Dogs may make a difference

Area resident reaches out for volunteers

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By Roy Mercon, Messenger Correspondent

Messenger Contributor

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MILTON — The Blue Star Mothers of Vermont, a non-profit organization hopes to assist military members and their families by starting a new program that would give trained dogs to veterans suffering with such medical issues as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD.

The problem is, the program is brand-new, and the group is having trouble getting volunteers.

“They are one of Vermont’s most patriotic and treasured organizations currently providing military service member, family, and Veteran support,” said Karen Pelletier, Family Assistance Center coordinator for the Vermont National Guard. “When opportunities for them to show appreciation and to extend their services are presented, you can expect their response to be ‘How can we make this happen?’”

“Making this happen” is the mantra of the program’s coordinator and Milton native, Terri Sabens. For months, she has been at the forefront in effort to get the program off the ground, organizing every aspect of it, from puppy selection and volunteer training and supply, to connection with a service members when the dog’s training is completed.

Pelletier said that people like Sabens “are truly passionate in what they do and are driven by the utmost compassion and patriotism.”

The process of training these dogs takes a while.

At first, volunteers take care of a puppy until the dog is eight months to a year old. Sabens says in addition to the puppy, volunteers can receive compensation in the form of free veterinarian care and food for the animal.

Then, the dog is taken to a correctional facility for a year, where inmates train it to become a certified service dog. Once the animal receives its certification, it is given to a veteran.

There’s a real issue with the volunteer step of the process. Most people understandably fall in love with the puppy, and have a hard time giving it away to the correctional facility. Sabens says it is part of the process, and agrees it’s the most difficult process to coordinate.

The puppies come from all over the country, and in some cases, Canada. The breeds are German shepherd, hound, lab, and golden retriever mixes.

Sabens says that in addition to connecting a veteran with a service dog, she can provide the influence necessary to insure a dog is allowed in an apartment that normally doesn’t allow pets. Because the dogs are considered service animals, they fall under a different category than everyday pets. This is the same rule that allows these animals to enter places normally inaccessible to pets, such as restaurants.

The program also connects veterans with volunteers who, in the event of a deployment, for example, can foster and take care of that veteran’s animal. Sabens says the program is also able to connect service members with animals in shelters without going through the certification process.

Lastly, but certainly not least, Sabens says she can coordinate with other charitable agencies in the event a veteran cannot afford food or medical care for an animal, regardless of where the animal came from.

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Interested potential volunteers should contact Terri by e-mail at vtsoldiersangels@yahoo.com.