December 20, 2017

Camp Bow Wow Sponsors Training Of a Service Dog for a Veteran

A VETERAN’S BEST FRIEND: Jeff Mullins, a veteran who has suffered from PTSD and an officer of Rebuilding Warriors, credits his service dog, Zoey, with helping him cope with civilian life.

By Anne Levin

A year and a half ago, the Lawrence Township dog daycare Camp Bow Wow held a small fundraiser for Rebuilding Warriors, a nonprofit that matches service dogs with veterans diagnosed as amputees and those with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or traumatic brain injury (TBI). The event raised some money. And it made Louise McKeown, the camp’s owner, think about doing more.

McKeown’s son-in-law, a U.S. Marine, had been deployed to Kuwait and done field work in Iraq. Though he returned in one piece, McKeown watched her newly-married daughter fret over her husband’s fate during his six-month deployment.

“I guess I never really had an appreciation for what happens when somebody enlists, for what they really sign up for,” McKeown said. “He could have come back with an arm blown off. He came back fine, thankfully, but so many others have not been so lucky. And I wanted to help.”

Starting in January, Camp Bow Wow will sponsor a dog that will go to a New Jersey veteran. It will take about a year and $12,000 to train the dog that will be matched with a veteran and his or her particular needs. Rebuilding Warriors, which has matched more than 65 veterans with dogs, evaluates applications and assesses a veteran’s needs. Veterans range from those just getting out of the military to some injured many years ago.

“These dogs do everything from guiding a wheelchair through a door to getting medicine if there is a medical emergency,” said McKeown. “And having the animal helps tremendously with PTSD.”

Nancy Mullins, the marketing director and a board member of Rebuilding Warriors, knows how important a service dog can be. Her husband Jeff Mullins, the organization’s vice president of operations, just retired from the military after 28 years of service. He has PTSD, and his service dog Zoey is an important member of the family.

“The dogs give veterans a sense of security, and are intuitive to their needs, whether they be emotional or physical,” said Mullins, who lives in Woodbridge. “But having a dog also can give them a sense of purpose and responsibility if that is needed. They have to take care of the dog. They have this connection with this battle buddy, and it can make such a difference.”

Many of the dogs selected for training are retrievers, shepherds, or Belgian Malinoises. Zoey is one of the few mixed breeds. Standard poodles, which are hypoallergenic, can be used for veterans who have allergies to other breeds. Dogs are trained one at a time, never in a group. They come from breeders, breed rescues, and animal shelters.

McKeown is looking forward to being able to present the sponsored dog to the veteran with whom it is matched. “The thing I love about this is that it is going to help a veteran local to New Jersey, and we’ll be able to go through this for the whole year,” said McKeown. “I’m so happy to be able to give this to them. Now that the organization has my money, they can actually start reading the applications that have been made. They know what dogs are available, coming up through the pipeline. They’ll choose a veteran, and I’ll get to meet him and see the dog with him.”

Mullins has seen miracles happen when the right service dog is paired with a disabled veteran. “We have several veterans who, before they got their dogs, were really suicidal,” she said. “They were shut in, not able to go out into the world. We have an Army major in Buffalo who has made such a transformation. She was really fragile, and now she is living her life again thanks to the dog. There are others who have lost a lot of weight and are in bad shape, and having the dog gets them out hiking. We hear from wives of some veterans who couldn’t be in a crowd because of PTSD and are now out going shopping with their kids and taking them to school.”

Rebuilding Warriors is 100 percent volunteer. The organization has trainers across the country and breeders who understand the needs of veterans with PTSD or amputations. “We’re unique because we have no administrative costs,” said Mullins. “Every dollar raised is used for the cause.”