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Camelback High School training service dogs for veterans

Posted at 6:28 PM, Nov 09, 2017
and last updated 2017-11-09 20:28:14-05

Just in time for Veterans Day, two disabled veterans received a very special gift from students at Camelback High School - service dogs trained by the school's Spartan Paws Club.

The "Dogs For Our Brave" program is a unique partnership between the school and Gilbert-based "Lifeline Assistance Dogs."

School officials say the dogs also work with many special needs students at the high school which is a win-win for the dogs who are exposed to people with many different types of needs.

Both veterans who received the dogs lost their legs while in service.

Army veteran Odin Ayala was just getting to know his new companion, Zulu, who was specially trained for him.

Ayala lost both legs during his third deployment in Afghanistan in 2011 when he stepped on an improvised explosive device or IED.

"I do recall everything. I recall being on the ground, and all my friends and everybody around me. I was conscious the whole time," said Ayala.

Learning that both his legs had to be amputated was a shock, but one he embraced and got over quickly. "I was just like, 'okay whatever's happened has happened. Let's move on now,'" said Ayala.

Losing his independence was the biggest challenge for the army veteran. He is excited to have Zulu by his side to help him face life's challenges. "Zulu is going to be able to help me out. There have been so many times I've been out and about, and I drop something. It's a pain. Sometimes there are no people around," said Ayala. He said his new companion is now part of his family.

Air Force veteran Sebastiana Tiana Lopez Arellano also received a service dog. 

She lost her leg in a motorcycle accident at the Charleston Air Force Base in South Carolina.

"I was in a coma for about a month. When I woke up it was already gone. I thought I had died, so when I woke up, I was happy to just be here," said Lopez.

The biggest challenge for her is giving up her athletic passions. Lopez played volleyball for the Air Force team.

She too is now getting used to her new life partner "Carter."

"What we're working through right now is he sees me more as a new toy or a commodity.  We're working on the listening part. We'll get there though," said Lopez.

She is excited to have her new furry companion to help her through tough days as well.

"It's going to hard to have a bad day when you have a companion. You might wake up in a cruddy mood, but how can you be in a cruddy mood when you wake up and he's wagging his tail at you," said Lopez.

Seeing the dogs heading off to "serve" was bittersweet for the Camelback High students who cared for them day and night.

Ayla Peterson, the Vice President of Spartan Paws Club helped train almost six service dogs since the organization was founded two years ago. She took her dogs to classes with her and formed a very special bond with all of them.

"It's really helpful for the dogs to be exposed to as many people as possible," said Peterson.

"It's really sad to see the dogs you have trained, it's sad but also happy, because you know they're now going to be with amazing people and helping them with things that wouldn't be possible before," she added.

Peterson said the cause is special to her because her grandfather had served in the armed forces.

Members of the Spartan Paws Club learned practical job skills related to the care of dogs as well as participated in facilitating animal-assisted therapy. The club also included students with disabilities during the draining process.

The club was founded by Maddie Souder, Camelback's Montessori College Prep class of 2016, and sponsored by Valerie Newman, an Exceptional Student Specialist (ESS) and English teacher at the high school.

The club also presented a Spartan Shield Award to Leigh Mitchell, the Community-Based Training aide who had puppy-raised two dogs, taking them home with her each night.