GOWANDA — Local veteran Dwayne Jensen is being honored for his dedication to country and community in the national Veterans of Foreign War’s #StillServing campaign.
The #StillServing campaign recognizes veterans who continue to serve in their community after the military and, during the month of September, focuses on those who do so with a canine helper. Jensen’s service dog, Beau, is being recognized for National Service Dog Month that celebrates the working dogs who help people gain greater independence.
Jensen has struggled with anxiety since serving in Operation Desert Storm, a military conflict that started in January 1991 and is commonly known as the Gulf War. He served in the United States Army from 1990 to 1995 as an air traffic controller in the aviation brigade.
Jensen is an active member of Gowanda’s Veterans of Foreign Wars Post #5007. Post Commander Miles Malinowski, who served with the United States Marines in Iraq twice and Afghanistan once, said he could relate to Jensen’s anxiety.
“Desert Storm was a weird situation. It was a lot of what we call ‘hurry up and wait’ and the anxiety of not knowing what’s to come,” he said. “I know anxiety is something most combat vets deal with.”
A United States Postal Service for 25 years, Jensen currently works in Olean. He has spent many years without the assistance of a service dog. When the Pawsitive for Heroes – WNY Heroes, Inc. program launched in 2014, it gave him hope.
Jensen said he had been reading about service dogs helping veterans for awhile, but wasn’t sure how well a service dog would fit with postal work. While attending a StrOlean event, he talked to a couple of representatives from the Pawsitive for Heroes program.
“It got me interested and I applied for a dog in January,” he said. “The application asked what type of breed I was looking for. I walk 10 to 12 miles a day delivering mail, so I needed a bigger dog that could do the challenge.”
Pawsitive for Heroes called Jensen in April and said they had a dog for him. He and Beau bonded right away and began a three-month training period in Olean. Beau is a laid-back, two-year-old German Shepherd mix that originally came from an Alabama rescue and has been fostered in central New York state.
Jensen said Beau helps him with daily stress and anxiety to get through his workday. He also enables him to be active at the Gowanda VFW and have a social life.
“Beau gives me companionship and he’s with me on the job every day. He senses when I’m feeling anxious and he’ll come up and rub against me. He creates a distraction, so I think about something else and not whatever is making me anxious,” he said. “When we get home and I take his vest off, he senses that he is off-duty and becomes a regular dog.”
Jensen and Beau were featured in the news last May when the dog was said to possibly be the first service dog to ever work for the postal service. Now, the honor is official and Olean’s U.S. Postal Service can proudly flaunt him. Michelle Cheesman, who spoke on behalf of the national VFW, said Beau is the first service dog in history to work for the United States Postal Service as a city letter carrier.
The process was complicated because having a service dog work for the postal service had never been done before. Almost a year later, and with a required a 30-day probationary period, USPS managers and executives from Olean to Albany and all the way to Washington, D.C. gave final approval to allow Beau to work with Jensen.
“Beau’s official now. He’s all AKC certified and covered by the AKC with three Good Citizen Awards,” Jensen said. “Now that he has been approved, it’ll open doors for other veterans in the country.”
According to Jensen, Cattaraugus County is sponsoring Beau and will cover his veterinary bills for the first year, along with grooming. He said Purina donates all the dog food that he receives through Western New York Heroes. With the help of the county sponsor, Purina paid for Jensen and Beau’s service dog training.
Jensen resides in Gowanda with his wife, Kristen. They have three children and four step-children.
A recent press release from the VFW said the #StillServing campaign was launched in February 2020 to highlight the many ways America’s veterans continue to serve in their local communities after transitioning from the military.
What started as an awareness campaign, has become a social movement as veterans across the country continue to step up to share stories of how they are still serving. More than 1,000 veterans’ stories have been shared through news coverage, website features and magazine and newsletter articles.