The Story of Kaya - The German Shepherd Service Dog

Feb 14,2024

Our history is filled with stories and legends about heroes who vigorously protected their lands, and compatriots, wise men who shared their knowledge and educated people in dark times, or people who simply were brave enough to stand for their rights and moral values.

We know to appreciate people and their acts of heroism.

However, our canine companions have also left their pawprints in history, showing their loyalty, bravery, and unconditional love to us! They deserve to be honored the same way as we do!

Today’s article is dedicated to Kaya- a loving furry friend of the German Shepherd breed, who made a great impact on her handler’s life! If you would like to know more about Kaya and how she changed the life of Marine Cole Lyle, you may want to keep reading!

Lyle Before Kaya

Lyle became a Marine in 2008, which was right after his high school graduation. At that time, he did not feel college was the right choice for him, as he thought he wasn’t mature enough. Avoiding big student loans was another factor that contributed to his decision, namely to join the Marines.

He spent six years as a Marine, and during his serving time (in 2011) he was also deployed to Afghanistan to serve the country. Lyle shared that his experience there partially matched his preconceived image but also was very different from what he expected.

When he returned from his deployment he had to undergo the so-called Post Deployment Health Assessment (PDHA), whose goal is to help identify any physical, mental, or emotional problems. This assessment encompasses a wide range of questions to determine whether an individual poses a risk for themselves, i.e. harming themselves. Based on the outcome of this evaluation, an individual may need to go through further treatment.

Lyle was informed that he had to seek follow-up treatment due to symptoms of post-traumatic stress. However, the assessment did not indicate the need for treatment for combat-related traumas.

Upon completion of the assessment, Lyle had to spend much time at a trauma center in Afghanistan- in the Helmand province.

After Lyle returned from deployment, everything seemed to be normal at the beginning. Unfortunately, after a few months, he started having nightmares, and the woman he was married to at that time, had to wake him up. Additionally, he started experiencing anxiety whenever he had to visit hospitals or similar clinical settings. His anxiety episodes also occurred in different situations even outside medical facilities, which is why he could not find out what provoked them.

Lyle tried visiting the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) settings in the Dallas Fort Worth area to engage in conversational therapy and also started taking SSRIs, which are a class of medications to treat the symptoms of depression and PTSD. Unfortunately, the prescribed medication seemed to have had no effect on Lyle’s condition.

Things seemed to have become even worse, and a night in 2014 could have been the last night in Lyle’s life… Luckily, another Marine decided to come to visit Lyle that night and helped him through tough times.

When Lyle woke up the next day, things were different... He had a clear mind and changed his perspective completely! He remembered all the people who cared about him, which contributed to his decision to change his situation…

At this time, he no longer was taking medication nor had he continued doing talk therapy. He had to find an alternative to help him deal with post-traumatic stress and anxiety.

When Lyle Met Kaya

Lyle decided to give it a try and see if a service dog would be as helpful for him as it was for one of his friends. Also, it was related to a more holistic approach, which was a further advantage.

Finding a service dog was not an easy task though, as Veteran Affairs (VA) did not offer service dog funding at the time Lyle set his mind up on this option.

Most of you may already know that getting a trained service is very expensive, and the costs can reach up to $20,000 or more. Some of you may ask about all the service animals that non-profits provide. Yes, getting a service dog through a charity or non-profit is not accompanied by any costs, except an application fee, but it comes with very long waiting lists... 

One or several years is the time that it usually takes for an individual with physical and/or mental impairments to receive a dog.

Having said all that, Lyle had to explore the alternatives and find a solution. Luckily, he knew the right people to help him in his endeavor! He found a person who bred German Shepherds and also had a friend who was a dog trainer. The trainer, who also was a Marine, seemed to be the right fit for Lyle, as he specifically trained dogs to help people deal with the symptoms of mental illnesses, e.g. anxiety, depression, and PTSD.

With the help of his friends, Lyle picked up Kaya!

You may think that Kaya’s training was cheap...It cost Lyle $10,000, which despite being a huge amount, is much cheaper compared to the costs of getting a trained service dog.

Training took almost a year (9-10 months). Lyle and Kaya spent time together when Kaya still was a puppy, about 12 weeks old, so they could develop a bond. Potty training and basic obedience training that Lyle was engaged in, contributed to developing a bond between the newly formed team members!

Maybe some of you have heard of dogs who instantly hit it off with their handlers or actually have had the luck to raise such a dog! Lyle can definitely relate to that as he noticed Kaya’s great potential and sensed her intelligence the moment he met her.

Lyle and Kaya had to get separated for some time, so Kaya could undergo proper training prior to returning to Lyle. During that time Lyle did not lose hope of having a brighter future due to the support that his new friend would provide him with!

When the two friends met again, Lyle noticed that Kaya had not forgotten him! It was actually the opposite! She remembered him right away and the time they had spent together! Kaya’s support proved effective very soon and Lyle noticed his symptoms were getting alleviated in several weeks.

Kaya Made a Difference!

Kaya’s support greatly affected Lyle as well as other people who found themselves in difficult situations.

Let’s start with simple activities that are part of the process of raising a dog, i.e. going on a walk, or feeding the dog. Even when you feel you do not have any motivation or energy to go out of bed, you know there is a paw companion who needs you.

Lyle had the same experience on the days he had no energy to go out of bed. He knew Kaya needed him! One of Kaya’s most important “accomplishments” was giving Lyle a sense of purpose!

Jumping onto his bed and “giving a kiss” helped Lyle wake up from nightmares. Kaya then made him company and helped him calm down until he could finally sleep again. Lyle’s nightmares decreased drastically even due to Kaya’s presence only. Anxiety episodes proved more difficult to manage, which is why it took a longer time for their symptoms to be alleviated. 

However, Kaya’s tremendous support led to positive results in terms of mitigating Lyle’s anxiety attacks.

Lyle noticed that Kaya was very empathetic to other people too. Many people shared with him that Kaya had the ability to recognize they were going through a tough time even in crowded places and provided comfort.

Kaya- Ambassador for Service Animals for Veterans

Kaya was the main motivator for Lyle and the reason he decided to embark on a new journey, namely veteran advocacy!

On Capitol Hill, Lyle had the honor to meet Senator Thom Tillis who showed interest in his life and Kaya’s story. During their meeting, Lyle shared that the expenses for service animals who support veterans with post-traumatic stress were not covered by VA. Lyle came to the idea that if the senator became engaged in the cause others would have followed him too.

Lyle became engaged in the honorable cause of advocating for the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers Therapy Act, also known as the PAWS Act, which was signed by President Biden in 2021.

This act is a pilot program for a period of 5 years, whose goal is to ensure veterans have better access to service dogs. According to the act VA needs to allocate money to organizations that train service animals, so they match a veteran who qualifies for a service animal with a dog. The amount of money provided to a qualified veteran is limited to $25,000.

Further, Lyle’s accomplishments feature Mission Call Roll, which is a non-profit organization, founded in 2019, whose goal is “increasing access for all veterans in advocacy and policy on issues that affect them”; and Kaya's K9s- organization, whose goal is to help heal dogs who support veterans. Lyle shared that the stress related to finances due to prohibitively high vet bills was among the main causes of suicides.

Farewell to Kaya

In late 2022 Kaya had to undergo a biopsy due to a lump on her elbow. Unfortunately, she received the diagnosis of “cancer”. It had already spread across her body which is why chemotherapy would have prolonged her life by a few months only. In this case, she would have experienced a lot of pain.

Lyle had to make that tough decision that no pet parent ever wants to have to make…

However, he wanted to give Kaya the opportunity to say goodbye to all the people she had met and who loved her so much!

Lyle and Kaya flew to the Texas A&M University for their final trip together! They traveled onboard the aircraft of Southwest, whose agents knew Kaya and loved her! The pilot- a veteran himself, announced that this was Kaya’s last flight.

At the Texas A&M college station, Lyle and Kaya joined a special event as a farewell to her.

The next morning Kaya enjoyed her final breakfast of favorite foods like ham, bacon, eggs, and pancakes and visited the university’s School of Government. This was the place that Lyle and Kaya had visited most frequently during Lyle’s enrollment there.

“...just let her lay down and be comfortable for her last few hours on earth before we took her and let her go.”

Not only politicians such as Gov. Ron DeSantis and Senator Thom Tillis paid tribute to Kaya. but also many people who had the luck to meet her or were simply touched by her story.

Kaya was an amazing dog who had a great impact on the lives of many people! She encouraged veterans to get service animals who helped them in their toughest time! Kaya’s legacy will live and continue to inspire many people worldwide!