Funds needed for popular Patriot Dog program
Since its inception last spring, the program for Patriot Assistance Dogs in Becker County has continued to grow.
Word got out and demand for the diligent dogs continues to mount, which means so do the bills that come with training them.
The cost of training one of these service dogs averages out to roughly $15,000 between medical expenses, training, boarding and licensing fees.
Because the PAD program provides the dogs to military veterans for free, program coordinators are now doing their best to "fetch" some serious community support.
There will be a fundraiser at the Holiday Inn in Detroit Lakes on Sunday, Oct. 30 from 6-10 p.m.
"We will have dogs and veterans there for the event," said Becker County Veteran Service Officer Lauri Brooke. "A ticket is $40 and will be available at the door."
There will be dinner, a live and silent auction and a hunting trip with the Wounded Warrior Guide, a service that takes wounded vets with disabilities out hunting.
"So whoever wins that gets to spend a week hunting with this group of heroes," Brooke said.
The money raised at the gala goes toward the cost of training the dogs, all of which will be paired up with a veteran suffering from the psychological effects of war, most commonly post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Becker County is one of only five places in the United States that trains dogs for this, and right now they've got three dogs ready to go and 10 more being trained.
"Applications have been coming in and people have been calling and offering up dogs," said head trainer and owner of Lucky Dog, Linda Wiedewitsch. "We have dogs on the waiting list now who are donated to the program."
With all the dogs and applicants they can handle, Wiedewitsch says she is now also helping to train two other dog trainers for the program -- one of which is Christine Brooke, a dog lover and volunteer.
"I went down to Ohio for the master training program," Christine Brooke said. "They teach you how to work with the dogs and clients as well, so they go over behavior modifications, therapy dogs stuff, tracking, trailing -- it was awesome."
Christine Brooke's first dog to train is a black lab named Patrick -- a dog that has been sitting in the shelter since he was a puppy.
"He went from pound dog to service dog in the last couple of months, so he's doing great -- he's almost set to go."
Wiedewitsch says Patriot Dog Frankie, who will likely be at the gala, has been tentatively paired up with a veteran back from battle suffering from PTSD.
"This gentleman suffers from night terrors, panic attacks and has trouble standing in line because he has hyper-vigilance...worried about people coming up behind him," said Wiedewitsch. "So, we're working on Frankie's 'get my back,' which means he'll stand behind his owner and provide that safety zone so it puts the responsibility of watching on the dog so that he can relax."
Frankie will also sleep with his owner to help him overcome the dreams of war that continue to plague the veteran.
"When he starts to have a night terror and starts to thrash around, the dog will wake him," said Wiedewitsch. "He'll push and nudge and crawl up on top of him to lick him and let him know that 'it's OK, we're back here in Minnesota.'"
Many veterans who have used patriot dogs say they are many times more effective in helping them cope with life than any kind of medication can. Lauri Brooke said they expect the program to be state funded sometime after 2014.
"Senator Franken passed a bill for psychiatric services dogs, however the VA won't pay for these dogs until after 2014 when a study is finished regarding their use," she said. "But, we cannot wait to help these veterans until then."
Currently the three Becker County trainers are providing their services for free, an act of volunteer kindness that cannot stay alive without donations.
To find out more on the program, call the Becker County Veterans Service Office at 218-846-7312, Lucky Dog at 218-847-4100 or log onto www.patriotassistancedogs.org where there is a button to donate.