When Havoc, a three-year-old Belgian Malinois dog who hails from France, walks along the side of U.S. Army Veteran Eric Thomas, the tension and stress of war experiences fade. Thomas served in the Army for 11 years and worked as a special agent and then liaison officer for the Department of Homeland Security. He says Havoc, whose name is taken from the Julius Caesar play, has done a great deal to help him deal with the nasty effects of serving in the Afghanistan war.
“I got him a year ago,” says the Leesburg, VA veteran. “He’s named Havoc because he takes the havoc out of my life. Before I got him, I didn’t want to see people at all.” He adds, “He came from France originally but he’s an American now.”
He’s proud of his service dog and says Havoc has served as an unofficial mascot in Washington D.C. to demonstrate the benefits of the 24/7 Battle Buddy canine program that is designed to assist wounded military veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
24/7 Battle Buddies are trained to their new owner’s specifications and needs. Some of the tasks the service dogs are trained to perform are picking up objects such as wallets and keys, opening doors, and providing support and stability for the amputees and veterans in a wheelchair. Many veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and the 24/7 Battle Buddies are alongside them and have their back.
Havoc, and others like him, get their training at Jessiffany Canine Services in Iron Ridge. The training is ongoing and each year the veterans and their dogs return to Jessiffany for a weekend of friendly competition among the veterans and their dogs and evaluation of how the teams are doing together.
Jessie and Tiffany Smith and two other hired trainers make up the staff at Jessiffany. Jessie is a native of Georgia and spent several years in the US Army and then as a police officer in the state before moving to Wisconsin in 2014. Prior to moving to Wisconsin, he trained military working dogs for the Marine Corps Logistics Base in Albany, Georgia. His wife Tiffany served in the Marine Corp and was a federal police officer for the Marine base. She met Jessie when he was working on the Marine base. Jessie’s training and work with the military helped a great deal and he trained Tiffany to work with the dogs.
In 2012, they left government service and followed his path in dog training. They lived in Indiana for two years and worked for the largest kennel in the U.S. Then they decided they wanted to do it on a smaller scale. In October of 2014, they bought their current property between Iron Ridge and Hustisford. They started with just pet boarding and Tiffany went to dog grooming school.
The dog boarding and grooming service and the canine training service are set up as two separate businesses. Since starting the second business focusing on dog training, Jessiffany has trained and sold over 60 police dogs that have been certified in Wisconsin and several dogs in 13 other states. They train both law enforcement and military.
“We not only train the dogs, but also the owner/handlers,” Tiffany notes. Jessiffany trains dogs for detection of narcotics or explosives for both law enforcement and military personnel, pet obedience and behavior modification, as well as service dogs.
They utilize dogs from Europe including German shepherds, Dutch Shepherds and Belgian Malinois, purchasing them from Europe where they have been socialized. They work with their overseas partners to let them know their specific needs.
“What makes us different is the pairing. We make sure we understand their needs and match them with a dog,” Tiffany says. “Troops First selects a veteran. We are told (in confidence) the vet’s disability or limitation and then we select a dog with the potential to meet those needs. Vendors send videos and we determine which dog will be a good fit and then conduct all the training here in the U.S.”
Jessiffany hosts vendor visits here so they know what type of dogs are needed and understand the goals. All the dogs come with extensive health and workability warranties. She notes, “The veteran flies here and we spend three days with him, training with him and the dog. We fly home with the vet and introduce the dog to his work, family and surroundings.”
They treat the veterans like family and keep contact with them. They come back annually for 24/7 Battle Buddy Games. This year they had to cut the program to a two-day competition because of COVID. The participants competed in seven events with 16 veterans and their dogs. It concluded with a banquet with 50 trophies presented.
Jessie says, “It’s a fun way for the veterans and their dogs to get together to socialize and keep up their training with their dogs. Trainers evaluate each step of the competition and offer advice for changing or improving some of the things they are doing together. Things like pairing corrective words with action, getting the dog to stay calm and in place while guns are being fired.”
Those who have utilized the service say the dogs provide a lot of comfort and satisfaction. The dog gives them the peace they need and they often experience a decrease in the need for medication.
“When you pet a dog, it releases the happy components of the brain – just like the medication does. It has pulled many of them out of a real dark place,” Tiffany says “It also gives them a new task. They can’t lie in bed and think. They must get up and take care of their dog.”
COVID changed their business for a while. In the beginning, there was no importation allowed, but then it opened up again. They had to stop grooming and dog training for a while, but they held their police dog training classes as normal because they are considered essential and the classes were small. Their boarding business was also considered essential, but business was down for a time because fewer people were traveling.
Their home business includes ten acres of land for teaching, obedience and article search. They just purchased the former private school in Neosho and turned the building into a full-fledged canine training facility.