Minnesota dog trainer serves those with invisible wounds of war

Sam Daly has an uncanny connection with canines. He loves dogs them so much that after graduating from college with a music degree, he decided to go into business as a dog trainer.

“If you put your dog in the trunk and drive around town, and then put your wife in the trunk and drive around town, which one is happy to see you when you open it?,” he said.

Daly’s been turning out champions from his Northfield, Minnesota kennels for decades. Hunting dogs are one of his specialties.

When the great recession burst the housing bubble, it muzzled the hound training business, too.

Then one day he got a call from a military contractor who was hiring. They wanted him to train bomb-sniffing dogs to help protect American Service Members on patrol in Afghanistan.


The job was state side at first. But eventually, Daly figured it was important to go with the dogs and the Marines to the actual war zone.

“It’s the best thing I’ve ever done but it’s also one of the scariest things I’ve ever done,” Daly said.

It was, he said, like being on two seven-month camping trips in the most miserable place you can think of. Temperatures of 125-degrees were common, so was the constant threat of gunfire and explosions. There, the dogs found many, many, IED’s.

Thinking of one of his days there still sends chills down his spine.

There had been a white car sitting outside their compound for several days.

“I’ll never forget April 15th,” he said. “There’s definitely something shady about that car.”

It was in an area where lots of people walked by - suddenly, one of the dogs smelled trouble.

“The dog doesn’t lie, it said 'it’s here and where’s my toy by the way,'” Daly recalled.

The back seat of the white car was loaded with enough explosives to level a city block.

“Why didn’t that go off?,” he asked.


There were many stressful days like that, so at night the civilian from Minnesota pulled out his guitar and played the music from back home for the Marines who kept him safe.

“The reason that I could sleep at night there was because these young Marines were standing post, they were preventing us from being overrun; they were notifying us of threats,” he said.


Daly returned from two deployments in Afghanistan with a deep appreciation for all who serve. He felt called to do something. Naturally, it had to involve dogs.

Doug Kelder is a disabled Vietnam veteran.

“This hyper vigilance has gone on for 40 plus years. It just doesn’t seem to go away. Neither does the PTSD, the gift that keeps on giving I guess,” Kelder told Fox 9.

He is often haunted in his sleep by an overwhelming fear of imminent danger.

“My wife wakes me up because I’m screaming,” he said. “She has to be very, very careful so I don’t inadvertently swing or hurt her.”

Years of sleepless nights gave way to quick-tempered days and a desire to shun going out in public. But then a Google search connected Kelder with Sam Daly. 

“I couldn’t ask for anything better,” Kelder said.

And that's how he found his calm in Ryder, an assistance dog.

Among the many skills Ryder’s learning is to wake Kelder from a bad dream by turning on a light or pulling off the covers when he hears his master in distress.

The two have spent 120 hours together in doggy boot camp at Daly's kennel.

It's a journey that’s taken Kelder from self-imposed isolation to being out in public again. The dog acts as a friendly buffer between him and the anxiety that comes from being around strangers.

To train a dog like Ryder costs about $28,000, but Kelder is getting him for free.

“It’s healing for me,” Daly added.

That thing Daly decided to do to give back was to form "Believet,” a nonprofit that gives away highly skilled assistance dogs to disabled veterans. The organization currently trains about ten teams a year. 

They’d like to do more, but their funding is limited.

Daly knows firsthand the internal demons that can follow a warrior home from the battlefield.

"I have my own fears," said Daly. “This is a form of therapy; this is a form of counseling itself.”

But he's also seen his dogs work wonders with veterans like Kelder.

“It’s pretty life-changing, it’s an easy question to answer,” he tearfully said.

Check out Daly’s website if you would be interested in getting a dog or supporting the effort: Https://believet.Org/