Our Road Trip has now come to an end, it could not have gone any better and we are so grateful for the experience. We met just the most incredible Veterans and their wonderful service dogs. These men and women were great examples of what can happen when a Veteran with PTSD or TBI is matched with a properly trained and screened service dog. We could go on and on retelling their amazing stories. You can find out more in the public blog I wrote called “In Search of Heroes”, read a little about our visits with each and see some of the photos of their dogs. We traveled to Louisville, Nashville, Memphis, Charlotte, Jacksonville, Dallas and finally to Albuquerque, New Mexico before heading back to Minnesota. Here is the link: http://rescuedogart.blogspot.com/
We were so happy to meet the people behind the scenes of the two organizations that helped us connect with these Veterans. K9s For Warriors in Jacksonville had just moved into their new facility before we arrived. This property called “The Dog House” included their new office areas, a beautiful house where each group of four or five Veterans stay during their 3 week training period, the attached indoor kennel and training area. It also had a pool, outdoor deck and a huge fenced in area for the dogs to train and play. But the people there were what made it really great. You can just feel the pride and passion they feel for what they are doing. We met their trainers Brett Simon and Sherry Keshner, Shari Duval- President, Sheri Martinez- volunteer and graduate, and Sandi Capra the development director who helped me soooooo much! It was a very busy place as they were just getting ready for their next group of “warriors”. These Veterans were arriving the next day and would be meet the dogs that would ultimately change their lives. What an exciting place it was and we can’t thank them enough for everything they did to make our trip a success.
Our last city was Albuquerque where we were honored to meet the Veteran who started this whole journey for us. Jim Stanek and his wife Lindsey founded Paws and Stripes. Last year someone that had a dog business in the Twin Cities, bought a case of our 2012 calendars as a fundraiser for an organization called PawsAndStripes.org of New Mexico. She suggested I take a look at their website and see what they do. Jim Stanek, a three time Veteran of Iraq, had a video on the home page where he explained what life was like for him after his service was over and he tried to function with PTSD and TBI and how his life changed with his service dog Sarge. That video changed the focus our life and we are doing what we are doing now because of his story. So meeting Jim was a big, big honor for us. When you talk to Jim his passion is just contagious. He has a mission in life to help as many Veterans as he can. He and Lindsey should be so proud of the work they are doing and the Foundation they developed together. We just can’t say enough about Jim- he’s just an amazing man that will continue to change lives. Watch his video on their home page and see if you don’t see what I mean. Here’s the link: http://www.pawsandstripes.org/
The biggest thank you goes to all the Veterans that shared their stories with us. It was a very emotional trip – one we will never, ever forget. A nice coincidence, was that one of the Veterans we met with, Ryan, was from MN. His service dog Spirit will be featured in the Calendar. Here is a picture when we stopped for lunch in St. Augustine.
The photographs of the dogs Paul got were great and he has now started on his first portrait. We hope to honor these Veterans and their devoted dogs with a calendar that will inspire and give hope to other Veterans facing the same challenges. We also hope it inspires folks across the country to find a way to help connect the Veterans in their own states with service dogs. These wonderful organizations are few and far between and we have many veterans searching for a way to get back to a life with dignity. They deserve all of our help.