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Patriot K9 program helps pair local veterans with service dogs

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By David Stenklyft

When I was offered the chance to go to a place where there were dogs and write a story about dogs, it took me 1.5 seconds to say yes.

I arrived at Basic Dog, 740 Grand Avenue in Schofield, just in time to see parents picking up their “kids” from dog daycare. The first guest I met was a type of dog that I have only seen on televised dog competitions: an athletic Vizsla, who looked like he could run faster than my car.

Next I met Jordy, a Golden Retriever, and I think I know how he got his name. The last fellow I met was Hank, a Griffin mix who did not like his picture taken, and I can relate.

But the star of the show was a Yellow Labrador Retriever named Libby.

This dog is special, because she is being trained to help a veteran adjust to life after military service, which we all know can be difficult at the very least. She’s part of the Patriot K-9 of Wisconsin program, a nonprofit organization that pairs veterans who suffer from PTSD, traumatic brain injury or military sexual trauma with a shelter dog. Veterans who participate in the six-month program are trained with their service dogs, said Sarah Thuot, owner of Basic Dog and CEO/founder of the Patriot K-9 program.

“We started out very cautiously, and we’ve slowly gotten some support with clinics and the VA, who have found out about us,” Thuot said. “We are getting a tremendous amount of referrals.”

Thout said she tries to get veterans into the program within about two to three months after their applications are processed and paperwork is completed. If the veteran doesn’t already have a dog socially appropriate for service work, Thuot’s group works to find a match as quickly as possible.

“The process to find a good match with a veteran is the same as if we had a shelter dog available for adoption,” Thuot said.

This is a program that relies on volunteering and donations to make the greatest possible impact. All services are free for veterans.

“We are always looking for volunteers with all kinds of expertise, whether it’s legal or business or volunteering here, advertising or being a foster home for a dog,” she said. “We need foster homes to help take care of young and older dogs that we accept. We are dependent on donations to keep this program going forward.”

The program supplies leashes, food, training, veterinary care and everything else needed to prepare the canine for adoption. The cost of a service dog can be staggering, from $30,000 or more, but the group works diligently to get help for veterans who can benefit from the comfort and stability a dog can provide.

Thuot has a wish list, to have a dedicated facility for the Patriot K-9 project. “We’d like to have a place for the K-9 program, a place where veterans can meet, hang out, get together for Veterans Day, Fourth of July, and be a central resource for those who need it.”

Basic Dog also provides day care Monday through Friday, puppy classes from basic manners to good citizen training, scent classes, agility training and other specialty services. For information or to find out about volunteering, call 715-870-2422.

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