By Donald Lachman, Special Projects Coordinator, and Andrea Talmadge, Regional Coordinator
WestCare WA/WAServes has had the privilege of assisting Dan, a local Veteran, as he advances his reintegration into the community by obtaining permanent housing. Dan has faced significant social and financial challenges in 2021. However, he has also been assisted by what we refer to as “the best in people” individuals, who, no matter what their background is – share a common desire to help our nation’s Veterans!
Dan is establishing himself as a respected teacher and dog trainer locally and across the great state of Washington. It seems that wherever he appears in his new hometown of Bellingham, Washington, people are drawn to him. Without regard to ethnicity, age, or status, a great number of people are eager to stop Dan to have a conversation. They always request an introduction to his special partner, a young candidate for Brigadoon Service Dogs, easily identified by the familiar training vest that sports the organization’s distinctive logo.
This occurs so frequently that Dan can observe a person’s growing interest even at a distance as they walk towards each other. While still separated by many yards, he observes their faces break into wide grins and warm smiles. Their eyes are drawn towards a furry bundle of energy at the end of the leash he holds in his hands.
His training skills continued their development when Dan joined other volunteers as a member of a select training program hosted by Brigadoon Service Dogs.
Before acceptance, each volunteer dog trainer completed rigorous interviews and background checks. While in the program, they must regularly demonstrate their ability to take directions, accept criticism, overcome communication barriers, follow specific training schedules and achieve training performance metrics. All of these activities are conducted under the watchful eyes of the Founder/Executive Director of Brigadoon, Denise Costanten.
Dan’s outreach and impact are not just limited to the community. As the Coordinator for Brigadoon’s five prison-based service dog training programs, he regularly provides technical support and guidance to his program colleagues at the Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC).
The unit sergeant and DOC staff respect his experience, professionalism and commitment to excellence. His volunteer trainers know they are advancing a critical phase of dog training and Dan is there for them. Their success is his success!
During a recent site visit, staff at Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC) congratulated Dan on his recent one-year anniversary and his various achievements. They expressed pride in his professionalism, personal character as well as his impact as a model of positive growth for justice-involved Veterans. He accepted this compliment with great pride. Only fourteen months before, these staff members were his jailers before his release from thirteen years of incarceration with the DOC.