On January 23rd, 2020, The American Humane – Pups4Patriots Gala was held at the Eau Palm Hotel in Manalapan. It was one of the most incredible, heartwarming, heart-tugging, fun, informative and exquisite affairs I’ve had the pleasure to cover as a journalist. Each year, I am the one who feels honored to be a part of this event. To know our vets who suffer from PTSD or other emotional challenges will be paired up with a sweetheart canine trained specifically to assist in their recovery, I get to witness a bond that is rivaled by none. Along with me, of course, 300 generals, admirals and military supporters joined together to help save America’s Vets and Pets.
American Humane’s “Pups4Patriots” program identifies dogs in need of forever homes and trains them to be lifesaving service dogs free of charge for veterans with PTS and Traumatic Brain Injury– improving and often saving lives on either ends of each healing leash. The process of obtaining a PTS service dog can take between 18 and 24 months, and cost upward of $30,000, a cost that is out of reach for many veterans. With too few trained service dogs available for our service men and women in need, American Humane provides critically necessary training and service dogs to veterans in need. Sadly, more than 6,000 veterans die each year from suicide. When medicines and therapy fall short, trained Service Dogs can make the difference.
During the star-studded gala, American Humane’s latest graduating veteran/service dog teams received special diplomas conferred by American Humane President and CEO Dr. Robin Ganzert, keynote speaker U.S. Army Major General James A. “Spider” Marks (Ret.), United States Navy Rear Admiral Thomas Kearney (Ret.), and Mel Coleman, a veteran and vice president of Coleman Natural Foods,a major sponsor of the program.
Grammy Award-Winning Pop Group All-4-One entertained us with their pop-hit songs. The music and song brought many on the dance floor, as we remembered songs that won our hearts in the 1990’s.
The room was celebrating two of our favorite ‘people’ – vets and pets. Those who serve for us and those who serve for them. It is a most worthy cause and I never tire of hugging each and every military sweetheart that has another military sweetheart on the other end of the leash.
Pups4Patriots paired the following Military Hero’s with their ‘lifetime of love ‘pups:
Retired United States Army Sergeant Joseph served our country and found himself, like so many other brave warriors, in need of a helping hand. American Humane answered the call, and through their Pups4Patriots program, trained Nattie, a two-year-old female Shepherd mix as his highly specialized service dog. Sergeant Joseph said that before he met Nattie, his days and nights were filled with darkness, depression and anxiety. He felt as if he had no purpose and, as is very common, he avoided crowds and even going out, doing his grocery shopping at 2 or 3 in the morning on a weekend just so he could avoid people. Then he met Nattie. From day one, he says, they became best friends. Soon, he was able to go to public places without his anxiety becoming unmanageable. When Sgt. Joseph doesn’t feel good and shows that he needs assistance, Nattie picks up on it and will climb up in his lap or stand up and put her feet on his stomach…. Basically, just to let him know she’s there for him. And, of course, with her specialized training, she does so much more to help support her veteran and keep him on the path to healing. Joseph is sleeping better. Work has been more enjoyable. He now gets out and goes for walks around the neighborhood. As he puts it, “Nattie has basically saved my life. I still have some bad days, but thanks to American Humane, and Nattie, they’re not as bad. I feel as if I have a new purpose in life.”
Former U.S. Army Specialist Michael was paired with Murphy, a highly trained, two-year-old male Yellow Labrador Retriever. In just a few short weeks, the two bonded and became inseparable. Michael reports that “Murphy is changing my life one day at a time and I hope I can do the same for him. “My stress has dramatically decreased in public and my wife no longer pleads with me to venture out into the world. I could not be more grateful to everyone involved in this process. You have changed my life forever.”
Former United States Marine Corps Lance Corporal Alicia was coping with the invisible wounds of war and decided to apply for the program after losing her best friend to suicide. Through the Pups4Patriots program, American Humane was able to help train Gabriel, a wonderful, attentive Yellow Lab, to become a specialized service dog – one who changed Alicia’s life. Alicia says that Gabriel is now her partner through thick and thin. They go everywhere together and he makes tough things easier. Alicia reports that she can now enjoy life and at this point she has problems imagining life without him.
U.S. Air Force veteran Kris served our country as a Senior Airman, and through the Pups4Patriots program has now been paired with Andi, a one-year-old female lab/mastiff mix. Kris has said that he was talked into applying to the program by another veteran. Kris says he was nervous at first, but that getting a service dog was the best thing he ever did in his life. Andi has been a Godsend and is a perfect fit for him. The bonding he felt with Andi was immediate and within days was alerting him when a problem was coming on. Kris has been able to get out and enjoy life with Andi, and he reports that she has even helped changed his sleeping habits and on to a healthier, happier life.
Former U.S. Army Specialist Matthew had previously done research on the effectiveness of service dogs and felt that he would be a good candidate to benefit from this four-legged medicine. Even so, he was nervous when he first met Simba, a one-year-old black Lab and Mastiff mix, as he had heard Simba was very particular about who he bonded with. Fortunately, American Humane had picked the right combination of veteran and dog, and something immediately “clicked” when the two met. As Matthew described it, it was one of those “this one’s the one” moments. Simba came right up to Matthew, sat in front of him, and looked at him as if they’d known each other forever. Matthew and Simba are inseparable now. They work as if they have been together for a lifetime, and Matthew has already seen improvements in his symptoms and his life.
VIP Supporters Turn Out for Veterans
Many of the program’s key supporters were in attendance, including internationally renowned philanthropist Lois Pope, who endowed American Humane Lois Pope LIFE Center for Military Affairs, which administers the “Pups4Patriots” program, American Humane board chair John Payne and board members Dawn Assenzio, Sharon Jablin, Capt. Herb Krauss (Ret.), Dr. J. Michael McFarland, and Abigail Trenk; evening organizers, supporters and philanthropists Jeff and Lee Alderton, Caroline Harless, Leigh Anne, Margaret and Gerry Kazma, Rita Krauss, Patricia McLaughlin, Marilyn Pelstring, Gail Worth and many others.
Additional Support Pours In
Responding to an emotional call to action, a number of generous individuals and companies pledged significant additional support to fund the training of specialized service dogs for veterans. Kevin Hubbard, co-founder of Rhoback Activewear, added to the company’s powerful past support with a gift of $50,000. Allison Bennett announced a pledge by Hallmark Channel of $60,000. Dr. J. Michael McFarland unveiled a pledge by leading animal healthcare company Zoetis of $120,000.
Thank you, Dr. Ganzert for making this organization what it has become. Since you have been CEO and President of The American Humane, you have matched hearts and souls of the neediest of our vets as well as working with The American Humane’s Conservation, Farm Program, American Humane Hollywood and American Humane Rescue and Lois Pope LIFE Center for Military Affairs. We honor you, Dr. Ganzert, for a lifetime of love for American Humane.
About American Humane
American Humane, the country’s first national humane organization, has been working with the U.S. military for more than 100 years, when they rescued and cared for 68,000 war horses wounded each month on the battlefields of World War I Europe. Through their Lois Pope LIFE Center for Military Affairs, the nonprofit organization now work to provide service dogs for veterans with PTS and TBI, helps arrange for free healthcare for our four-footed warriors, and repatriate and reunite retired war dogs with their former handlers. For more information, visit www.americanhumane.org, call 866-242-1877 and follow them at Facebook and Twitter.
BE A PART OF THE NEXT EVENT ON MONDAY, FEB., 24th at SAILFISH CLUB
American Humane will kick off its national, annual “Hero Dog Awards” honoring America’s most courageous canines in a gala luncheon at the Sailfish Club on Monday, February 24 at 11:30 am. Many of the nation’s most heroic hounds and ardent animal lovers will be there as the best of our best friends begin their journey to the nationally televised Hero Dogs gala in Hollywood this fall. Tickets are $300 each and may be secured by contacting Mari Harner at [email protected] or 561-537-5887.