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From city pound to Pets for Vets

By Sherri Ellington Sometime last year, someone abandoned a beautiful black lab. Now, despite cruelty, a veteran has a loving new companion. Heartworm-positive and with scars from a too-tight collar around her neck, the dog ended up at the Barnesville animal shelter. Seeing potential, Sandra Bray of Barnesville Pound Pups rescued her and named her Brooke. ’William Perdue was instrumental in helping me get her out. She was in great shape. I took her to get her spayed and she was a couple of weeks pregnant. I think she was dumped,’ said Bray, whose contacts in dog rescue range all over North America. ‘William really does try to do a great job at a hard job.’ Now named Savannah, the black lab is in the final stages of training as an assistance dog for Pets for Vets NYC Long Island, where she is being touted as a beautiful Southern belle. ’She has excelled in her training and is being placed as an assistance dog with Sgt. Dennis,’ said Bray. ‘We’re very proud. There’s a lot of testing and training involved. It was a lengthy process to get her approved. Savannah was well-mannered even in the shelter. She was the easiest dog I’ve ever dealt with.’ Barnesville Pound Pups worked through Leader of the Rescue Pack, a Connecticut rescue operation led by Jennifer Gordon, a college friend of Bray’s, to place Savannah with the Pets for Vets chapter led by Tanya Liard. ’Jennifer is a dear friend and I don’t know what I’d do without her. She made the connection with Tanya, who had recently started a Pets for Vets program in New York,’ said Bray. ‘She helped me get her transported to Long Island. She also helped me place a dog that became a hospital therapy dog. There are a lot of good dogs at the Barnesville pound that are worth saving.’ Savannah is the first Pets for Vets NYC Long Island dogin- training. She was placed with a foster family where she was trained in manners, obedience and to give emotional support for her vet, a Marine sergeant who won multiple medals during his five tours of duty in the Iraqi war. ’We teach them everything, right down to permission cues for getting in the car or on the couch,’ said Liard. ‘Some things we train them for we don’t want to disclose for privacy reasons.’ The veterans helped by Pets for Vets, including a brand new chapter in Georgia, can have a range of physical or mental disorders caused by injuries incurred during their time in service. These are covered by privacy laws. ’Many times we don’t even know the extent of it,’ said Liard. ‘Savannah will help Sgt. Dennis adjust back into civilian life. She’s a calm and loving dog ‘“ for a lab. She does wonderfully with him.’ Clarissa Black, an animal trainer, founded Pets for Vets after she visited VA Long Beach Health Care System veteran’s health facility with her dog Bear. She saw the positive effect a dog can have on veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other conditions. The organization now has 19 chapters in 17 states. Savannah’s foster family is giving her love, a sweet foster-dog sister and a great backyard to play in, said Liard. ’I want to say thank you to the people involved in this terrific organization ‘“ what a group of dedicated, hard working, caring people,’ said her foster mom Debbie Gershow-Lindell. ‘Savannah is even more beautiful in person.’ Pets for Vets’ goal is to help heal the emotional wounds of military veterans by pairing them with a shelter dog that is specially selected to match his or her personality. ’They train them one at a time per vet,’ said Bray. ‘They’re already looking for a second dog. They get Canine Good Citizen training, then specialist training based on their vets’ needs. Shelter dogs are a part of their mission and that’s way cool.’ Professional animal trainers rehabilitate the dogs and teach them manners to fit into the veteran’s lifestyle. Training can also include desensitization to wheelchairs or crutches as well as recognizing panic or anxiety disorder. Pets for Vets provides a second chance for shelter pets by rescuing, training and pairing them with America’s veterans who can benefit from a companion animal. Three to four million dogs and cats are euthanized each year. They could make excellent companion animals but never have the chance. The Pets for Vets team interviews each veteran to see exactly what he or she is looking for in a companion animal. They pair this with his or her personality and lifestyle to make the match. All training is positive reinforcement, reward based training.Tax deductible donations are sought; Pets for Vets does not want to create an additional burden on the veteran. With each dog/veteran match the organization provides all necessary equipment for them to start their new life together. The pet will be healthy and up-to-date on all vaccinations. Veterans in chapter areas who could benefit from having a companion animal and are able to care for one are eligible to receive a Pets for Vets companion animal.

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