LOS ANGELES – You would never know by just looking at Kalani Cruetzburg how important a service dog is to him. The limitations that his dog, Bas, helps him deal with come from deep inside the veteran.
"I was there, laying in my bed one morning, stuck in my wave of depression which I suffer from. It was to the point where I was paralyzed, couldn't get out of bed. And one of the ways that I run away from my depression is I find social media and just get lost in social media," Cruetzburg says. "I belong to a support group, veterans, Marines Helping Marines. Somebody had posted, 'Is there anybody here who wants a dog?'"
He immediately jumped at the opportunity believing this might be his only way to get a service dog and sent a message detailing his emotional and mental struggles. His response to the posting came from Nate Schoemer, a trainer who teaches canines rescued from shelters how to be service dogs.
The work Schoemer has done with Cruetzburg and Bas is featured in the new Animal Planet series "Rescue Dog to Super Dog" debuting Saturday, Aug. 12. The series looks how there are millions of dogs living in shelters across the United States and there are tens of millions of people with physical, mental or neurological disabilities who could use some help.
In each episode of "Rescue Dog to Super Dog," dog trainers, Schoemer and Laura London, meet a potential owner in need of a companion dog to help them in their daily lives. The trainers then head to a shelter in search of dogs with the right attitude and aptitude to provide the specific service for the disability.
Cruetzburg was not aware that a TV show was being produced when he responded to the posting. All he wanted was a dog. After a few months of discussions with Schoemer, Cruetzburg wanted a canine companion so much he was willing to fight through his depression and share his story in hopes other veterans would understand the power of having a service dog.
Almost any breed of dog can become a service dog but some adapt quicker than others. It was up to Schoemer to find just the right dog for Cruetzburg. They ended up finding Bas, a Rottweiler mixed with a golden retriever.
Schoemer says, "In 'Rescue Dog to Super Dog,' we're training very specific tasks for each individual person. So we're trying to find out what services can Bas provide to Kalani that's really going to improve the quality of his life."
One area of training is for Bas to recognize when Cruetzburg has shut down so emotionally that he's blocking out the world. When the dog senses this, Bas will go and rest his head next to Cruetzburg until get gets up and takes the dog for a walk. If Cruetzburg shuts himself in his garage, Bas has been taught to retrieve his leash as if to say he needs to be taken for a walk. These kind of actions help improve the quality of life for Cruetzburg.
The series will show that the training process isn't a matter of a few easy steps but an ongoing process for both the dog and the person.
"It is most important to train the human," Schoemer says. "If you take, for example, a dog that's not that well-trained but you put that dog with somebody who really understands dogs and understands how to train them and how to communicate effectively with them, the dog's going to look amazing.
"And then, on the other side, you could take a dog that has months and months of training and is able to perform multiple tasks. But then you put that dog with somebody who has no idea how to handle a dog, and it's going to look like a mess. So it really does come down to the individual knowing what to do. And that was a big part of this entire process, really empowering each person with a disability to truly understand how to train dogs and to be able to implement it on their own."
That was the case with Diana Theobald, another rescue dog recipient featured in the series. Although she lost her leg in an accident, Theobald has dealt with as many mental and emotional problems as physical ones. Her small breed dog, Morrison, can not only do tasks like hit an elevator button but his energy has also been a big emotional lift. Theobald had been self-conscious about her missing leg since the accident but finds now more people notice her dog than the lost limb.
Theobald has been able to training Morrison to do other tasks.
"I always forget to turn off lights before I take my leg off, and there's just something about at the end of the day, my day is over. My leg is off. I don't have to walk or limp or anything anymore," Theobald says. "And then, I'll see that I left the kitchen light on. But we actually trained him (Morrison) so he can turn them off. I can just say 'Morrison, switch,' and he'll go and turn it off."
Both Cruetzburg and Theobald stress it's not only been a blessing they were able to get a service dog but it has been even more meaningful because they were rescued. Theobald stresses when you adopt a rescue dog, they are getting a second chance.
Cruetzburg feels a deep connection to Bas because the dog had been found at a pound.
"He was locked up in a cage, I don't know for how long. There's nothing wrong with him. When I left the Marine Corps, I was homeless for six weeks. That's the same thing as being locked up in a cage. I was locked up in my own cage, feeling alone. Nobody wanted me. And I didn't know how to associate with the rest of the world," Cruetzburg says. "The whole saying 'who rescued who?' is very real between me and Bas, because I'm not quite sure. Yeah, we got him out of a cage that he was in, but I was in my own cage.
"And there's a million other dogs out there in the same situation who could be performing the same services for somebody else. There is no reason why we shouldn't be rescuing dogs."
As if by command, Bass rolls over on his back and looks up at Cruetzburg.
'RESCUE DOG TO SUPER DOG'
10 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 12, Animal Planet
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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