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Former soldier talks life after the military, self-training husky as PTSD service dog

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WATERTOWN — On a quiet spring afternoon, Shawn M. Rafferty sat behind the counter at the 315 Artisan Market in the Salmon Run Mall, greeting customers and letting them know he’s available should they have questions about the products in the store. Periodically moving from behind the counter with her handler to keep an eye on things was his service dog, or Luna Marie Rafferty on the rare occasion her full name needs to be used.

The 3½-year-old canine, a trained PTSD service dog, has been attached to Mr. Rafferty, who served in the military for 19 years, since he brought her home.

“She picked me at the breeders, there was no denying that,” Mr. Rafferty said. “She picked me at 5 weeks old; 8 weeks old I was able to bring her home, and 9 weeks old I had a little ‘in training’ vest for her and had her out with me everywhere right from go.”

Mr. Rafferty acquired Luna, a purebred husky, in 2018 from a private breeder that was American Kennel Club certified. He knew that he wanted to train her as his service dog, though husky service dogs aren’t very common because they tend to have high-energy personalities. He said he took a lot of criticism and even had one trainer tell him she’d be happy to train Luna but would fail her because she’s a husky and “there was no way a husky would pass as a service dog.”

Determined to continue with his plan to train Luna as a service dog, Mr. Rafferty and Luna started going to Walmart a few times a day to get her socialized. He also brought as many kids around her as possible, figuring that if anything could break her calm, it would be them. But she proved able to handle whatever challenges were presented to her.

Early on, Mr. Rafferty researched how to train a service dog for post-traumatic stress disorder.

“The basic service dog stuff is kind of obvious, there’s certain ways that a service dog would be expected to act in public, so that part was easy,” he said. “The problem was I found that there’s no training program for a PTSD service dog because everybody’s triggers are different; there’s no way to write a training protocol.”

He eventually found a Facebook group of people who self-taught their service dogs and said it all comes down to the fact that the dog has to understand the human. He also found his way back to the Americans with Disabilities Act guidance, which says dogs trained by their owners can be recognized as service dogs after they’ve been evaluated.

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