Meet the volunteers who make this fantastic program possible
Doug Vidano, a PetSmart District Leader in Southeast Chicago, loves getting to be Santa Claus way ahead of the holiday season. “It’s awesome to work at a company that will let me give money to a cause that helps animals and people,” he says. “It’s pretty fantastic, actually.”
When it came time to choose a pet charity organization to gift with a PetSmart Charities grant, Doug didn’t have to look far. “My store leader, Sharon Taylor of the Hobart Merillville PetSmart, was passionate about working with Dunes Dog Training Club’s Pets N Vets program. I mean, veterans and their pets? You can’t go wrong with that.”
Pet charity trains veterans’ dogs
Pets N Vets provides training for veterans’ dogs to become certified service animals. “It’s a way for us to give back to the veterans who’ve done so much for our country,” says Jan Koutelas, Dunes trainer and Program Director for Pets N Vets.
Dunes Dog Training Club has been training dogs in Hebron, Indiana, for 60 years. In 2012, Jan and her colleagues learned how veterans, returning home from wars overseas, were suffering from post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injuries. Re-integration into normal social life was difficult, especially in crowded public areas.
“Having a dog with them does a great deal to reduce stress and anxiety,” Jan says. “The veterans say they feel more secure going outside with them after they’ve been in such bad situations.”
Unfortunately, at the same time many veterans were coming home, the government suspended programs for them to get service dogs. However, under the Americans With Disabilities Act, a veteran or civilian is allowed to bring a companion animal into any area animals are usually not allowed, as long as the pet has been certified as a service animal.
To get this certification, a dog must be trained according to American Kennel Club requirements. “A dog of one year or older starts with the Canine Good Citizen Evaluation,” Jan explains. “Then they go to the advanced level and the urban level. If they reach those levels, they receive extra training to become a certified service dog.”
Getting to that level can take anywhere from one to three years, which is a lot of training—and money.
Enter PetSmart Charities
But thanks to donations to PetSmart Charities, the Pets N Vets program is funded and helping veterans train their dogs, many of which come from local shelters and rescue groups.
“We are so grateful for this grant” Jan says. “It’s paid the rent and utilities at our training facility, given us insurance, and it goes to the certification fees and service animal vests for each level awarded to the dogs. We’ve bought the training equipment with the grant, and a few treats, too.” The trainers volunteer for the Pets N Vets program, so the total cost to the veterans is nothing.
“Our PetSmart Charities grant made all of this possible,” Jan says. “To see the happiness in the veterans’ faces, the pride, the sense of accomplishment…” She sighs. “I feel like the luckiest person in the world.”