Second Thoughts: Soldier served by man's best friend
by Jon Mendelson / Tracy Press
May 20, 2011 | 6210 views | 5 5 comments | 24 24 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Military veteran Steve Edward shows off his service dog, Amanda, as Nadia McCaffery looks on at a Monday meeting of the Tracy Kiwanis. Courtesy of Craig Saalwaechter
Military veteran Steve Edward shows off his service dog, Amanda, as Nadia McCaffery looks on at a Monday meeting of the Tracy Kiwanis. Courtesy of Craig Saalwaechter
• Editor's note: Second Thoughts is an opinion column that usually appears in the Voice section.

Steve Edward didn’t always fear public appearances. But the U.S. Army sergeant’s 2004-05 tour of duty in Iraq changed everything.

“Upon my return, I thought the worst was behind me,” he said.

Only it wasn’t.

Hit by an RPG and IED — the second one threw him clear from his Humvee — the 15-year veteran returned stateside with a severe case of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Even leaving the house was a challenge.

“I was basically a shut-in,” Edward told the Tracy Kiwanis Club on Monday.

But his closeted life opened when a Veterans Affairs counselor helped Edward sign up for a therapy dog, a Scottish terrier named Amanda.

“I thank God for her,” he said.

A service-certified canine that stands just above ankle high with traditionally cropped, buff-colored hair, Mandy is Edward’s constant companion, helping him cope with crowds that, at least twice, caused the veteran to black out and come to hiding in a corner.

“When family can’t be around, I take Mandy with me, because the minute I leave my home I have panic issues related to my PTSD,” said the serviceman, who credits his canine with keeping him calm when little else will.

“She’ll tend to pace around me, or just stay very close to me,” Edward said. “She’s trying to keep people away from me, to try to protect me, because I tend to get very defensive.

“She barks, or she’ll growl when people get too close. The moment I notice she’s starting to do that, I start focusing on her. And if I focus on her, it keeps me from having a full-on panic attack, or anxiety attack.”

Evidently, the Scottie's just what the doctor ordered. Since he’s had her, Edward’s been free of full-blown episodes.

The remedy is one seen more and more by Nadia McCaffrey, who’s worked with dozens of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans since her son, Staff Sgt. Patrick McCaffrey, was killed in Iraq.

“Dogs provide a lot of nurturing, a lot of warm care, for those who have gone through trauma,” McCaffrey explained. “We’re going to see more veterans using service dogs.”

“The VA is really pushing service dogs,” Edward agreed.

So it bothered Edward, and McCaffrey, to the point of anger when the sergeant was shooed from the Tracy Department of Motor Vehicles office because of his pooch.

Edward admitted to being on edge when he walked into the Auto Plaza Drive office a few weeks ago, and Amanda was on the alert.

“Already my heart was racing … and Amanda already sensed that.”

So while standing in line, when “a kid” got close to stepping on Amanda’s paw, she let him know about it.

“She barked at him,” Edward said.

Though it was only one bark, Edward insists, a DMV employee and then a manager told him he’d have to leave his service dog — clearly identified by her vest — outside if he wanted service.

Edward, shaking with frustration and anger, left and didn’t return.

He still can’t believe it.

“I still, in talking about it, it really upsets me.”

I asked a supervisor at the Tracy office this week about the incident. Saying employees there weren’t authorized to talk to the media, the supervisor referred me to public affairs in Sacramento. But she did suggest that, though she wasn’t there when Edward had his trouble, there might be more to the story.

Seeking clarity, I contacted Mike Marando in Sacramento. He gave DMV’s official account:

“The service dog was barking at a little boy a couple feet away. We talked to the customer and asked him if he would kindly remove the dog and return to the building so we could assist him.”

Marando said it was a move on the side of safety.

“(The dog) was deemed to pose a threat to other customers,” Marando said. “Our report is that the dog barked several times. So our manager talked to the customer and asked him to remove the dog out of concern for other individuals.”

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act website, service animals can indeed be sent packing if they “pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others.”

But was Amanda really such a menace, or were reports of her outburst greatly exaggerated?

Marando said he fully trusted the accuracy of the report that reached Sacramento, and while the DMV is sensitive to the needs of all its customers, Edward’s case was “consistent with our policy.”

Edward sees it differently.

“She was behaving. She was sitting right next to me,” he scoffed.

At first blush, Amanda certainly seems docile enough — during Edward’s Monday speech, she lay on the floor at his feet, attentive, but calm and collected, even as the Kiwanians burst into applause. No doubt she’s got spunk, but it’s hard seeing the vested dog as a threat to public safety.

It’s impossible for a non-witness to say for sure what happened. But it’s probably safe to venture that a little more common sense and compassion would have stopped the confrontation before it began, and allowed Edward to move on with his day.

Going forward, Edward doesn’t want anything from the DMV, he insists, including an apology. He just wants, as does McCaffrey, to make sure Amanda is the last service animal asked to leave for doing her job.

“It shouldn’t happen to anyone with a service dog … whether they’re a veteran or not,” Edward said. “What I’d really like is some awareness.”

• Contact Jon Mendelson at
Comments-icon Post a Comment
May 20, 2011
BOO DMV employee who didnt bother asking why the dog wouldve barked, BOO to DMV for not training their employees on how to approach and deal with ANYONE with a service dog. I thankfully work someplace that has made it a point to train us on how to approach and talk to owners of service dogs...that way when/if the dog is reacting to its owner we can see if we can give them assistance, perhaps if DMV employee had bothered to ask why she was barking and if told that it was because she knew Sargent Edwards was not feeling well they couldve taken him aside and QUICKLY taken care of him.

THANK YOU to Sargent Edwards and the Tracy press for allowing readers to know that not all service dogs are for the blind or physically (as in wheelchair) disabled.
May 20, 2011
The article wasn't corrected fully - It was couple of "grown men" that were actually in conversation with Stephen about Amanda - and they came to the defense of Stephen and Amanda!!! I believe one of them even said he works at DMV and were also upset.

What is important to point out is that the "service dog" did what she was trained to do - she was on the "job".

I personally spoke to the manager on duty that day and a female employee that was there at the time of the incident and both said that the service dog did nothing wrong and that Stephen should have never been told to leave. (Yes, I got names)- I understand that the "heads" in Sac have to protect their own but funny how the Tracy employees that witnessed the incident were not allowed to comment.

"Service dogs" are specially trained animals that "BARK" to warn of possible threat to their owners.

Hey DMV - I'm sure others find people talking on their cell phone, kids crying/screaming/running around DMV, rude people.....list goes on ANNOYING yet they don't get asked to put their phones, kids away in their cars and come back to conduct their business!!! Why should a "service dog" be??? These dogs are there for a reason!!!

May 20, 2011
Thanks for the correx, "evilengr" — she's definitely a Scottie.

The column has been corrected accordingly.

My apologies to Steve. And to Amanda.

~ Jon Mendelson
May 20, 2011
Hi good story, just a few corrections:

-Amanda is not a Yorkie, she is a Scottish Terrier.

-Amanda barked ONCE only!!!!(way to CYA dmv)

-what kid??? I am sure there were some there, i just dont recall any.

I find the dmv's take about Amanda being able to harm someone funny when she was on a leash the entire time. Either way, it was a ridiculous and unfortunate "incident" that will never happen again.
May 20, 2011
That was the best DMV could do was toss the dog out? That's disgusting, couldn't pull this hero out of line and help him, maybe ask the boy to leave. Stupid DMV, you owe this man an apology, no matter how you spin this you were wrong.

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