Three fluffy, furry puppies were the guests of honor at the Patriot Service Dogs Cheers to Patriots Landing event at Whispering Oaks Winery on December 11th. Twelve-week-old Captain, Norman and Auggie are the newest pups in training and, in around two years, the Golden Retrievers will have learned 80 commands and will be ready to be placed with disabled veterans who need their assistance.
“We really wanted to show off our new puppies and it’s our way to say thank you and invite more people in to hear about us,” explains CEO Julie Sanderson. Around 100 guests enjoyed Whispering Oaks’ local blueberry wines, a barbecue chicken dinner, live music by Ritchie Q and raffles to raise funds for the nonprofit organization’s next big project, Patriot’s Landing. This will be a transition facility to house dogs who have completed their initial training but have not yet been matched with a veteran.
An integral part of the program is W.O.O.F., Women Offering Obedience and Friendship, which enlists the help of female inmates at Lowell Correctional Institution to care for the dogs and provide their initial training.
“The program was totally life changing for me. It’s what made me want to turn my life around,” says Michelle Utterback, a graduate of the W.O.O.F. program who is now caring for Tucker, a service dog in the final stages of his training. “When I got out, it was important for me to be involved in something that changed my life. It’s life changing for the veterans who get our dogs. It’s so important.”
In addition to the inmates and volunteers who act as weekend trainers for the dogs, the program now has the support of Shamrock Animal Hospital in Mt. Dora, where veterinarian Dr. Raquel Fagan donates her services as the veterinarian of record for the Patriot dogs.
“We were looking for some way to give back,” Fagan explains. “Our slogan is do good work, have fun and give back. We got a lot of our vendors behind us and they donate some heartworm prevention and blood support and it’s been wonderful. It’s very rewarding.”
For more information on how Patriot Service Dogs assists veterans in need, visit www.patriotservicedogs.org