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Canine Wounded Veteran initiative
CRESTVIEW -- A Crestview couple is in the middle of training their *10th* Assistance Dog for Canine Companions for Independence.
The military veterans have devoted the last decade of their retirement to prepping puppies to help others.
It's added up to a lot of sleepless nights and happy endings.
It's a big day for O'Neil. It's the lab-Golden Retriever mixs' first day in a library.
Trainer Marietta Birdsell is gauging O'Neil's focus and retention.
(("Generally, the first few times you take a dog to a new environment they behave like they've never been taught anything at all."))
Between the stacks, the seven month old is doing fine. The pair works on "under" a critical command. Assistance dogs spend a lot of time waiting under tables. Their manners must be impeccable.
(("Proof the commands so he learns that sit at home, the standard is the same at home as it is here."))
Birdsell is a retired Army Lieutenant Colonel. She says her military training -- the structure and discipline has helped her train ten dogs in ten years.
(("It's not a bed of roses, there are some thorns thrown in but by and large it's a wonderful experience and well worth any sacrifice you have to make."))
Puppy raisers sign a contract assuming all responsibility for the dog's vet and food expenses during the 16-18 months they have them for training.
Birdsell's husband Bill Branch says preparing these dogs is his wife's calling. The retired Army Colonel hopes our story will let local vet know about the group's wounded veteran initiative.
(("so many people need assistance dogs and they don't know how to get them and this is one of those programs where they get them for free."))
O'Neil was the eighth of eight in his litter, so Birdsell thought he'd be shy. But he's confident and fearless and super smart.
He'll be a tough one to let go.
(("It's hard to say goodbye and I have to admit that none of my goodbyes have been without tears."))
She's pretty sure he'll master his 40 mandatory commands and by this time next year, be by the side of his partner.
(("When they dog does place you come to the final realization that's what all the hard work was for, and then there are tears then too!"))