and the handler asked if he had heart issues. The professor did and was advised by the handler to seek medical attention. His life was saved. The service dog detected a serious heart issue.

Service dogs are trained for that reason. They save lives. Handlers do also.

Although Oliver has retired, this same handler, a veteran of the US military, is working with Mill-Sec K9 owner Joseph Millwood to train service dogs for the public. She joined Mill-Sec about six months ago although she's trained K9s most of her life.

Today her service dog Lucifer gives her stability, assurance and guidance as she faces multiple health issues.

The veteran contacted Millwood about training Lucifer and they became a training team. As a veteran of the military who sustained injuries, she must have a service dog in order to go through life.

Millwood said the dog was evaluated and had the right temperament for the program.

A second veteran, James Smith, did not have a dog, but needed one to help him with medical issues, he also sustained during his years in the military.

Although Smith had four dogs, none of them met the qualifications of a service dog and Millwood was able to help him find Loki, a German Shepherd. Undergoing training, Loki is about six months old and will be fully trained by age two.

Millwood provided Smith and the female veteran complimentary training packages - valued at $18,000.

Millwood, in his first year of business, wanted to give back to the community. He is now looking at doing the same for a third veteran, who needs a service dog but can't afford the training.

"Our program is designed to guide our disabled veteran clients through the process of training their own dog. The dogs can either be one they already own or one that we help locate," Millwood explained.

Millwood has owned German Shepherds since he was a teenager and his dream was to become a handler. Millwood started service dog training because the disabled female veteran, who had assisted several other veterans with training their own dogs, reached out to him looking for a training home.

The veteran enjoys training, but due to her medical needs, she's unable to train as a full time job, Millwood said. She wanted a place where she could have access to train dogs and receive the support of another experienced trainer so when her own disabilities kept her from doing the job, there would be someone she could rely on to help training.

She began training dogs at age 12 and training for others at age 14.

She was injured 14 years ago while on active duty and left the military broken. She decided to use her skills of dog training to teach her first service dog how to help her. Since then she's assisted disabled veterans and other disabled people all over the country and in Canada with training their service dogs.

"She reached out to me looking for help to continue her dreams despite the many complications," Millwood said. "We talked a lot about her medical needs and I got to see how impressive her skills are. I can't actually hire her full time or even have a regular schedule for her due to her medical conditions, but I created an opportunity within Mill-Sec K9 so she can continue to do what she loves. One thing that was important for her was the opportunity to help a veteran that was struggling which is why the yearly donation package exists."

The 30 week training course includes public access, basic and advanced obedience and task/work. By the time the dogs complete the program, their handlers are able to function in society with the assistance of their Service dog, trained specifically for their needs.

"I want to help disabled veterans who do not have $20,000 to train their own dog," Millwood continued.

That's how he and Smith connected again after several years.

They have known each other since 2010 as volunteers with the Hudlow Volunteer Fire Department.

Smith desperately needed a service dog and was offered the free program from Millwood.

Millwood previously trained other dogs, but decided to learn how to train service dogs.

"We want to help more people who need service dogs," he said.

Of her dog, Lucifer, the veteran said, "This is medical equipment, no different than a wheelchair" she said.

She also reminds everyone that a service dog can go anywhere the public has access and no one has a right to question the service dog's documentation.

'Wherever the public can go, service dogs can go," she stressed.

"If the public isn't allowed, neither is a service dog."

Millwood said despite his own struggle with chronic pain and setbacks in his life, he is doing what he loves.

"I am limited to what I can do but this is the most rewarding career I could ask for," he said.

Millwood was 16 years old when he had a life changing vehicle crash.

He said his lifestyle changed dramatically but after physical training five years ago, he began the professional dog training journey.

"It was the biggest, most unexpected blessing," he said.

Another accident last year became a temporary setback. He questioned himself minute by minute if he could continue his training journey. He continued to push himself beyond the limits.

"I can do what I love through the wonderful dogs I train. This has been a beacon of hope and it provides constant resurgence of perseverance."

"When you find your passions, there is nothing else like it," Millwood added.

For those living in chronic pain, Millwood reminds everyone their struggle with constant pain is real.

"Go check on them," he said.

To learn more about Mill-Sec K9 call 828-755-7335 or visit Millsecdogs.com.

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