Veteran gets new leash on life with gift of service dog
By Geoff Belcher
Jul 21, 2017, 18:16
Jasper, a standard poodle.
A disabled U.S. Air Force veteran from Grenada on Tuesday came to Bay St. Louis to see a woman about a dog and completely change his life.
"What they're doing for me is amazing, just amazing ," Jim Kirk said Tuesday, with his new service dog Jasper by his side. "I'm so excited. I don't have words for it."
Kirk suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a service-related brain injury, anxiety and neuropathy over most of his body, which forces him to walk with the aid of a cane.
Kirk's disability forced him to leave the U.S. Air Force in 2007, after 21 years of service. He served for two years in Germany and eight years in Okinawa before transferring to the Middle East, including tours in Mosul and Balad. During his tours there, he said, he was in the vicinity of mortar fire nearly 70 times, and he was injured when a convoy he was riding in ran over an IED an improvised explosive device. He said he was also exposed often exposed to poisonous fumes while working in "burn pits," where hazardous waste and other items were destroyed.
Sue Kirk, Jim's mom and caregiver, said she believes the burn pits contributed as much to her son's condition as the shelling.
One of the worst things he deals with these days, JIm Kirk said, is agoraphobia, which has virtually cut him off from contact from the outside world. That's why he's so excited to have Jasper.
"He's basically going to help me get myself to get back into a social environment," Jim said. "With Jasper, that's going to give me my first big step (forward) because I know I'll have someone counting on me as much as I count on them."
"It needs to be more out there that we have these veterans shut in their homes, isolated," Sue Kirk said. "People need to reach out more. When the word 'PTSD' came out, they alienated him. These veterans fought for the freedoms we enjoy. We need to do better for them."
Gone to the dogs
Jasper is a one-year-old, apricot-phantom colored standard poodle, and a snazzy dresser on Tuesday, he was wearing a men's tie clipped to his collar. He was trained by Britnee Kinard, who delivered him to Kirk on Tuesday at the Our Lady of the Gulf Catholic Church Parish Hall during the Mississippi Circuit Court Clerks Assoc. conference.
Kinard, a Mississippi native, now lives in Georgia, where she operates the SD Gunner Fund. She established the fund in June 2014 to assist veterans and children "with the financial expense of owning much-needed service animals," according to the fund's website. Her husband, Hamilton, was injured in Iraq in an IED incident, suffering nerve damage and severe traumatic brain injury.
"Service dogs are trained to support individuals with mobility, hearing, psychiatric, and brain/neurological disabilities," according to Britnee's website. "These dogs are professionally trained to meet the individual needs of their partner and completes tasks such as opening doors, picking up dropped objects, assisting with daily dressing, or pulling a manual wheelchair."
Gunner, Hamilton's service dog and the organization's namesake, has also proven to be a helpful companion to the Kinards' son Blayne, who is on the autism spectrum.
Lanelle Martin, the Montgomery County Circuit Clerk and past-president of the clerk's association, had invited Kinard to speak about her work at the group at last year's convention in Natchez. Afterwards, the clerks association donated about $3,000 toward Jasper's training and hooked Kirk up with the Gunner Fund.
"Britnee does a lot of good work for veterans," Martin said, "not just training service animals.
Kinard recently completed Jasper's training, and thought it would only be fitting to present him to Kirk at this year's convention at the OLG Parish Hall.
"Our association was very happy to help a veteran," out-going MS Circuit Clerks Assoc. president and Hancock County Circuit Clerk Karen Ladner Ruhr said this week. "It was a good thing to do for somebody who needed it."
Britnee Kinard said she'd like to train a service dog for a Mississippi veteran at least once per year.
"If a parent of a disabled child or military family is in need," Britnee said on her website, "I want them to know they are not in this fight alone, and that we want to help!"
Britnee can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at +1-615-804-3533.
For more information, you can go to webjos.kender.org/sdgunnerfund, or follow the SD Gunner Fund on Twitter or Facebook.