Patriot dog teams will be honored
Since its inception two years ago, the Patriot Assistance Dogs (PAD) program at Lucky Dog Boarding & Training Center has produced 13 certified service dog/handler teams.
On Sunday, eight of those teams will be honored at a special graduation ceremony and awards recognition program, “Serving Those Who Served,” at Veterans Memorial Park in Detroit Lakes.
From 4 to 6 p.m., veterans and their families, city, county and state officials, friends and community are invited to come help celebrate the program, which prepares service dogs to be placed with area veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and similar ailments related to their military service.
The brief awards and recognition ceremony at 4:15 p.m. will include a proclamation from Detroit Lakes Mayor Matt Brenk; presentation of P.A.D. graduation plaques to newly certified pairs by some of the program’s past graduates; patriotic music performed by Kim Schnitzer; and a picnic-style meal served up by members of the Lakeland Chapter of Disabled American Veterans. A free-will donation will be taken to help support the program.
Past PAD program graduate Bradley Livingston will be the keynote speaker for the event, Wiedewitsch said.
Seating will be limited, so please bring lawn chairs, she added.
In addition to the eight service dog/veteran pairs who have completed the PAD training program this year, a dog that completed the training through Lucky Dog has now been placed at the Minnesota Veteran’s Nursing Home in Fergus Falls, said PAD trainer Linda Wiedewitsch.
“She gets to work with lots of veterans (in Fergus Falls), instead of just one,” Wiedewitsch said, adding that this service dog would be honored at Sunday’s festivities along with the other program graduates. “She brings comfort to so many.”
The program will also include something that last year’s inaugural graduation festivities did not have: A representative from Festivals And Concert Events (FACE), Inc., which operates the annual WE Fest country music festival, will be on hand to make the official announcement that FACE is gifting the PAD program with $10,000.
The donation represents “what it would cost, on average, to train and place one dog (with a veteran),” Wiedewitsch said. “We are extremely grateful for the support of WE Fest — this is the largest single grant or donation that we have received.”
“Linda is an incredibly skilled trainer,” said Rand Levy, owner of FACE, Inc. “It’s just a wonderful service for the veterans in this region … it obviously helps the returning veterans a lot.”
Indeed it does — and it helps the dogs as well, Wiedewitsch added.
“Seventy percent of the dogs currently in our program are rescued,” she said. “They either come from pounds, humane societies, or shelters, or are surrendered by families that can no longer care for them.”
Dogs selected for the PAD program “are chosen primarily for their disposition,” Wiedewitsch continued. “We’re looking for a friendly, confident dog — and they have to pass both temperament testing and medical testing.”
Once it has been determined which dogs are suited for the PAD training, they go through about six months of instruction before they can be released for the veterans to take home with them; the veterans themselves must also undergo a similar, although somewhat shorter process, Wiedewitsch noted.
“The veterans do roughly 60 hours of supervised training with us,” she said, adding that they must also submit an application and sit through an interview before they begin meeting the dogs for the first time.
“We introduce each of them to 3 or 4 different dogs, trying to find that perfect match. Sometimes it’s pretty obvious, and sometimes it takes a little longer.”
Once the newly paired dog and veteran have gone through the necessary training and certification process, the dog is sent home with the veteran for a trial period before the foster contract is signed by the veteran.
“After a couple of months, they do the final evaluation, known as the public access test, and if they pass, the dog is sent home with the veteran for a two-year probationary period,” Wiedewitsch said.
If all goes well, at the end of those two years, the dog will have a permanent home, and the veteran will have a companion, hopefully for at least a half-dozen years or more.
“We like to place the dogs when they’re in the 18-24 month age range, because it optimizes their service life,” Wiedewitsch said. “Realistically, most dogs can only serve until they’re 8-12 years old.”
For more information about the Patriot Assistance Dogs program, call Lucky Dog at 218-847-4100, or check out the website, www.patriotassistancedogs.org.
Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.