Battle Buddy: Veteran fighting cancer, PTSD receives service dog

In the face of the battle of her life, a local Navy veteran received a battle buddy from her fellow classmates and veterans’ organization.

On top of dealing with her cancer diagnosis, Kadee Knapper has PTSD from her time in the Navy and is also planning a wedding. So on this Giving Tuesday, she got a gift greater than she could have imagined of the four-legged variety.

“It’s time for you to meet your new puppy,” Ed Garza, Director of Veteran Services at Concordia University of Wisconsin said. “Your new battle buddy.”

The 12-week-old Pyrenees-Labrador mix was as docile as a 12-year-old dog. Her purpose: to help Knapper relax during this tumultuous time. She seemed to already be doing the trick. The unnamed puppy couldn’t stop nuzzling Knapper and licking her new mom.

“I was excited,” Knapper said. “It was overwhelming actually. I have grown up with dogs and not having one is kind of hard to deal with.”

“Lump in the throat,” said Dr. Patrick Steele, Associate Professor of History at Concordia University. “It was great. You could see her smile coming through the mask. It was genuine. I think that’s the first time I’ve seen her smile since the beginning of the semester. It was phenomenal to see.”

The day was all possible thanks to Garza’s role in the Veterans Services department at Concordia.

 After learning of Kadee’s diagnosis, he talked to her about her interest in getting a dog to help her get through the upcoming challenges she would face.

The comfort dog can cost up to $15,000 but the veteran support service out of Minnesota gave it to her for free. A Navy veteran himself, he’ll humbly thank everyone else who made it possible though he deserves as much credit as everyone else.

“I made phone calls to my connections here and in Minnesota,” Garza said. “Combat vets I know. Tony Haberle in [Minnesota] and Mike Ferrel with Memories Made Guide Service. The team of Healing Patriots around Grafton, I contacted them and said, Hey what can we do?”

In the Navy, he says it’s a team and this new puppy will work with Kadee as her newest teammate in her battle.

“It’s a teammate,” Garza said. “A companion. A person you can rely on and you know will have your back no matter what. That’s where I think this little puppy will come in handy for her. They’ll build that relationship and work to get obedience training and all that fun stuff. That will be beneficial to her.”

Knapper’s classmates at CUW couldn’t wait to try and help as well.

“When [Professor Steele] told us [Knapper’s diagnosis], I gave her notes from when she was gone and I’m like, I can do something more than give her notes,” said Freshman Hailey Yanke. “I’m impacted by what she does for our country and how she impacted everyone else. At least we can do something for her even if it’s little.”

Yanke and her classmates raised some money to give Knapper some comfort things during her treatment. Then they caught wind of the puppy and raised money for her to get dog supplies.

“My grandparents always say, God always gives the hardest battles to the strongest soldiers,” Isaac Glynn a freshman at Concordia said. “It really applies to her right now.”

“I hope the puppy will give her the happiness and getaway from all the doctor visits she has to go through and give her that extra happiness boost that she’ll need in her life with all that’s going on,” said Heather Renard, a freshman at Concordia. “It gives us comfort for when people can’t be around her. She’ll have that puppy with her. In the middle of the night or sitting at home and her fiancé not there, she’ll have that buddy with her all the time.”

Her fiancé is hopeful the dog will give her something to smile about on her worst days.

“It will be nice to have something that’s a nice distraction,” said Dan Peterson, Knapper’s fiancé. “I was really excited for Kadee. Just the fact she’s got something to kind of take her mind off everything.”

Both Knapper and Peterson grew up with dogs. As a couple, they were thinking of doing what most couples eventually do and get a puppy. But this one is extra special.

“I’m going to look at it as a way to escape everything else,” Peterson said. “There is nothing better than taking a dog or puppy for a walk and doing all the normal puppy stuff you get to do with a dog.”

But waking up at 2 a.m. to take the dog out, potty training, cleaning up after a puppy can be hard work. However, this work will be more cathartic for Knapper than the hard work she’ll be putting in to get better.

“I’ll deal with that over some of the other stress for sure,” Knapper said.

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