Legionnaire’s charity: A family with a commitment to service dog training
Photo by Henry Sanchez

Legionnaire’s charity: A family with a commitment to service dog training

Janice Bowman’s calling to serve in the U.S. Coast Guard started when she was a U.S. Junior Olympic swimmer and wanted to use her ability for a higher cause. “I felt a calling to use my talents as a swimmer, a very strong swimmer, to help our country out,” said Bowman, second vice commander at Pacific Palisades Post 283 in California. She qualified for boat operations, boat lowering, and became the exclusive survival swimmer on her ship.

When she left the Coast Guard, Bowman said she became lost and homeless. She received housing support from the VA before moving in with her boyfriend, an Army infantryman who sadly lost his life to suicide.

“After Mark passed away I was really, really lost,” said 33-year-old Bowman. “I was living by myself, I’m hard of hearing (service-related) even though I wear hearing aids. I was very emotionally disconnected at the time. I was having a lot of trouble socializing. As much as I knew I needed to be out there in the world, it was extremely difficult for me to do it. It took so much energy just to walk out of my house. I needed a dog to help me live my life.”

She needed a dog that could actually help her with her hearing disability. At first she struggled to come to terms with her real needs, but then realized that a service animal is no different than a tool to assist her, much like a hearing aid. “It’s a tool and it’s a tool that I could really love,” Bowman said. “And it would be really great to have something else in my life that I didn’t have to think about me all the time. I could put my time and my energy into helping, you know, another being.”

When Bowman first considered a service dog she found that the waitlist was three to five years. She kept researching and was astonished that there were hundreds of organizations to filter through. “I called hundreds of organizations to find out how I could do this. How could I get a service dog?” Bowman said.

She learned through the Americans with Disabilities Act that disabled people are allowed to train their own service dogs. “The owner has to be capable, they have to be confident, and they have to be credentialed,” Bowman said. “This is definitely something I can do. I am competent, I am capable, I can provide a good environment for my dog.”

Bowman searched for about two months, going into every animal shelter in the Los Angeles County area, until she found the right dog.

Archer was only a year old when Bowman met him at a local shelter. “He was a stray on the street,” she said. “He had no background, or history, or medical information. So it was a little scary.” She recalls their first interaction. “I see this huge dog coming up to me, and it’s been a while since I’ve owned one,” she said. “He comes tramping over, trotting up to me, with his huge, huge body, gives me this big hug.” The shelter employee said she’d never seen a human and a dog have such an instant bond like that.

At the time Bowman was working at a law firm 100-plus hours a week. As much as she cared about work, she realized that she needed to focus on something that really mattered to her. And seeing the need for service-dogs, started her own nonprofit.

“I needed to be able to start changing the dynamics and the environment and the energy in the veteran sphere,” Bowman said. “In turn, I was helping myself out.”

While looking for Archer, and the means to train him, she noticed a need for companies and nonprofits that could train dogs for all disabilities. So Bowman started her own charity – PACK (People and Canine Kingdom).

Bowman is the founder and CEO of the dog rescue, training, wellness and education charity. PACK provides service dog training to active-duty military personnel, veterans, first responders and their families for free.

Bowman said she has always been an animal lover. When she was 8, her dad made a deal with her. “He said, ‘Janice, you can either get a dog now, and we can go and find you the perfect dog, or I will buy you a horse when you turn 12.’ He knew that I wasn’t waiting and I got my first dog.” She engaged in training of the dog. “They wanted me to be active. It wasn’t their dog, it was my dog. So I had to be responsible for my dog, having that relationship and communication. And for that I am so grateful.”

If you want to volunteer with PACK, interested in the program, or you want to be philanthropic, there is a working capacity for everyone.

“I don’t just work in the service dog industry even though that is my mission,” Bowman said. “I also work with pet companion dogs. Not everybody needs a service dog, does that mean I’m not going to let you come and train with me? No. Come and train with me, you can have a companion dog and come train with me.”

Bowman frequently iterates her mantra of a family dynamic, not just within her own organization, but also in her entire community. “The American Legion is another family that impacts,” she said. “American Legion is my No. 1 other than PACK because of their presence in the community, and the impact that they make, and all the people that I get to meet doing these amazing wonderful things.”

She also shares that other organization’s that support veterans, “We are all working for the same mission here, even if our specific purpose is different, our same mission is all there. We want to ensure the quality of life of ourselves and for others. We want to increase that quality and we want to maintain that quality.”

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lt. Ernie Bille has a story of how the crossover of several different organizations can have a great impact. He discovered a dog rescue service through Team RWB that would arrange volunteer days with a shelter to walk animals. Billie and his family visited the shelter and found their “dream dog,” a young German Shepherd/Shiba Inu mix named Willow. Afterward realizing the dog would need training, Billie discovered PACK.

“I had met Janice Bowman while playing on the Team RWB veteran softball team where I also met other American Legion members,” Billie said. “After learning she was also a veteran and American Legion member from Palisades Post 283, I decided to join the PACK family. Through PACK, we’ve continued our engagement with other American Legion members from Monterey Park Post 397, Post 132 in Orange, and Palisades Post 283, to name a few. PACK truly does bring a family together.”

Bille’s daughter, Gabby, was born prematurely and with cerebral palsy, and has faced challenges with her mobility and fine motor skills. Now at the age of 17, Gabby is doing very well and much of that success can be attributed to her service dog in training, Willow. “Willow has truly become a member of our family,” Bille said. “Her next step in development is to be certified so that she can accompany Gabby when she begins college next year.”

For more information about PACK and its services, contact Bowman at (323)412-3522 or by email info@thePACK.family.