Port Arthur firefighters from Sabine Pass Fire Station No. 4 react as they see their new station Saturday after it was renovated by ABC’s ‘Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.’ The network television show made over the fire station and the school auditorium this week.
Jennifer Reynolds/The Enterprise
SABINE PASS - The shiny red fire engine with lights flashing turned in at the fire station Saturday evening for one final surprise for the firefighters of Sabine Pass Fire Station No. 4.
They were getting a new 2006 typhoon pumper to go with the renovation of the station for ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" complete with a Dalmatian named Lucy Lu.
Of course, one of them couldn't wait to try the horn.
"It's far more than we expected," said Patrick McCorvy, one of the station's engineers. "It's sensory overload."
Blue-shirted workers have been working on the hurricane-damaged fire station since Tuesday, including gutting it and redoing the exterior and interior of the building, which was at one point a justice of the peace courtroom, library and had a police substation.
The show also renovated the school's auditorium, sent 15 theater students to New York and gave $350 gift cards to families living in FEMA trailers this week.
The firefighters assigned to the Sabine Pass station were swapped with fire fighters at a different station and didn't get to the see the station until Saturday when they were brought back in a Hummer limousine.
Firefighter Ken Andrew was anxious about the new station.
"In our wildest dreams we didn't image this," Andrew said, who said he was dumbstruck with the bus was moved away and he could see the station.
The station now has a lighthouse beacon atop it and has new flagpoles. The garage has new glass door, new uniforms for fighting marsh fires and helmets and new tools for the wood shop.
Inside the station, there is a wood-floor game room including a pool table emblazoned with the department's seal, leather couches, flat-screen television, video conferencing equipment for training, dozens of puzzles and an X-box.
More than a dozen red cabinets, a stocked stainless steel refrigerator/freezer, oven, microwave and other appliances are included in the kitchen. The dining room chairs have woven fire hoses for the seats and back. There is a workout room, office, three bedrooms with huge beds, lockers, television and laptop computers for the three firefighters on duty and space for a police substation.
The back porch has a barbecue grill, the kind with a built-in mini refrigerator, with a view of a fountain created out of ladders and Lucy Lu's mini-fire station dog house. The back door has a dog door for Lucy Lu.
The building was ready for inspectors Saturday morning, said Dale Trevino, of the Houston-based Trevino group. The building's reinforced roof should withstand up to 160 mph winds, he said.
"It's like you would see on a beach in Galveston," McCorvy said of the new station.
The crew has been working out of a trailer near the U.S. Coast Guard station with their fire engine parked under a near by tree.
Crews were filming shots of the limousine, bus and several hundred people in the crowd by 1 p.m. The firefighters didn't get to see their new station until after 4 p.m. and had to wait until the shoots and re-shoots of them outside of the station until they could go in. The filming wasn't done until about 7:30 p.m.
Less than 100 of the several hundred people there earlier stayed until the very end.
Kevin Stump, Jamie Gilmore and Brian NeSmith, all of E-One, the company that donated the fire truck, came in this week to help on the station.
The new Sabine Pass truck was built with volunteer time, Stump said.
Lucy Lu, who was once a stray dog, was donated by the Recycled Canines Dalmatian Rescue out of Galveston (County), a non-profit that works to save dogs and ultimately put them up for adoption, said Amy Losh, the group's co-founder.
A trainer has been working with Lucy Lu to train her to stop, drop and roll to help with educational programs, said Erica Blackburn, who has had the 1-year-old Dalmatian for the last five months.
More than a dozen local companies donated materials or labor to help the show's remodeling projects.
"We'll be the envy of the all the firefighters now," Andrew said.
Rescue dogs, some of the worst cases, learn basic obedience through a special training program at Triple Crown Dog Academy. Not only do the dogs start behaving better, they also help student trainers learn to communicate with dogs.
Police found “Buddy” running down the street, doused in lighter fluid and on fire. When Jane Del Re, founder of Lucky Mutts all-breed rescue in Austin, Texas, first saw the yellow Labrador-Mastiff mix in the quarantine area of a local shelter, she thought he was a lost cause. Then he wagged his tail.
“It was heartbreaking. The whole side of his body was raw and burned, but this dog was just so happy, looking at us as if to say, ‘Pet me, love me!’ I thought if this dog has been through so much at the hands of people and still likes people, this must be an awesome animal.”
But Buddy had super strength, high energy and no training. “You want to talk about an over-the-top animal,” says Del Re. “He was sloppy happy, but he was also a beast of a mutt, the size of a Lab, the head of a Rottweiler, the strength of a Mastiff. Like many rescue dogs, he was just too much dog for most people to handle. Finally we realized, this is a dog for Triple Crown.”
A Great Idea
With an 80,000-square-foot facility on 350 acres, the Triple Crown Dog Academy, just outside Austin, is one of the largest and most comprehensive dog training facilities in the world. Staffed by professional certified trainers and pet care specialists, Triple Crown offers training classes in basic obedience and competitive dog sports and specialized training for police work, search and rescue, and hunting dogs. They have 200 indoor/ outdoor dog runs, a grooming center, beach club, puppy nursery, clubhouse, pro shop, and 32,000-square-foot, climate-controlled event center for dog shows, agility trials and national specialties.
Triple Crown might sound like a place for the canine upper classes, but pampered purebreds aren’t the only dogs living and learning at Triple Crown. The Triple Crown Academy School for Professional Dog Trainers, a state-approved trade school, teaches would-be dog trainers how to become canine training and behavior specialists. When the school opened in 2000, Head Trainer and Director of Training Jessy Gabriel had a great idea: The students need to learn how to train dogs. Why not teach students to train dogs from shelters and rescue groups?
The National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy (NCPPSP) estimates that 96 percent of dogs relinquished to animal shelters across the United States have received no formal training. Owners relinquishing pets often site nuisance behaviors as the reason for giving up a dog, and Gabriel suspected that a course in basic obedience could dramatically increase the adoptability of local dogs in need of new homes. “The rescue groups can’t afford to pay training facilities, but trained dogs become a lot more adoptable,” says Gabriel.
Gabriel contacted several local rescues to find dog trainees for the Triple Crown program. “Triple Crown has been wonderful, absolutely wonderful,” says Blue Dog Rescue co-founder Lisa Taylor. “Most of the dogs we rescue haven’t been given the chance to learn any manners. We can teach them some basics, but without formal training, some of these dogs have a pretty high risk of not getting adopted or getting returned to us again. The dogs we send to Triple Crown have an exceptionally high adoption rate.”
Take “Smoky,” a 100-pound Weimaraner found wandering outside of town. “He was starving, just 60 pounds, and we took the dog in, got him vet care, had him neutered, and got him healthy again, but I could tell this dog had never had any type of home life or structure before,” says Taylor. “He was completely out of control. He wasn’t adoptable, and I thought, maybe this is his chance.”
Smoky went to Triple Crown and after eight weeks in the professional dog training program, Smoky was a brand new dog. “It was simply amazing. He was walking on a loose leash, not jumping up. He’s not perfect, but they have absolutely saved this dog’s life,” says Taylor. Smoky just had his first home visit and may well be on his way to becoming a happy family pet.
Since 2003 — the first year Triple Crown began keeping track — 300 rescue dogs have completed the school’s program and almost all of them have found homes. “We need the dogs and the dogs need training, so it works out well for everyone,” Gabriel says.
Mastering Good Manners
With established rescue-group relationships all over Austin, Triple Crown takes in dogs hand-picked by the rescue groups. “We typically get the ones that most need training to be adoptable,” says Gabriel. That usually includes plenty of Lab mixes, Chow mixes, and Pit Bull mixes, as well as herding dogs like Border Collies and cattle dogs.
“We also work with German Shepherd, Rottweiler, Doberman, Dalmatian, and Catahoula rescue dogs. We get quite a variety of dogs here, which gives our trainers a real-world sampling of the kinds of dogs and issues they will encounter when they work as professional trainers,” Gabriel says.
For a rescue dog, life at Triple Crown begins with an assessment. “When dogs first get here, we collect all the information we can — their problems, why they aren’t getting adopted, and any history — to determine what kind of training will be most beneficial,” says Gabriel. The dogs live at the Triple Crown Dog Academy kennels during the program, and student trainers take care of all the dogs’ needs: feeding, cleaning the kennels, and exercise.
“Generally each student is assigned two to three dogs. They come in as early as 7 a.m. At 8 a.m., they have a couple of training sessions, and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., they are in class, during which time we also work with the dogs on obedience and agility,” says Gabriel. Evenings consist of more training sessions and exercising the dogs.
During classes, Triple Crown puts a priority on basic obedience skills and problems typical of pets. “We teach them how to come when called, sit, heel, down, go to their place, keep them from jumping up, chewing on people, the right thing to chew, all the sorts of things dogs need to know to be good pets,” says Gabriel.
When a dog shows a special aptitude for retrieving, agility, search and rescue, or obedience, Triple Crown will also use these dogs to teach trainers more advanced training techniques. Many of the trainers end up adopting the dogs themselves and going on to compete in events like agility. An Australian Shepherd/ heeler mix named “Pepper” transformed from overweight and lackadaisical to a trim agility whiz after being paired with a Japanese student at Triple Crown. “That dog ended up moving to Japan with her trainer. It was the perfect story. We still get pictures of her,” Del Re says.
Training the Trainers
Because every dog has different issues and every trainer has different aptitudes, Triple Crown makes a special effort to create dog-trainer teams that can teach each other. “Students can bring their own dogs to Triple Crown, and often they already know how to deal with their own dogs’ issues,” says Director of Training Rob Dunn. “We try to match them with a dog opposite in type to their own dog to give them a more well-rounded, balanced experience. If they bring a shy dog, we will pair them with a more open dog. A student with a well-mannered pet might get a more energetic, challenging dog.”
Keely Reed, a recent graduate now working at the Academy in the apprenticeship program, brought her rescued terrier mix to school. “‘Roland’ had no obedience and a lot of issues, but I was used to working with a small dog,” says Reed. When Triple Crown paired her with a boisterous, food-aggressive Rottweiler mix named “Dexter,” Reed had a lot to learn. “It really helped me to work with Dexter firsthand and teach him to trust me. I helped teach the people who adopted him how to deal with his issues,” says Reed, admitting to a few tears when Dexter was adopted.
“Our basic philosophy here at Triple Crown is that training is communication,” explains Dunn. “If you were to go to a foreign country without knowing the language or how to communicate, it would be extremely frustrating. What we teach our trainers here, and what we help them to teach the dogs, is that training is a way of life. Just like with any successful relationship, communication is the key, and giving students a broad base of experience is really important for us.”
After a four-, eight- or 12-week program (most students choose the 12-week program), students graduate. “It was worth it, a million times over,” Reed says. “I’m still learning so much, but I feel confident as a trainer now.” Many students go on to open their own businesses, and those dogs that haven’t already been adopted go back to their foster homes — but usually not for long. “Just by virtue of this basic training, these dogs have a dramatically reduced chance of ever ending up in a shelter again,” says Del Re.
After the rescue dogs finish their Triple Crown experience, the school doesn’t forget about them. In fact, Triple Crown helps to make adoptions happen. Rescue groups advertise the adoptable dogs as “in training” at Triple Crown, and Triple Crown also maintains a Web site, www.trainedrescuedogs.com , where adopters can view dogs in the training program and then contact the rescue groups about adoption.
“Potential adopters can come in and visit the dogs while they are here. If they adopt the dog, they come in after the program is over and we do a few lessons with the student trainer,” says Dunn, explaining that this helps the new owner learn what the dog has learned, how to deliver the same cues, and how to feel comfortable with their new pet. “This also helps teach the student trainer how to work with the pet owner.”
Triple Crown also offers deep discounts for the rescue dogs on their regular training courses, and makes it a priority to stay in touch with its canine graduates. “If there are problems, we want them to call us. We keep that line of communication open for the sake of the dogs,” Dunn says.
As for Buddy, aside from large bald areas on his body, he has physically healed. In September 2004, Kara and Steve Buell adopted the newly trained dog after seeing his face on the rescue group’s Web site. The Buells changed his name to “Tug” because of his strength and exuberant play style, and Tug has blossomed.
“He still has some issues of trust and he still gets fearful in certain situations, but he’s come such a long way. He loves everybody, especially my husband and his friends,” says Kara Buell, who thinks Tug’s abusers might have been female. “He was less sure about me at first, and we are careful with him around children, but he’s doing great.”
It’s just the kind of happy ending that inspires rescuers to stick with the job. “That dog is a survivor, but the fact that he made it to where he is today just amazes me,” says Del Re. “You take a broken dog and you give it the skills to live appropriately as a pet. That’s what keeps you going.”
Soccer, Finnegan and Cowboy (left to right) take a break from training to pose for a photo. Kristen Ness, Hickam Air Force Base resident, is training Finnegan to become a service dog for a barracks of wounded warriors. Ness volunteers her skills with Hawaii Fi-Do, a non-profit organization that is providing service dogs to wounded warriors at no charge. Soccer and Cowboy are Ness family pets that have advanced obedience skills. (Air Force photo/Oscar A. Hernandez)
by 2nd Lt. Jason Smith
15th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
4/8/2009 - HICKAM AIR FORCE BASE, Hawaii -- Honolulu's weather, scenery and island lifestyle can make it easy for Hickam Air Force Base residents to forget there are servicemembers fighting on two battlefronts almost 8,000 miles away.
Kristen Ness, Hickam Community Housing resident, can't forget the sacrifices some Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines have made because she has a large, yellow reminder always at her side.
"Finn," short for Finnegan, is a yellow Labrador retriever puppy that Ness is training as a service dog for the Marine Barracks at Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Kaneohe Bay. Hawaii Fi-Do, a non-profit service dog organization, and multiple wounded warrior organizations teamed up to get some dogs trained for injured veterans who may need their service. Ness, one of two dog behavioral specialists on the Island, was eager to volunteer her time to help the partnership.
"Wounded warriors coming home prefer a dog over a cane," said Ness. "These are young men and women who want to be independent and productive. A service dog can help them achieve this in such ways as opening doors, flipping light switches, fetching desired objects, acting as a focal point to ride out symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, and providing much needed love and companionship."
Susan Luehrs, Hawaii Fi-Do founder and executive director, said her organization is eager to help any wounded servicemember who needs assistance. Whether the request comes from the Army Wounded Warrior Program or even directly from an injured person, Hawaii Fi-Do makes the servicemember their priority.
"The service dog industry has come together to support our wounded warriors," said Luehrs. "That could mean helping any combat veteran. This is an all-volunteer effort for us. There is no charge for any service dog for our wounded warriors."
Training service dogs can be an expensive and time-consuming undertaking. Since wounded warriors are given their dogs for free, Luehrs counts on volunteers and donations to keep the program going. People with particular skills like Ness are indispensable. Oddly enough, Ness didn't always know she wanted to train service dogs. She originally pursued a radiology degree but said she wasn't happy in her work.
"I still wanted to help people, but I wasn't sure how," said Ness. "It came to me as I was watching the show on Animal Planet, 'Dogs with Jobs.' I remember the joy on a paralyzed man's face when he was teamed with a service dog. The freedom it symbolized was amazing."
Shortly after realizing her new passion, Ness entered a grueling program at Triple Crown Dog Academy in Texas. Upon graduation, she started her own dog training business, usually dealing with the worst behavior problems.
Ness' expertise with training dogs fell right into line with the mission of Hawaii Fi-Do. According to their fact sheet, Hawaii Fi-Do's service dogs "learn more than 80 commands, are temperament tested, pass strict health guidelines and must pass the standards of Assistant Dog International before being placed with a well-matched client."
Finn, Ness' foster dog, will probably finish his training way ahead of schedule. Ness said a typical service dog takes about two years and $20,000 to train. Finn is only 13 months old, and he is already working on the complicated service skills portion of the program. Once graduated, Finn is scheduled to be a "barracks dog."
"Finn is really sociable; not a one-person dog," said Ness. "He will serve, comfort and support and entire barracks of wounded warriors."
Ness already has another wounded warrior service dog lined up once Finn moves to his new home. She said her family tends to get attached to the foster dogs, but even her 3-year-old son knows when the dogs leave, they are going to help people who really need it.
For more information about Hawaii Fi-Do, go to www.hawaiifido.org. For more information about the Army's Wounded Warrior Program, go to https://www.aw2.army.mil/index.html..