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New Salem veteran, K-9 honored by VFW

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Jared Bollom says he and JJ, his 7-year-old service dog, are inseparable. "He goes with me 24/7," said Bollom, of New Salem.

A unique partnership was formed in 2017 when a 3-year-old service dog chose a New Salem Army veteran to be his human.

JJ, a black Labrador, was the eighth Service Dogs of America candidate to greet Jared Bollom. JJ’s brother was the seventh, but he mostly just wanted Bollom’s attention. JJ almost immediately went to work, paying attention to the surroundings and letting Bollom know about anything out of the ordinary.

“The bond doesn’t take long,” Bollom said.

Nor did the formation of a partnership. Bollom, 43, and JJ were recently recognized by the Veterans of Foreign War’s #StillServing campaign for service to their community and country. The program honors veterans who continue to serve after the military, and in September -- National Service Dog month -- it focuses on those who give back in tandem with a canine.

Bollom, a Wisconsin native, spent 15 years in the U.S. Army and served two tours overseas. Years later, after struggling with isolation and making attempts on his own life, he learned he’d suffered traumatic brain injuries and was diagnosed with post- and continuous traumatic stress disorder.

Family, doctors, fellow veterans and JJ helped him get back to a normal life. Today he’s a school counselor in Glen Ullin and is part of the American School Counseling Association. He's active with veterans groups, volunteers with Support Dogs of America, and advocates for veterans before the state Legislature. JJ is with him at all times.

“I probably wouldn’t have been able to do those things without his support, the support of my family and the VA,” he said, referring to the federal Veterans Affairs agency.

Service dogs are trained in several areas, such as alerting people to impending seizures and aiding people with mobility needs. JJ’s job is to help Bollom be more relaxed and not anxious. He lets his master know “either things are OK or I need to pay attention to what’s going on,” Bollom said.

The dog’s alerts are subtle, nearly unnoticeable unless an observer knows them. Bollom’s wife, for example, can tell how her husband is doing based on what the dog is doing.

“He’s really an assistance tool for me, not a pet so much,” Bollom said.

But the two are together constantly. JJ is “part of the family, part of the school, part of the staff right along with me,” Bollom said.

The dog has a fan base in Glen Ullin but the students are respectful of his role.

“They understand he’s working and he’s there for me,” Bollom said.

As a service dog, JJ is covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act. He and Bollom certify every two years with an international agency to assure compliance on commands and behavior and knowledge of laws.

Bollom was honored after the VFW put out a call for stories of vets with dogs and the ways they continue to serve. He submitted a few paragraphs because it was for the VFW, of which he’s a lifetime member. The recognition “definitely was not the intent,” he said.

“Usually with that stuff I like to stay kind of in the background,” he said. “But it’s nice to be able to help others realize that there’s things you can do to keep moving and not give up in life.”

Reach Travis Svihovec at 701-250-8260 or Travis.Svihovec@bismarcktribune.com

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