The dogs at Balance and Service K9s (BASK) start their training at about 8 weeks old. Each dog is trained in accordance to the needs of the person that the pup will end up with for the next 14 years or so.
MEDWAY – Halligan’s client has PTSD, and he’s learning how to help and assist him through everyday tasks that many take for granted.
“Halligan” is a standard poodle puppy in training. He’s handsome and charming, and he loves his work. His client, Plainville resident and retired North Attleboro Fire Capt. Rick Stack, will receive the fully-trained service dog for free thanks to Balance and Service K9s (BASK) in Medway.
BASK owner and trainer Christina Taddei has been training service dogs since 1999. She was an EMT for 12 years before becoming a police K9 handler in Milford for 15 years.
Her organization is one of the only all-volunteer service dog agencies in the country.
“Lukas,” a 1-year-old standard pPoodle, is handled by Christine Green, of Shrewsbury, during service dog training at Balance and Service K9s (BASK) in Medway last week. [Daily News and Wicked Local Photo/Dan Holmes]
“Bruno,” a 7-month-old Great Dane, trains during service dog training at Balance and Service K9s (BASK) in Medway on Wednesday. [Daily News and Wicked Local Photo/Dan Holmes]
“Bruno,” a 7-month-old Great Dane, takes a break during service dog training at Balance and Service K9s (BASK) in Medway on Wednesday. [Daily News and Wicked Local Photo/Dan Holmes]
“Calli,” a 6-month-old standard poodle, waits to have a turn during service dog training at Balance and Service K9s (BASK) in Medway last week. [Daily News and Wicked Local Photo/Dan Holmes]
Berkshire Poodles in Pittsfield helped Taddei start her business by donating a few of its puppies. More recently, taking her success into consideration, Berkshire Poodles have asked if Taddei was interested in raising her own puppies.
“We are now in collaboration with them,” she said. “And we are doing this, and the poodle is an easy breed to train.”
The dogs at BASK start their training at about 8 weeks old, and each dog is trained in accordance to the needs of the person that the pup will end up with for the next 14 years or so.
To get a dog trained by BASK, a 14-page application must be filled out. From there, the application goes to the board of directors (BASK is a nonprofit), which then chooses clients.
Taddei works primarily with standard poodles. The poodle, she said, is one of the most highly trainable dog breeds. And with selective breeding, breeders are able to somewhat control which genes will be passed on to the puppies.
Poodles, she said, are very intelligent, but more importantly are enthused to work with their owners. The doggie work, she said, is often like play to them.
One night last week, there were two poodle puppies, Lukas and Halligan; a Great Dane puppy, Bruno; and a tiny German Shepherd puppy, Horace, at BASK.
With the exception of Horace, the dogs are being trained to help people with balance issues, while Halligan is being trained to comfort and support those with PTSD. Horace will end up being a seeing-eye dog when he gets older.
“Balance dogs are for people who can walk without a walker, but have trouble on uneven terrain,” Taddei said. “He’ll help them out of a chair, out of a bed, off the toilet, out of the tub, but also as they’re going down the street they might need help with a curb.”
The idea is to use the dog as a counterweight, Taddei said. The dog works like a cane; it’s positioned on the opposite side of the owner’s limp, using their harness as a cane.
The owner uses more of a lifting action instead of putting pressure on the dog itself, helping the working leg or foot to gain lift over the one that is dragging behind.
People who adopt the dogs from BASK that require balance stabilization are veterans with foot-drop which is a common side effect of leg injury where the front of the foot cannot be lifted from the ground due to paralysis.
Balance dogs also help with diseases like multiple sclerosis and traumatic brain injury.
In the case of Rick Stack, comfort and security from the fuzzy mammals is the most important thing they must learn.
Halligan will learn to sense when Stack’s hand might start twitching in certain situations, or if his mood suddenly changes due to his PTSD.
Stack served on the North Attleboro Fire Department for 21 years and was a paramedic for five years before that. In 2015, it became apparent that Stack was suffering from PTSD, after some denial that he had the illness. After witnessing numerous deaths and other tragedies in his career, his family found him on high alert 24/7. After what he called an “intervention” with his loved ones, he realized that this diagnosis was real.
“I was always ‘on duty,’ I was always on edge,” Stack said. “It became difficult to draw the line between family life and firefighter life.”
Stack said he knew the difficulties of the job when he signed up, but wishes there were more tools available to handle the level of stress often associated with it.
After a lengthy application process to show Stack was capable of taking care of the dog, he’ll be receiving Halligan for free, thanks to BASK.
“I had to do a lot of work to show that I was going to be responsible and that I really believed that having a dog would help me out with my everyday life,” he said. “It wasn’t something that was handed to me lightly.”
Stack loved his career. He said he would happily jump back into a fire engine and take calls any day, but over the years the work took its toll. Halligan, named for the Halligan bar -- a forcible entry tool used by firefighters -- was the perfect match for Stack, right down to the name.
“It’s a significant name that reminds of the thing I always loved to do,” Stack said. “As firefighters, we don’t take care of ourselves, we take care of others. Now, Halligan will be there to take care of me.”