Veteran counts on fuzzy helper

Published 1:11 am Sunday, October 7, 2012

Retired Navy officer Leila Chevalier of Suffolk enjoys some time on the beach with her new service dog, “Ezra,” a Labrador-mix that she says has given her back a lot more quality of life.

Two-year-old pooch “Ezra,” a Labrador-Walker hound cross, has made a huge difference in the life a Suffolk veteran who struggles daily with multiple sclerosis.

Retired Petty Officer Second Class Leila Chevalier served in the U.S. Navy for 20 years, performing a variety of duties and becoming a culinary specialist.

She was honorably discharged after her MS was diagnosed almost four years ago.

Email newsletter signup

“I was on vacation, and I had an attack with migraines, and it was so severe my husband had to take me to the hospital,” Chevalier said.

“They did a CT scan, and they said, ‘There’s a problem here, you could have MS. I had to find a doctor, then I was finally diagnosed with MS.”

Last month, Chevalier was selected by Canines for Service to become the owner of 3-year-old service dog Ezra; Air Compassion for Veterans flew her down to Wilmington, N.C., to pick him up.

“It’s quite incredible, actually,” she said. “I have a harness that I put on him, and he helps me balance so I don’t fall, so I walk with him like that.”

Ezra is “extremely smart” and knows more than 90 commands, Chevalier said. Ezra can open doors, assist Chevalier in and out of bed, retrieve things that she drops and even get the phone.

“Having Ezra makes a big difference in my life, because he helps me so much,” she said. “He totally, totally does, in so many different ways.”

Chevalier is in the final stage of MS and never knows how she is going to feel from one day to the next.

“Today’s probably a so-so day,” she said Friday.

Another huge support for Leila Chevalier is her husband Douglas Chevalier, who accompanies her to MS meetings and helps in countless other ways.

On Saturday, Leila Chevalier’s service to the nation was honored during the sixth annual Halos and Heroes dinner and celebration at Virginia Beach.

The TowneBank-, American Airlines- and USAA-sponsored event was held at the privately-owned Virginia Beach Airport in Pungo and included a flight demonstration featuring a World War II P-51 Mustang and a helicopter jump by Golden Knight’s Mike Elliot, a U.S. Army skydiving instructor, who brought in the Stars and Stripes.

Leila Chevalier, 56, said she is happy to have served her country during those two decades in the Navy, and she is grateful to have Ezra now as a part of her support network.

One of their first bonding experiences was a walk along the beach.