The nightmares, anxiety and depression kept coming back.

Lois Schenk served for more than 20 years in the U.S. Navy, completing five deployments and being stationed around the world. But after retiring from the military in December, the trauma of her service stayed with her. She was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, and searched for a way to combat it.

In a 2-year-old golden retriever named Mosku, she found her solution.

“Just to have an animal around me to help me feel safe,” she said. ”If I’m having a bad day or something frustrates me, the anxiety and nervous attacks come up. So this is so nice.”

Schenk was introduced to Mosku, her new service dog, during a surprise presentation Thursday. The dog, which will provide companionship, comfort and protection for when the traumas bubble back up, was made possible through the work of Whalens Heroes.

The Greenwood-based nonprofit was formed to provide veterans with service dogs at no cost. Mosku was the first dog they’ve been able to provide.

“To know that we’re going to be able to make a positive difference in somebody’s life who may not otherwise be able to afford that dog but really needs it, it makes all of the work worth it,” said Dawn Whalen, founder of Whalens Heroes.

Carrying out the mission

Red, white and blue decorations filled the space inside F.C. Tucker Company’s south offices in Greenwood on Thursday. Balloons had been arranged around a large American flag standing. A banner hung off to side, proclaiming “Happy Veteran’s Day.”

More than 35 people had come to the office to celebrate the launch of Whalens Heroes and its mission, including Schenk and her family members. Unbeknownst to most of those gathered, they were also about to see the organization in action.

Whalens Heroes was born earlier in 2022, when Whalen, owner of Whalen Realty Group, was attending a continuing education event in May geared towards helping realtors to be better advocates for military veterans in the housing market.

The speakers shared the difficulties that many veterans faced.

“I left there inspired. I heard so many things that veterans go through, and I’d always tried to thank them, but didn’t ever really did anything more than that,” she said. “Hearing one of the veterans speak about his time overseas and what he went through, I cried.”

Whalen pondered the lessons she had learned, and how she could help military members and their families. What stood out was how important service dogs can be.

Research led by the Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine found that service dogs might be able to offer both behavioral and physiological benefits to help counter some of the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. The dogs have been shown to reduce stress and anxiety levels, mitigate depression, ease social reintegration, provide comfort and restore confidence in affected veterans.

Many organizations work to match veterans with service dogs. But the waiting list can be lengthy, and the cost is often prohibitive — $25,000 per dog or more.

Whalen was convinced this was the cause she wanted to support.

“There have been people who said, there are other organizations that do this. And there are. But our thoughts are, there are never too many people to help one cause,” she said.

Overwhelming support

Whalens Heroes — so named because Whalen already owned the URL website from a previous endeavor — was registered as a nonprofit with Indiana on June 1. The group received its 501(c)3 determination letter at the beginning of August.

Whalens Heroes works with Ultimate Canine, a Carmel-based organization that trains dogs and pairs the animals with a veteran. During the organization’s extensive specialized training, dogs are prepared to perform a variety of tasks and assist individuals with their needs.

Preparing a dog and then training their new handler can take more than a year, and sometimes more, said Julie Case, founder of Ultimate Canine.

“If you are in distress and feeling anxiety, these animals are trained to provide comfort, the dogs are trained in pressure therapy — using body weight on them,” she said. “They’ll wake you up if you have a nightmare, and if you have tears in your eyes, they’re there to lick those tears away. These animals are scientifically proven to increase our emotional balance and decrease our anxiety.”

Whalens Heroes had planned a launch event to raise awareness about the organization and introduce Schenk as their first recipient, timed around Veterans Day. Organizers were not expecting to have enough funding to have a dog ready at that point, Whalen said.

The first donation to Whalens Heroes came in Aug. 10. As of Thursday, the organization has raised $23,841 through events such as a 5K and supporter donations.

They would be able to present a service dog to Schenk.

“To know that in such a short time, we were able to do this because so many people believe in what we’re doing and the reason behind it, it makes me feel like I’ve finally found my purpose, my calling,” Whalen said.

Countering trauma

During Thursday’s event, Whalen discussed the inception and mission of the organization. Case shared about how service dogs can help others, while Greg Stevens, a board member of Whalens Heroes and U.S. Marine Corps veteran, shared his own experience with the trauma of service and how a dog helped him.

Stevens had enlisted as a college student immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001, and his first deployment was to Kuwait for the start of the invasion of Iraq. He served for four years, and had three tours of duty in Iraq, facing the constant threat of improvised explosive devices, shoulder-fired rockets, machine gun fire and grenades. Mortar attacks were a regular part of his unit’s life.

“At the time, you’re in a high-risk environment. But as a kid, your adrenaline is pumping. And when your adrenaline is pumping, it’s fun and you don’t realize the fear,” he said. “You don’t even have time to process what’s going on.”

But after returning to the United States in 2006, Stevens struggled. He turned to alcohol to drown that trauma, blacking out each night so he wouldn’t feel the pain. His thoughts often turned to self harm.

“I can tell you what the barrel of a Glock tastes like, because of that,” he said.

A large contribution of what saved his life was getting a puppy.

“That’s when I realized the dog is there for you when you’re in your deepest, darkest rabbit hole that you can go down in your mind. The dog takes you out of that and grounds you and gives you a sense of responsibility,” he said.

The comfort that Stevens described was why Schenk wanted a service dog. Her account brought tears to those attending the event.

The Fort Wayne resident has an 11-year-old son, and works with military members and veterans at Indiana Tech as a military and veteran services representative.

When Schenk learned about Whalens Heroes and its mission, she reached out for assistance.

“I don’t often ask for help, and handle my own healing. When I do ask for help, I know it’s bad,” she said. “When I heard Whalens Heroes were accepting applications for a veteran to receive a service dog, I knew that was my opportunity ask for help.”

Schenk sent in her application, describing the trauma she suffered and how a dog would help her.

“I was looking for a plus-one, a companion to make me feel safe and protected when I feel anxiety and panic, and when my depression comes on,” she said.

Whalens Heroes had informed her that she was accepted into the program. But Schenk had no idea she would meet her service dog Thursday morning.

“I didn’t know how available an animal was, so I was very surprised, very excited,” she said.

Whalen hopes that this initial presentation serves as a launching point for more veterans to receive service dogs. Each dog requires $25,000 to be trained, and the goal for 2023 is to award two dogs, maybe three, Whalen said.

Schenk is ready to help in any way possible.

“I’m honored to be selected by Whalens Heroes for a service animal, and I look forward to helping out the organization in any way possible,” she said.


Whalens Heroes

What: A Greenwood-based nonprofit group that raises money for the training, successful placement and support of service animals to local veterans.

Founded: Mid-2022 by Greenwood resident Dawn Whalen

How to help: People hoping to support the organization’s mission can go to

How to apply: Men and women disabled in the line of duty while serving our country in the U.S. military, who now suffer from a clinical diagnosis of post-traumatic stress, can apply at