CHIPPEWA FALLS — Walking toward the library in Klein Hall Wednesday, Rich Munkholm stopped to talk to one of the newest residents.
“Hi, buddy,” Munkholm said in a soft voice to Shadow, a golden retriever. “How are you? OK, give me the ball.”
Rather than drop the tennis ball in his mouth, the 9-month-old dog scurried out of sight.
“He never does,” Munkholm said, chuckling. “He will eventually.”
Just as soon as the words left the Army veteran’s mouth, Shadow — and his ball — returned and made a beeline for Munkholm, who reached down to pet the dog’s golden head.
“Everyone loves that dog,” he said.
That was the hope of a small group of people who came together to see that the veterans who call Klein Hall home have another dog to provide them with unconditional love and comfort.
Months earlier, Denise Wenz learned Travis and Amy Quella, the founders of Bob’s House for Dogs, a foster and adoption center for senior dogs south of Eau Claire, were interested in sponsoring a dog for the veterans at Klein Hall.
“We feel very strongly about supporting veterans any way we can,” said Amy, whose late father, Dean Sullivan, served in the Army, and late father-in-law, John Quella, served in the Navy.
Feeling “it’s the right thing to do,” Amy, with the support of her husband and Bob’s House for Dogs’ board, offered to cover whatever Shadow needs — food, toys and veterinary care — over his life span with the veterans.
Wenz, who served in the National Guard, lives in Chippewa Falls and trains service dogs for veterans. Suffering from PTSD, she has found relief in Poppy, a Doberman pinscher, she trained to be her service dog.
“The guys coming in here need some stability,” Wenz said. (Klein Hall is home to the Veterans Housing and Recovery Program, which aims to help homeless veterans and those at-risk of becoming homeless receive the job training, education, counseling and rehabilitative services they need to obtain steady unemployment, affordable housing and the skills to sustain a productive lifestyle. In addition to the transitional program, the building also provides long-term supported housing for up to 10 vets.)
“Dogs love unconditionally, and they’re great therapy,” said Wenz, who is going to train a core group of residents at Klein Hall to be Shadow’s handlers.
Michael Hanke, director of the VHRP and a dog owner himself, was all for having another canine at Klein Hall.
“Just a dog by nature is calming,” said Hanke, who considers Shadow as another resident at Klein Hall. But, Wenz will remain his official owner.
“The challenging part is having everyone here speak his language,” said Wenz, explaining Shadow is a working dog, not a pet.
Once he and his handlers have been certified, Hanke wants Shadow to visit the Wisconsin Veterans Home at Chippewa Falls, the skilled nursing facility for veterans and their spouses.
Wenz also is hoping to see veterans living at Klein Hall eventually train service dogs for the state’s other VHRP’s in King and Union Grove.
Off and running
Shadow arrived at Klein Hall on Oct. 14, and since then, he’s spent all but one night at the facility. (Wenz took him home Tuesday night for a bath.)
“He’s a good fit out here,” said Wenz Wednesday during an interview at Klein Hall, where Shadow made the rounds, checking in on residents and staff in return for some pats or the toss of his ball.
One of those residents, Matthew Kinstler had went looking for Shadow earlier that morning, hoping to take him out for his first walk of the day.
“I think it’s great he’s here,” said Kinstler, who served in the Navy Reserves.
Heather Muller, the medical director at Bob’s House for Dogs, got a chance to see Shadow at Klein Hall.
“It is the warmest feeling to see that dog go in there and give so much back,” said Muller, also lauding several local veterinarians for doing the same.
Dr. Craig Johnson at Eau Claire Animal Hospital neutered Shadow free of charge, and Dr. Carmi Simonson at Riverview Animal Hospital in Chippewa Falls helped secure the donation of heartworm and flea and tick preventative medication for him for an entire year.
Patrice Anderson, who co-owns Voyaging Vet & Tech Services with her husband, Steve, also agreed to provide some of Shadow’s veterinary care at a highly discounted rate.
“It was a no-brainer,” said Anderson, who previously served on the Happy Tails Dog Park board, which raised funds to cover the expenses for Sammy, Klein Hall’s last canine resident.
“The veterans have done so much for our country, so we can do this for them,” Anderson said. “The difference that dog will make for them is going to be amazing.”
Klein Hall’s previous four-legged resident, Samson, affectionately known as Sammy, died unexpectedly on Feb. 28, 2015. The 8-year-old golden retriever left behind a lot of broken hearts, but also a legacy of unconditional love and comfort.
“He gave everyone so much more than we gave him,” said Mark Lawrence, Sammy’s handler, just after his death.
Shadow is on his way to doing the same.
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