Business & Development, Creswell

Paws-itive’ service

So many good boys: Jayson Southmayd, of the new, Creswell-based nonprofit SouthPaws LLC, works with his personal ”pack of four”: (from left) service dogs Kimber and Arrabelle, service-dog-in-training Milo and service dog Canine. Gini Davis

After growing up largely in foster care, Creswell native Jayson Southmayd served in the Marines, and as an Army combat medic in Iraq. Seriously injured twice, he’s undergone 48 surgeries.
An implanted spinal cord stimulator sends electrical impulses that outrace pain signals to his brain, and he was the first person in Oregon fitted with a specialized IDEO (Intrepid Dynamic Exoskeletal Orthosis) carbon fiber leg brace developed by prosthetist Ryan Blanck.
He lives with traumatic brain injury and PTSD.
But Southmayd chooses to look ahead rather than back, counting his blessings – especially wife Misty and their two children – not his woes.
”After being injured and dealing with everything we’ve been through, it’s easy (for injured/disabled veterans) to fall into this victim mentality and forget we’re warriors,” he said.
He doesn’t discount the battles he and his family have fought since his return – the ”war after the war” they’ve waged for his physical and mental health. But he’s determined to make it all count for something positive.
Make that, ”paws-itive.”
The couple’s business, SouthPaws LLC, trains service dogs to meet client needs. The vocation emerged unexpectedly but naturally from Southmayd’s own journey.
”I really started this adventure by necessity, because the VA didn’t want to give me a service dog,” said Southmayd, who spent 2.5 years training his golden retriever Arrabelle, developing his personal training philosophy – think ”early (‘dog whisperer’) Cesar Millan” – along the way.
”Dogs deal in energy, the emotion you give off,” Southmayd said. Arrabelle ”senses when my PTSD is triggered; she’ll paw me until I notice her and pull me out of it, and wakes me up from nightmares by licking my face.”
Dogs ”have a higher emotional resonance than people do, so they almost always make people feel better,” he added. ”If you’re stressed, they can calm you down and if you’re depressed, they can give you energy.”
Self-taught and intuitive in relating to dogs, Southmayd said it’s essential that clients be actively involved in training, and spends time evaluating the dog’s personality and whether person and dog seem well-matched.
”They have to fit into your life – not just as a service animal, but as a pet,” Southmayd said, noting that good service dogs are ”very smart, family-oriented, work-oriented, retrieve well, love having a job to do and are protective.”
After each hour-long training session, client and dog practice what they’ve learned. Southmayd tests them the following week. If they pass, they progress to the next lesson; if not, they retrain on that material before moving forward.
”About 80% of the training is the person; only about 20% is the dog,” he said. ”I always tell clients that for the training to ‘stick,’ you have to become the pack leader; if you don’t do it, (the dog) will do it for you.”
Southmayd’s own four-”pack” of service dogs includes golden retrievers Arrabelle and her son Canine; mastiff Kimber; and Milo, a year-old labradoodle donated as a puppy by Pam Spencer of Creswell and being trained as a service dog for a local girl – a nearly 2.5-year process.
Southmayd has learned that service dogs too sometimes come to their vocation unexpectedly and naturally: Canine was initially Misty’s farm dog, receiving only basic obedience training from her during his first 2.5 years. ”Then one day, he brought me my socks, and I thought, hmm,” Southmayd said. It became apparent that Canine loved fetching and carrying, and he’s now taken his mostly retired mom’s place as Southmayd’s main service dog.
Just as SouthPaws grew from Southmayd’s life experiences, so does his heart for serving vulnerable children. The former foster child has been a Creslane Intergenerational Reading Collaboration (IRC) volunteer since 2016, reading to students with Arrabelle, Canine or Kimber by his side.
”The children have responded positively to the dog’s presence during reading time, while learning about the role and function of service animals,” said IRC co-team leader, Laurie Swanson Gribskov.
Kids also benefit from the dogs’ emotional energy. Sweet, lovable Arrabelle ”makes kids feel happy, like everything’s going to be okay,” while Canine ”calms kids down,” Southmayd said.
Canine’s talent was ideal for Creslane’s Life Skills classroom, where Southmayd also volunteered last year: ”I tend to be put with kids with emotional/acting out stuff,” he said. ”I get that they’re having a hard time; I’ve had a hard time, too.”
Those ”hard times” are not completely behind him, but Southmayd has worked hard to move beyond them and the negative memories and emotions they trigger. And looking around, looking ahead, he sees plenty to be ”paws-itive” about.
”For me to be where I am right now, I never could have imagined – and the fact that (Misty) is still my wife is a miracle in itself,” Southmayd said. ”I never saw myself doing what I’m doing now with IRC and dogs; now I can’t see myself doing anything else.”
Currently, new clients come to SouthPaws through word-of-mouth and client referrals, and sessions are limited to one-on-one. But the Southmayds hope to start a nonprofit and build a training center for group classes, behavior modification, puppy training, and therapy and service dog training on their property, once their home’s extensive damage from February’s snowstorm has been repaired.
For now, Southmayd will continue fostering individual client-dog partnerships, and delighting in watching those personal/professional bonds grow.
”That magic is why I do it,” he said.
Well, that and a courageous resolve to reshape his own – and others’ – reality for the better, regardless of the weight of the past or the obstacles to be overcome.
”Maybe we can’t change the world, but we can change the world around us,” Southmayd said. ”In our neighborhoods, in our schools, people can make the decision to be the difference.”



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