Hi! My name is Falcon. I was born on April 23, 2011, in Colorado Springs, where I was sponsored and named in honor of the Air Force Academy. Everyone told me I was destined to be a very special dog, and so my journey began. First I flew to Palm Springs, CA where I lived with a puppy-raiser from Guide Dogs of the Desert for 18 months, and I was excited at the prospect of becoming a guide dog for a visually impaired person. However, that wasn’t to be, as my qualifying physical revealed I had elbow dysplasia. It’s not bad enough to bother me in my lifetime, but a Guide Dog has to be perfectly fit. Although I was disappointed, I learned each service dog has a special journey, and my journey was destined to take me down a different path.
I discovered Guide Dogs of the Desert partners with Custom Canines Service Dog Academy (CCSDA) in Madison, Wis. I was sent to the academy in April of 2013 where I proved my capacity to be a fantastic service dog. The trainers at Custom Canines worked with me for several months to discover what character traits were unique to me.
During my time at the academy I discovered I had a unique inner sense and passion for my human friends that were not visibly hurting or disabled from the outside, but rather battle an unstoppable war in their hearts and minds. My gift to sense and quiet my two-legged friends’ inner troubles, led me to be a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder service dog with the Wisconsin National Guard Sexual Assault and Response office.
On October 23, 2013, CCSDA placed me with my new handler, Ms. Amber Garfoot. Every day I go to work with Amber and her co-worker Capt. Robert Brania and work with victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. Our main office is at Wisconsin’s Joint Force Headquarters in Madison, but we spend much of our time on the road doing community outreach, outreach at armories, and working with our organization’s victims.
Over the past few months, I have spent lots of time loving on these people with matching clothes and have learned that sometimes when service members come home from war or experience trauma from a horrible event such as sexual assault, the war or event remains inside them. These service members battle themselves daily dealing with anger, lack of sleep, dreadful memories, flashbacks, and pain from what they have seen and experienced. It haunts them everywhere they walk and every time they close their eyes.
It is my job to provide these Soldiers’s comfort and to bring them to a better place. I can sense when they are experiencing anxiety and am able to calm them using the skills I have learned at CCSDA. It is my companionship and unwavering support that allows me to develop love and trust with the Service Members that I work with. I love my new Wisconsin National Guard family, and I can’t wait for Wisconsin service members, veterans and their families to discover just how much dogs like me can do! The military employs hundreds of dogs with different jobs. My K-9 veteran furry friends go everywhere, including combat zones, but I’m happy to be the first in Wisconsin and look forward to meeting you!
Editor’s note: K-9 Veterans Day is March 13, and while Falcon, the Wisconsin National Guard’s service dog, is not a combat veteran, he serves the veterans and service members of the Wisconsin National Guard.
Falcon is trained as a service dog to perform specific tasks for individuals with PTSD-related disabilities. Although Falcon’s presence and interaction with Service Members may be therapeutic, he is not a therapy dog. Service dogs are trained to perform specific tasks for those they assist – typically a handler with a disability. The Wisconsin National Guard Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) team’s use of Falcon is primarily for outreach. Falcon’s presence creates an avenue for Service Members to interact with SAPR personnel, creating the opportunity for meaningful discussions about the program that might not have otherwise occurred. PTSD can be common amongst survivors of military sexual trauma, and the educational benefits of Falcon’s affiliation with the SAPR program are tremendous.