Hancock County

Mississippi veteran with PTSD meets a new furry friend in Bay St. Louis

Jasper is a one-year-old standard poodle with a special color: ‘apricot phantom.’ ‘I’m not a poodle breeder,’ Britnee Kinard said, ‘but apparently it’s a pretty rare color.’
Jasper is a one-year-old standard poodle with a special color: ‘apricot phantom.’ ‘I’m not a poodle breeder,’ Britnee Kinard said, ‘but apparently it’s a pretty rare color.’ Special to Sun Herald

Two decades of service in the Air Force left Jim Kirk with post-traumatic stress disorder, a traumatic brain injury and anxiety. He hardly leaves his house in Grenada. But he’s hoping a new friend will change that.

Kirk traveled here Tuesday to pick up that friend, a service dog named Jasper. The SD Gunner Fund, an organization based in Georgia that donates service dogs to veterans, has been training Jasper for the past year, preparing him for life with Kirk.

“I’m so excited,” Kirk said as Jasper sat nearby. “I don’t have words for it.”

Kirk met with Britnee Kinard, the founder and president of the SD Gunner Fund, at Our Lady of the Gulf Catholic Church in Bay St. Louis. The church was the setting for the annual Mississippi Circuit Clerks Association convention, a group that helped facilitate the pairing of Jasper and Kirk.

Lanelle Martin, a past president of the Circuit Clerks Association, heard about Kinard’s work and invited her to speak at their convention in Natchez last year. The association donated about $3,000 to the SD Gunner Fund, which funded Jasper’s training over the past year.

Jasper is a calm, apricot-colored standard poodle. He wore a necktie to his meeting Tuesday, and sat calmly while different guests petted him.

Kirk said he recently sold a truck — he’d only put 20,000 miles on it in the past five years. He said he feels nervous around crowds and just doesn’t get out much.

“I’m dead set on doing it,” he said. “With Jasper that’s going to give me that big, easy first step.”

Kirk spent about two years in Iraq, in Balad and Mosul, in the mid-2000s. His base was often under mortar fire while he was there — shells fell in his vicinity 70 times. His convoy ran over an improvised explosive device, and he was often exposed to poisonous fumes from “burn pits” dug to dispose all kinds of waste.

Kirk retired from the Air Force in 2007 and returned to Grenada. The adjustment was difficult.

“When the word PTSD came out, then everyone alienated him,” his mother, Sue Kirk, said.

Jim Kirk is hoping that life with Jasper will help him to get out more for walks and trips to the park.

“It gives me that sense of responsibility,” he said. “Someone depending on me as much as I’m depending on him.”

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