06-12-2014 10:12 AM
The teal harness worn by the lustrous gray-and-white husky reads in all caps, “WORKING DOG DO NOT PET.”
Despite the clear signs, Morgan Leitner has sometimes spent 20 minutes getting to her desk as people try to run their fingers through the dog Nico’s thick coat.
“That was a high-stress time for me,” Morgan says. “People are trying to get mine or Nico’s attention, and I didn’t want attention drawn to me.”
Leitner has grown more tolerant of the questions and requests, but the certified trainer of therapy dogs has advice for those who encounter the animals and their companions: Don’t assume anything.
“Don’t whistle,” she says. “Don’t click your tongue. Don’t try to draw the dog’s attention. And don’t ask what the dog is for. That’s like asking, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ It’s better to ask what the animal does. ‘”
For Leitner, Nico is a calming influence. “He comforts me,” she says. “If he notices I’m getting agitated, he sits up and reminds me it’s OK.”
She adopted the emaciated, infected and flea-bitten shadow of a husky in 2013, nursing him back to health as a companion for her and a “big brother” for her Yorkshire terrier.
Leitner served six years in the Air Force, including a tour in Iraq working intelligence. Her doctor gave her a prescription for a service animal and handed her a business card for, Train a Dog Save a Warrior.
“They train the veteran to be a trainer, and the veteran trains their service animal,” Morgan says.
Around the time she was accepted to start training Nico, Leitner learned she was admitted into VetFIT by USAA IT Technical Director Brian C. Parks. The USAA program seeks veterans with a background in information technology and trains them to develop Java software. Leitner was in the inaugural class, and Parks encouraged her to bring Nico.
Leitner says she and her fellow veterans have regained confidence in themselves and their abilities through VetFIT. "We're all grateful for the opportunity," she says. "It's very touching."
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