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Linwood non-profit pairs veterans with service dogs

LINWOOD, Mich. (WNEM) – A Linwood non-profit is making it their mission to help prevent veteran suicides.

Mission 22 Service Dogs pairs up canines and veterans, in the end, helping each other.

“I was losing him as a husband, a friend, a dad to our son,” said Michele Leist, Mission 22 Service Dogs founder.

That’s when Michele Leist looked into service dogs for veterans, like her husband.

“His anxiety levels, his anger, his emotions started to show through. He was more willing to talk to me about things instead of slamming the doors and going, and not knowing where he’s going,” Leist said.

After volunteering with another organization, she started her own about a year ago. The non-profit’s name is based on the twenty two vets that die from suicide every day.

The Linwood organization teaches veterans to train dogs to become their own certified service animals.

“The fulfillment you got just being there to help these men and women was worth it in itself, to me,” Leist said.

Her organization has partnered about two dozen dogs and vets, like Jennifer Kolodziejski and Birdie.

“A lot of things that she’ll be able to help me do is just kind of ground me, keep me, you know, my levels down a little bit,” Kolodziejski said.

The eight-month-old labradoodle helps with her hearing impairment, rheumatoid arthritis, PTSD, and anxiety.

“But I feel like when you have a service animal, you’re trusting that that dog is going to help you in a certain situation. So therefore I think that bond has to be a lot stronger. You have to trust in each other,” Kolodziejski said.

The two have been training about five months and gone through three of the required tests.

Leist ensures the process is completely free for the veterans.

“I’m on a mission to, you know, eliminate that twenty-two a day. I know I’m going to be able to do twenty-two a day, but if I’m helping one veteran, that’s me helping a veteran that we’re not going to lose,” Leist said.

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