Northern Virginia service dog group matches veterans with puppies | Headlines

After New York’s David Pineda entered the Army National Guard at the age of 17, he saw a world of opportunity. Then, just a year and a half later, came his first military mission on the fateful September 11th, helping first responders and establishing security perimeters in Manhattan. The arc of his life changed.

A later tour in Iraq added to his growing unease, and sometimes his anger. Pineda said he and his wife knew something was wrong.

“In the end it all turned back and I had to step aside and admit that I had a problem,” he said.

Pineda, who now lives in Chantilly, is affiliated with MK9s Service Dogs, a Viennese organization founded by Michele Kohl who recently retired as a pediatric nurse at Reston Hospital Center. Even while working as a nurse, Kohl raised 18 dogs for Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Kohl said service dogs have always been her passion.

“I breastfed at night so I could train dogs during the day,” said Kohl. “We’re a small, all-volunteer organization, but I believe the quality of the product – our dogs – is the most important thing. Our volunteers take on a two-year assignment and need further training. “

A difference to MK9s is that the veteran already gets to know his dog at the age of eight weeks and the bonding process takes place over a period of two years parallel to the training of the puppy.

“As the pups grow, the time they spend working together increases steadily,” she said. “The puppy stays with the veteran and switches from the weekend to a week, to two weeks at a time. After graduation, they are already a committed team. “

Pineda said Legend, his MK9s service dog, can help him with a number of emotional moments.

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David Pineda and his service dog Legend, which was provided by a Vienna-based organization MK9s Service Dogs.

“When I’m excited, he can weigh me down, nudge me, and help me get out of my head. He can see that and draw my attention to him, ”said Pineda.

“If I don’t realize it, he goes and finds his squeaky toy and starts squeaking the toy in front of me,” he added. “He’s still finding a way to get my attention and break the pattern I’m sliding into.”

He said the legend played an important role in his new meaning.

“For many veterans with PTSD, they feel like they are no longer valid or of no use. Having a service dog brings me back to that responsibility. I have no one left or right, but he needs me. I have to do this. I have to get him out to feed him, ”said Pineda. “I can be in a really dark place that I don’t want to get up in and he’ll get me through. He won’t leave me alone, even if I don’t want to – he’s my polygraph, ”makes him aware of emotions that he doesn’t want to admit.

Kohl said she came from a military family – her entire family served in the Navy and her son is a Navy submarine – that she finds her second career immensely satisfying as she watches dogs bond with handlers and veterans reaching out to each other.

“We are a family together, and we want them to know for the life of the dog and for every successor dog they need that we are there when they need us,” said Kohl.

Pineda, now out of the Air Marshal program, founded the Veterans Network and helps others focus on what got them to join the service in the first place.

“When it comes to respecting someone’s journey, I’m in a dark place, in a foxhole, with you,” said Pineda. “If you ask me how I got out of my foxhole, I can tell you about it when you’re ready to get out.”

Kohl said it was important that no veteran be left behind. “We’re giving back to the men and women who gave so much for the freedoms we enjoy.”

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