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Our Client Stories

Our clients readily invite us into their lives and their homes. They share their daily dog struggles with us and we embark on our training mission. Because we work with every dog the same way we would work with our very own, we grow bonded with each one.

Bridgett Compass Key Service Dog Training Client Story


Making it Possible for Me to Remain Active with Peace of Mind

In my early 30s, I developed an exercise-induced allergic reaction (anaphylactic shock) to certain foods and on several occasions had to be taken to the ER for survival. I also have severe reactions to bee stings. At first I was advised to not eat before exercising and to stay away from wooded areas where you would most likely obtain bee stings. However, I am a jogger, hiker, biker, and just love the outdoors. So I got Bridgett (my miniature poodle). 

Compass Key worked with us (Bridgett and I) to train Bridgett to go alert my husband and bring him to where I am. She is also trained to hit an alert button if I need help. And she knows how to support me while I’m waiting for help to come. 

Bridgett was first certified when she was two and is now on her 3rd annual recertification. Compass Key has been wonderful to work with during these recertification events. During COVID we were able to virtually test her. This year I have been sharing caregiving for my 91-year-old dad who wants to stay in his home. Compass Key has worked with me again on getting Bridgett recertified under these stressful circumstances. 

Jack Compass Key Service Dog Training Client Story


More life to experience with him by my side

My Service Dog, Jack, did not show me the way to heaven, but he did lead me out of hell.​ My panic disorder, PTSD, and generalized anxiety disorder was too large of a mountain for me to climb alone. I couldn’t do it alone. ​


Because of Compass Key, and lots of hard work, now, I don’t need to do it alone. Now, I have Jack, my Service Dog, who is always by my side, and we walk shoulder to shoulder together through whatever my mental illness brings. If I tremble, Jack puts his paw on my leg to remind me he is there. If I pick at my hands, Jack will cover my hands with his face to distract me. If I cry, Jack alerts and gives me kisses. If I do have an anxiety attack, Jack places himself under my body so that I have a soft, warm place to be until the attack subsides. If necessary, Jack can alert someone else that I need assistance, and bring them to me. ​


I am never going to be cured, but with Jack as my partner, he has made my disabilities manageable. With Jack by my side, I will go to work, and show up in the world in the way the I want to show up. I can exist in the world without fear of panic attacks or dissociation because I know that Jack is there to mitigate my disabilities. ​


Jack has brought me out of hell, and into the world, and there is so much more to experience now with Jack next to me to help.


Joey Iversen is the epitome of who a Profession Service Dog Trainer should be. Joey is kind, gentle, and extremely knowledgeable about canine behavior, and working dogs. Joey treats both myself and my canine partner with the utmost respect, and encourages sustainable, realistic training progress while remaining patient and understanding. She continues to have fresh ideas when it comes to training, encouraging me to keep moving forward with Service Training. She inspires me to work hard with my dog and value progress. Joey Iversen knows the Training industry inside and out, and her work makes that crystal clear. I am lucky to have found her!


PTSD, Depressive Disorder, and Borderline Personality Disorder Service Dog

After years in the Navy and several deployments, I was left with a lot of things I needed to cope with, yet no treatment seemed to fully help me move forward. Every day I would come home, and Bailey would be waiting patiently to great me. Since we adopted her from the shelter at eight weeks old, she has been attached to my side with no significant training. She knew when I was sad or angry and she knew just want I needed to feel better.


After my diagnosis in the military of PTSD, Major Depressive Disorder, and Borderline Personality Disorder, I was moved to a transition phase to reintegrate to civilian life. After several attempts and treatments, I found that Bailey remained my rock. After a lengthy discussion with my husband we decided to train bailey to be my service dog.


After a lot of research Compass Key was the obvious choice, their flexibility and affordable training made them the only choice in training companies! Our trainer has been with us since day 1 and she is everything a Professional Trainer should be! Her flexibility and vast knowledge of her job makes her the best trainer anyone could ask for. She began working with us, Bailey thrived while soaking up her skills and is eager to help me when needed. She continues to progress through her training taking on all her knew skills in stride.


Having Bailey in this training program and soon to be certified has allowed me to manage my anxiety and depression better than any medication! I look forward to our graduation day with gratitude for Bailey, our trainer, and the entire Compass Key family.

Bailey Compass Key Service Dog Training Client Story
Nala Compass Key Service Dog Training Client Story


Assistance for anxiety, depression, and rheumatoid arthritis

Prior to having Nala trained, I was not managing my depression, anxiety, or rheumatoid arthritis in any way. Even now, with each step in training my freedom and confidence improves. Just the other day, I was struggling to move with my knees and ankles swollen, but Nala was a patient motivator who walked slowly besides me and allowed me to lean on her when I needed.


Nala and Compass Key have helped improve my life a lot.


Autism Service Dog Training from a Distance

My daughter has Autism and after an unfortunate experience my family decided as a last resort to try a service dog. We got Aspen as a puppy and due to the expense of things we decided his training would have to be a plan we could manage.


Compass Key although not near us offered flexible training options with various prices. So far Aspen has helped stabilize my daughter. They absolutely love each other. Aspen is responding well to training. We still have a long way to go but hopefully we can make Aspen a Autism service dog.

Aspen Compass Key Service Dog Training Client Story
Paisley Compass Key Service Dog Training Client Story


The blessing I needed in my life

After my deployment to Afghanistan I was told by many people who knew me rather well that I just wasn’t the same. The transition home was harder than anticipated and no training that I received from the Marine Corps truly prepared me for the difficulties that I would face. Mid May of 2010 the toll of combat truly surfaced itself and drove a wedge in my marriage; it was time to seek help. I wish there was a caveat, informing me that it would only get worse before it gets any better.


Around that time, we purchased Paisley, and at just 7 weeks old, she was the blessing that I needed in my life. I was struggling to truly open up to my wife about my experiences and the feelings/emotions that manifested due to them but Paisley was there; without judgment, without an opinion, and without a solution. I was convinced that she was really there, for no other reason, then to listen and be my friend.


Over the next few years Paisley has been there through the toughest times, she’s taught me how to relax, even if it means to forget the stress and play fetch. Most of all, she helped me talk about what I felt and that carried over into my marriage. My wife and I talk about my symptoms and I explain to her why I feel the emotions that I do in certain settings. To me, and to my family, Paisley is not just a pet or a companion animal, she IS family, and she IS a huge contributor to where we are today.


The Semper Fi Fund told me that there was an opportunity to train and certify Paisley as a service dog I couldn’t have been more exited. Throughout her training it was incredible to see her perfect her skills and I am beyond excited to watch her continually grow. She makes my quality of life so much better in everything that she does. Paisley and I are thankful for the assistance while we make this transition and begin this incredible journey.


A new battle buddy

I enlisted in the Marine Corps on 28 April 1993.  My primary military occupational specialty (MOS) was a Light Armored Vehicle Crewman with various Light Armored Reconnaissance Units as well as various special duty assignments around the world.  In August of 2004 my unit 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance, Alpha Company out of Camp Lejeune, NC was sent to Fallujah, Iraq for a 7 month deployment.  While deployed my unit performed numerous combat missions such as the Siege of Fallujah, re-occupation of the city and the elections.  I also served as the lead staff non-commissioned officer in charge of 4 platoons of Iraq soldiers and training daily with Marines.​


On 21 Feb 2005 my vehicle was hit by a roadside IED (improvised explosive device) disabling the vehicle.  I was hit by shrapnel in the face and right arm.  I was Medevac’d to Bravo Surgical and later back to the states where I had several surgeries and an 18 month recovery from wounds to my arm.  During this time I was diagnosed with a grade three concussion (mild TBI) and PTSD and severe nerve damage to my right arm.  I also had to re-learn how to use my hand and arm all over again due to all the nerve damage.  To date I still have not fully recovered from the nerve damage and will not ever have full use of my arm. ​


I was first provided a service dog, Bailey, from a nonprofit organization.  I saw firsthand the benefits and results of using a service dog for PTSD.  Bailey’s bond and desire to be a service dog has given me a foot hold on regaining my freedom back and coping with PTSD.  Our seven year journey is coming to an end and Bailey will retire due to her age and inability to work a full day.  For a little bit over a year I have been training a new Black Lab named Aspen.  We have a very different bond and make a good pair due to us both being stubborn and hardheaded.  She has taught me new skills due to her demeanor.  I have had to teach myself more compassion and patience when working with her, but she is very dedicated to her work. 


Thanks to the help and support of Semper Fi Fund and Compass Key I hope to have Aspen as my fully qualified service dog and new Battle Buddy.

ASPEN Compass Key Service Dog Training Client Story
LUNA Compass Key Service Dog Training Client Story


Distance training and giving peace of mind

I was born with a serious hereditary heart condition which worsens over the years, making it harder and harder to perform some of the activities most people do every day without a second thought. My body has tried to compensate by overproducing certain stress hormones to try and maintain a pulse of at least 60 beats per minute. I also take medications 8 times a day to help keep my pulse up. Without intervention, it drops dangerously low and I often fall and/or pass out on the floor, unconscious. My heart condition is not reversible or fixable. It causes me to faint and stop breathing or to have unfathomable chest pain. Sometimes both. I work hard every day to keep my body in balance with food, fluids, medications and exercise. Every day is different and can change from one minute to the next. I avoid taking my medication at night for at least 3 hours before going to bed. This means night time can be especially difficult. The dizziness and other symptoms are worse at night as my medication wears off.​


I strive to maintain a "normal" life and work very hard to ensure people around me do not see the pain and struggle I go through. It is hard to be dependent on your loved ones. They love you and will do anything for you, but to have to ask is the hardest choice of all. In light of this, our family is currently training a puppy to be a medical alert dog for me. My puppy, Luna, was a birthday present for me from my parents. I found her at our local shelter. Then, after a lot of internet searching, we found our trainer at Compass Key.​


We live in Massachusetts and Patsy lives in Virginia. At first I thought no way would that work! But our trainer is wonderful, and we can complete lessons via facetime in between Luna and I making the 12 hour drive down to Virginia Beach to see her. Right now we are working on training Luna to push an emergency call button on my bedroom wall which alerts 911 that there is an emergency. We are also training her to retrieve help by going upstairs to get one of my parents (even if that means opening their bedroom door) and leading them back downstairs to me.


Never in a million years would I have thought this would be possible, but slowly this dream is becoming a reality. Having Luna with me, especially at night, gives both myself and my parents the peace of mind that when I’m off my cardiac meds at night I will not pass out and be on the floor unnoticed. Even if I can’t give Luna a verbal command she will be able to alert someone. This could be life saving for me! I cannot thank our trainer enough for all her hard work and dedication. And of course, my parents and Luna too. Sometimes I don’t know who rescued who, but either way I am grateful.


Helping gain back independence

After years of struggling with debilitating physical and psychological symptoms, I moved to Virginia, where I met and married the love of my life. I had made it! I had the life I had worked so hard for, including a support system like no other, a wonderful job, and acceptance into graduate school to pursue my career in clinical mental health counseling. Yet, even with all these wonderful life changes, my symptoms were not getting any better. In fact, my physical symptoms were preventing me from living life. Slowly enough to where I didn’t realize it, my world had gotten smaller and smaller to where I couldn’t leave the house most mornings to go to work. My graduate classes shifted from something that I was excited to attend to something that I dreaded. I couldn’t even drive down the road to have a date night with my husband without potentially suffering from symptoms that could easily spiral out of control. I thought about how my life and independence had shriveled away at 26 years old and feared about how life might look at 36 or 46 years old. It was then that I realized I needed to get serious about my medical treatment and seek out holistic care options for my chronic, life-long conditions.​


I found Compass Key (then "PAWS Training Centers") after months of researching whether a potential service dog would be right for me. It is a very personal choice to use a dog to mitigate a disability, but after much research, counsel, and prayer, I decided to go for it! I chose Compass Key over other programs because they offer the potential to use your own pet, should they meet up to the standards of a service dog. My trainer immediately made me feel comfortable and excited to work with Compass Key. I look forward to each of our sessions and am so encouraged by her. SAMSON, my three-year-old service dog in training, is a rock star and I love working with him as much as he loves working with me. I’ve had him since he was 10 weeks old and have always enjoyed training him, but our trainer takes it to a new, challenging level.​


We are about to test for Phase 2 (advanced obedience) and it seems that our training is just flying by! SAMSON and I work hard daily to proof his skills, but he meets every new challenge like he was born for this. I know that SAMSON cannot take away my disabilities, but my hope is that with a service dog alerting me before my symptoms arise and assisting me with the debilitating ones, I will be able to gain back independence lost and continue my journey in life.

SAMSON Compass Key Service Dog Training Client Story
Benny Compass Key Service Dog Training Client Story


Our lessons are wonderful!

I want to tell you how much Benny and I enjoy working with Kayse and I wanted to take this time to tell how wonderful my last lessons have been with Benny and Kayse. I have shared with her my anxiety over what my perception of the lessons would be like due to my history with anxiety. They were nothing like that at all. Boy was I thankful!​


Not only is Kayse an amazing educator and mentor in her field but she is also an outstanding communicator with humans and non humans alike. Her sensitivity and compassion for understanding how to listen and work with us has been fantastic. Her abilities to communicate, educate, and work with clients such as myself with issues have been positively amazing experiences for Benny and myself. Her knowledge of all facets of canines and their world is beyond remarkable to me. Kayse's demeanor, personality, sense of compassion and humor are just phenomenal. I never have enough great things to say about Kayse.​


A special heartfelt thank you from Benny and I to Kayse.

-EL and Benny


We're inseparable

I’m a combat disabled veteran who served 8 years in the United States Marine Corps and very proud of that fact. I have overcome many challenges in my life from childhood to serving my country to transitioning into the civilian world. It was my last deployment in 2009-2010 that really sent me in a downward spiral and coming home to my mother passing away a few months after. I was lost and too prideful to ask for help. I stepped up to the plate so to speak and realized this is the life I have to live with; I need to find ways to improve it because I have so many counting on me.


I have been to multiple treatment places and talked to many doctors and have the pill bottles to prove it. I never wanted my life to be consumed by taking pills to feel whole again. I reached out to my Combat causality nurses with the Navy Marine Corp Relief Society and asked about the option of a service dog. I have always been a dog guy and it seemed every time I would go to a friend’s house their dog or dogs would always be drawn to me. It made me feel peaceful to have that type of connection.


I got word that I could start training with Compass Key (then "PAWS Training Centers") and I was on cloud nine. The search for my best friend started. I knew this would be difficult but I was ready for the challenge. My boss and his wife had just rescued a puppy named Duke and I had already grown to love this puppy, so they let him come live with me. We have been inseparable since day one. He is well known at work because he goes everywhere with me. I’m so grateful for the Compass Key staff and our trainer for helping train me so Duke and I can become a working team.


This is my short story and I hope more people can benefit from this great organization.

Duke Compass Key Service Dog Training Client Story
RILEY Compass Key Service Dog Training Client Story


We made it as a service dog team!

I contacted Compass Key (then "PAWS Training Centers") due to my disability. We started training with our Compass Key trainer and she was amazing. From the beginning Riley and I had a “pet” relationship. At first Riley and I were not a strong team. She didn’t listen to me because I was not a leader in my family. I had no confidence and no assertiveness training with her. I realized I had to step up and complete the homework as we got further through the phases. I realized through our trainer that Riley can tell if I am anxious or unsure. Myself as a person had to change due to the fact that Riley followed and did the cues with our trainer.


Compass Key and our trainer helped me gain the confidence to complete the program. Our trainer instilled in me that “I got this” and encouraged me throughout the process. Currently, Riley and I have a very strong team bond. She knows it is time to work when I have her get her harness on. We get compliments on how well she is behaved. Honestly, this is due to our trainer, Compass Key, and my husband. It is a huge relief on my family that Riley can brace, provide stability, and retrieve. I would recommend Compass Key to anyone who is serious about having a service dog. You have to keep up with the training during and after you and your service dog become certified.


Thank you Compass Key and thank you to our trainer!! You all are awesome!


In-training service dog

After graduating high school in 2003, I was eager to serve my country. Due to the fact that the president at that time, the honorable President Bush, was not accepting applications from untrained 18-year-old men for his special task force, I figured the Marine Corps would be the next best option. After nearly a year, I completed all my entry-level training. From boot camp to my occupation training, I then returned to the quiet little nest that was Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego. With no bad guys in site, I was far from any war going on at that time. Six years later, I found myself transiting to Iraq in hopes to finally do my part in this nation's lengthy endeavor. By the time I arrived in 2009, the war in Iraq had transitioned from a constant parade of bombs, bullets and body bags, to humanitarian operations and skillful execution of removing the few remaining Marine Corps combat elements still in country. After nine months, I didn’t fire a single shot. Less than five months after returning home, I was back in the dirt. This time, a mountainous environment, full of rocks, hills and mortar fire. In less than a month, the enemy was engaging our camp and our Marine units all over Helmand province. After eight months in country, I had traveled, patrolled and shook hands with Marines, locals, and other service members in three different provinces of Afghanistan. By October, my time was up.


The deployment was far from over, but my last patrol landed my bloody body on a casualty evacuation helicopter bound for the hospital and within weeks, I was stateside. After nearly a month, doctors determined I would lose my left eye, my right would suffer irreversible damage, leaving me legally blind, and my rockin' hot body was reduced to mush, simply because they didn’t have a decent gym at the naval hospital I was currently posted at. By 2013 I was cleared medically and physically fit, with limitations, to return to the fleet and continue work as a United States Marine.


It was not until 2016 that I met the fourth love of my life, a Rottweiler by the name of Dillon, who would one day become my companion, and service dog. Currently in the second phase of training (advanced obedience), Dillon and I have come a long way. He is a bit unpredictable, but I love that about him. Thank you Compass Key for helping me to get my dog trained. I couldn’t do it without you.

DILLON Compass Key Service Dog Training Client Story
PARACLETE Compass Key Service Dog Training Client Story


A PTSD service dog

It was a long and arduous journey which brought Parclete and I together. I’m not talking about my journey of trauma, but the difficulty of convincing military medical to provide the needed endorsement for a service dog. Their argument was that a service dog would hinder my recovery from PTSD, depression, and an anxiety disorder. Their remedy involved a cocktail of drugs to deal with the difficulties of fitting back into society. That transition loomed ever so more daunting on the fast approach of my retirement and return to civilian life. I knew the struggle was worth it the first time I met my soon to be service dog.​


Paraclete and her sister came charging into the room for the “interview.” It wasn’t long before personalities, temperaments, and treatment needs began to match. Jade, Paraclete’s sister, was task oriented, always looking for the next “mission” racing around the room and searching for adventure. Paraclete was more relational. She stayed close to me, checked me out with her sensitive nose, brushed against me and sat on the floor at my feet with her paw on my knee. After taking the girls in and out of the room and discussing my needs, it became transparent that Paraclete was the companion for me. By the evening, we were off for a two-week trek together to the northern woods of Michigan. The two of us spent our time in joint solitude bonding on snowy walks and warm campfires. By the end of the trip we were inseparable.


Now, every time I move from one room to another, my “white shadow” trails behind me and finds a comfortable spot nearby to lay and chew on the toy she carries with her. When Paraclete and I sit in silence and I stare into her eyes an “old soul” looks back, as if she understands the journey that brought us together. She nuzzles my hand with her nose or sets her jaw on my knee looking up with longing eyes.


Paraclete is always present. She guides me through crowds and is a friend in the midst of strangers. I cannot imagine life without her.


Selecting & training a service dog

My daughter Julia was in need of a service dog in 2013 to provide emergency medical response for seizure and brain hemorrhage. Compass Key (then "PAWS Training Centers") worked with us to locate the perfect dog for the job and train her. Labradoodle Harper had been raised in a women’s prison service dog training program, and had already received obedience training. Before she could become a service dog for Julia, Harper needed to learn to alert strangers and/or push a button on an emergency medical alert device in instances where Julia lost consciousness, both in public and home alone. Harper also needed Public Access Training to be certified as a service dog. She needed to demonstrate the commands she had already learned in prison in unique public environments.​


Once Harper was transferred from prison, her training was started in the trainer's home. Harper stayed with our trainer for several weeks while she worked with her daily. This was the most efficient and cost effective way for Harper to learn what she needed to do. Our trainer kept us in the loop by sending us videos of her progress. We saw our trainer take many a fall in stores and other public places to ensure that Harper would respond appropriately by running to find help and by pressing the emergency alert button. In the meantime, Julia and I Skyped with David Burry and met him at a mall with his demonstration service dog for our training, because we had even more to learn than Harper!​


After Harper’s training in our trainer's home was complete, she brought Harper to us to start lessons. Harper needed to perform the same cues for 14-year-old Julia (and her mother) as she had for the professional dog trainers. The trainers went with us in public places, the zoo, and our home until we felt comfortable.

HARPER Compass Key Service Dog Training Client Story
LUCKY Compass Key Service Dog Training Client Story


Becoming a mobility service dog

Thank you for everything you guys have done to help us train Lucky to be the most perfect dog for our family...especially Matthew. The joy he brings us everyday is endless. Kaitlyn was amazing. She gave me the confidence and patience I never thought I had to deal with training a dog and especially bringing him out and about in public (that was extremely hard for me to overcome). She was always understanding and accommodating with my schedule and my crazy life with three kids. I can't thank you guys enough for everything.

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