By Forrest Hershberger
Sidney Sun-Telegraph 

'Disability Dogs' Coming to Sidney Security


March 11, 2020

A program is coming to Sidney designed to meet the specific needs of military veterans and the disabilities they face.

Sidney is one of the stops on Disability Dogs' first road trip since becoming a nonprofit organization. The stop in Sidney is scheduled as a two-day clinic offering veterans, then First Responders, to meet trainer Ashley Tomberg and discuss opportunities with the Disability Dogs program.

“My program is designed to target veterans and and first responders,” Tomberg said.

Location of the Sidney clinic will be announced.

The clinic will include sessions on the legal aspects of service dogs, what the law allows and what it doesn't. She will also talk about the importance of socialization, the relationship between a dog and handler.

“I explain everything I do as I'm doing it,” she said. “I'm very big on teaching.”

She stressed that having a service dog is not a privilege. It is a right.

Disability Dogs has access to many different breeds, breeders and calibers of dogs. As a service dog, a particular breed and temperament of dog is matched to the needs, not just the wants, of the individual. Tomberg knows what it is like to need a dog for help with specific tasks. She tells some of her story on her Disability Dogs webpage.

“As an individual that suffers from personal disabilities, I remember the feeling of desperation and need to find a dog that would allow me to regain my independence,” she says. “My disabilities forced major lifestyle changes. These leading me to find a way to bridge the gap of locating and training service dogs that are affordable.”

She recalls reaching out to non-profits and the accompanying endless list of stipulations, a waiting list years long and required forms without responses. For-profit options offered challenges of the other kind. She says a car would be more affordable than a service dog through some for-profit organizations. She said her program is designed to fill the gaps.

Tomberg and Disability Dogs offers a multitude of options for people seeking service dogs.

Disability Dogs is based in Gainesville, Fla. It is a program that takes dogs to veterans and makes service dogs more accessible to those who need them. It is an enterprise and it is personal for Tomberg. She is a veteran, and a young woman whose injuries and personal demons are not always visible.

“Physically, when you look at me I'm fine, but under an x-ray I'm a 'hot mess,'” she said.

But the outward appearance doesn't account for the PTSD, closed brain injury, trauma and other issues that sometimes follow the physical injuries.

Tomberg is leading Disability Dogs with the passion of someone knows both sides, as a trainer and a handler, because she is. Her experiences in law enforcement and the military has resulted in injuries and disorders many people won't recognize. She recalls one of the incidents that lead to her injuries and how she reacted.

“I think I spent a lot of time between denial and rage. That just fosters fear,” she said.

She said in addition to fear, veterans and first responders confront guilt, and shame. They consider their disabilities and assume other people have worse situations, and feel the shame of when they cannot do the tasks once considered basic.

Tomberg is known for encouraging veterans to the dog they need rather than just the one with the personality and skills they want. She also offers an evaluation of a veteran's pet for the potential to serve as a Service Dog.

“If I can help one or two people, there's one or two people who can help one or two people,” she said.

Disability Dogs service dog programs offer a multitude of options to ensure the client the dog that best meets his or her needs.


He walks through the store with polished shoes, jeans that show work but not abuse, and a shirt representing the nearest high school team. He blends in with many of the store patrons, rambling from one display to the next as if randomly musing through the aisles. People who knew him recognized his ability to record details few others could see without some coaching. 

What no one except his closest of friends saw were the demons that were attached to his back. Outside of his band of brothers, no one understood what it means to know fear, but not be afraid, to explain in almost clinical detail the difference between a nightmare, a panic attack and a night terror — because he lives them.

Even tighter of a circle are those who recognize his companion — actually an helpmate of many levels — is not a manipulation of the system. He is living proof that not all disabilities are visible. Some are about a past that won’t stay in the past, about physical challenges that are not seen by the naked eye. People see the cane on a bad day, even a wheelchair on a worse day. On the average day, people see the four-legged companion and wonder. Sadly, it is the unasked questions and perceptions that complicate life even more; the belief that a man who can still walk does not need a service dog.

Take away the romanticism of military service and you have the worst of human civilization, of people who will do unimaginable acts against other humans, leaving those wearing the uniform to fight back the visions, and the internal scars for time well after hanging up the BDUs and snap-tight dress uniforms.

A veteran’s need for a service dog is unique. He, or she, sees the world differently because of their training. Consequently, they react differently, often have a different definition of personal space. There are vets who have a collection of masks: the man who is still in the trenches of war, the one who is perfectly polished and professional during his eight hours at the office and the face he wears among his family and friends. The rarely-seen face is the most real, the one worn among his service family, the family who understands the abrasive joking, the all or none attitude and can almost see the night terrors when a buddy shares his experiences.

That is where the service dog comes in. A properly-matched service dog provides a barrier for vets who need it. Separating need from want in a dog’s skill set is part of the process in pairing the right dog with the right vet.


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