Program pairs canines with ‘heroes’
Through Dogs Helping Heroes, there is no charge, Day said.
Established in Clarksville in 2013, Dogs Helping Heroes is dedicated to helping restore lost freedom and peace of mind to wounded veterans and first responders, as well as their families, by providing service dogs that are specially trained and certified.
Many of the canines in the program come for shelters and rescue groups and then are trained as part of the prison system’s Paws Behind Bars program in Kentucky. Through that program, the dogs learn the basic commands. Once placed with a partner, the canines receive further training geared specifically to their handler.
“We use rescue dogs as often as we can,” Day said. “We have no paid employees. Everything is done with volunteers.”
The organization does rely on donations, both monetary as well as the canines.
“We just received three AKC registered dogs,” Day said. However, the canines do not have to be pure breeds, he said.
As part of the program, Day demonstrated how Sampson stays near him while walking and follows his command to sit behind him while Day simulates waiting in a line, providing a buffer between the handler and anyone who might come up behind him and startle him.
“I know he’s got my back,” Day said.
Sampson, as are many of the canines placed through the program, also is trained to provide assistance to his handler getting up off the floor. Others are trained to pick up items for their handler, Day said.
The four men also showed how their canine partners comfort them when they are feeling particularly depressed.
When they weren’t demonstrating commands or tasks, the canines, each wearing a vest designating them as service dogs, laid patiently at their handlers’ feet.
Day said the canines know they are “working” when they have their vest on. However, as the men showed, the service dogs become playful animals once the vests are removed. Previously oblivious to the DAR members and guests seated around the room, the dogs went up to many of them, seeking attention and licking their faces, and also romped with one another.
But, as soon as their handlers called them and put their vests back on, they became docile.
Day said there are currently 42 teams of canines and handlers that have been matched through Dogs Helping Heroes.
“Our goal is to get at least eight more teams this year,” he said. “We have dogs but no applications” for handlers.
Day said he understands it’s often difficult for someone to admit they need help.
Applications for a canine are available online. To qualify, someone must be a disabled veteran or first responder, including law enforcement, firefighter, emergency medical services person, 911 dispatchers, corrections officer or a Gold Star family. Once approved, the applicant then goes to Jeffersonville on a Saturday for an informal meeting. A home inspection is completed to make sure the canine would be going into a safe environment. Specific training then is completed.
“We pair the correct dog with the right person,” Day said. “We try to accommodate everything and still get them a dog.”
Canines are awarded once a quarter with the next round of applications due Sept. 26. Day said applicants who are unsuccessful are rolled into the next quarter.
“Dogs Helping Heroes is just a fabulous organization,” Day said. “It gives each of us our lives back, so to speak.”
Representatives from the program will be back in Harrison County next month at the Stand Down event on Oct. 15. It will take place at the Harrison County Government Center in Corydon.
For more information about Dogs Helping Heroes or to make a donation or volunteer with the organization, go online to www.dogshelpingheroes.org, call 1-812-329-0244 or send an email to [email protected].