Injured Veteran Finds Independence in Faithful Companion

Ryan Sykes is one of many injured veterans able to live independently with the help of service dog Docker.

From Canine Companions for Independence and Sentinels of Freedom

In 2008, Ryan Sykes was a typical 27-year old. He was a varsity cross-country runner in high school and enlisted in the Navy straight after graduation.

Over Sykes 10 years of service, he was deployed to Colombia, Africa, twice to Iraq, and five times to Afghanistan. But during his last deployment in Afghanistan he was in a roadside vehicle accident that left him with a traumatic brain injury.

After several years of intense therapy, Sykes lives independently, but he was looking for more. During his search for greater independence, Sentinels of Freedom Scholarship Foundation, a non-profit organization that works with severely-injured Veterans, worked with Canine Companions for Independence (CCI), a non-profit organization that trains assistance dogs for people with disabilities.

The search landed Sykes a service dog named Docker.

“Docker will provide many years of assistance and companionship…I’m looking forward to him helping me with the little things here and there that will make my life easier," Sykes said

The pair recently graduated together after completing an intense, residential, two-week Team Training course at Canine Companions’ Training Center in Santa Rosa, Calif.

During Team Training, students are strategically matched with assistance dogs and learn how to work with them effectively. The dogs are trained for two years prior in up to 40 commands before they are ready to become someone’s 24/7 helper.

Thanks to Canine Companions’ generous supporters, the dogs, their training and ongoing follow-up support are provided free of charge.

Sykes learned of CCI from San Ramon-based Sentinels of Freedom, which provides support to severely wounded Veterans in four areas:

  • Surround the Veteran with a community team of volunteers who offer mentoring, guidance and advice (for example, Case Worker, physician and/or legal/financial advisor);
  • Find and place the Veteran in a career-oriented job (full or part-time) that will provide training and the opportunity for upward mobility. We work directly with the Veteran and employer to match skill set and goals to meet the needs of the employer;
  • Provide financial assistance for rent and furnishings (includes sourcing and secure housing), a vehicle and other incidentals. 
  • Support the Veteran in continuing his or her education – a required element of the program. Tuition fees are usually funded through the GI Bill.

Sentinels of Freedom works all across the United States. Veterans in the program are blind, burned, single, double and triple amputees, Traumatic Brain Injury and PTSD.

To learn more about assistance dogs for veterans, visit http://cci.org/veterans.

About Canine Companions for Independence

Established in 1975, Canine Companions is the largest provider of assistance dogs for people with physical disabilities, with five regional training centers across the country. Canine Companions is recognized worldwide for its exceptional dogs, and the quality and longevity of the matches it makes between dogs and people.  For more information about Canine Companions, call 1-800-572-BARK or visit cci.org.

About Sentinels of Freedom

Established in 2004, Sentinels of Freedom Scholarship Foundation serves the severely injured Veterans as they work to gain self-sufficiency and make the transition from the military to the civilian world. While all Veterans face challenges reintegrating back into the civilian world, the hurdles faced by the severely wounded Veterans are much higher.  It is these Veterans that Sentinels of Freedom works with to ensure that they too have the opportunity to reach and achieve new goals, after they have been medically discharged from the military. For more information about Sentinels of Freedom visit www.sentinelsoffreedom.org or call (925) 380 6342.

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