September is National Service Dog Month, so we thought it was a perfect time to share this amazing story of how the Be Connected program was able to make a community connection that benefitted veterans and their service dogs.
Veteran StandDown events happen all across Arizona throughout the year. These community resource fairs cater to the specific needs of the more than 500,000 service members, veterans, and their family members (including pets and service animals) by bringing together a variety of resources and services in one place at the same time. Typically, service members, veterans, and family members make connections to resources, discover solutions, and have an opportunity to build camaraderie. Sometimes, even the resource providers themselves make connections and solve community problems. That’s exactly what happened when Dee Person, Assistant Director for the Arizona Coalition for Military Families, attended the High Country StandDown in Flagstaff this past spring. There, she introduced herself to the on-site representatives from Purina to make a connection to support Arizona-based veterans and their service dogs.
It was the perfect opportunity to discuss a concern that was brought to Dee’s attention by Elaina Carrasco, a veteran and Outreach Coordinator with the Arizona Coalition for Military Families. Elaina noticed that many of the service dogs she saw accompanying veterans at various community events did not have booties for their dogs. Elaina has a service dog herself and she trains service dogs for others.
Knowing that the 2022 National Veterans Wheelchair Games were taking place in Tempe, Arizona from July 7 to July 12, this opportunity was very timely. Since many of the athletes and their dogs were traveling to Arizona from different parts of the country, they were likely not acclimated to the extreme heat and low humidity that is prevalent across Arizona.
Dee, working closely with Karen, a member of the Veterans Affairs (VA) Health Care system’s recreational rehabilitation team, and Elaina, wanted to make sure that the service dogs taking part in the Wheelchair Games would have booties available to protect their paws. To make sure that the service dogs were accustomed to the booties, time was of the essence so the dogs would have the booties in enough time to allow the dogs to become familiar with booties.
Purina was overwhelmingly supportive of the opportunity to sponsor the dog booties for veterans’ service animals. In addition to the generous donation from Purina, be Connected was able to secure additional grant funding to be able to support 100 service dogs (or 400 paws). Now that the funding was secured, Dee’s attention turned to distributing the booties and helping to train the dogs.
If you know Dee, a veteran, she doesn’t see a problem. Where others see roadblocks, Dee and her team see opportunities to develop solutions. In this case, Dee forged a new partnership with the Arizona Pet Project, welcoming them into the Be Connected Ecosystem of Support and expanding the available resources to service members, veterans and families.
With the donations in place, the 400 booties on order, and the Arizona Pet Project on board to distribute the booties, the team was able to successfully provide the booties to the service dogs for the Wheelchair Game athletes. There were even enough booties for Karen at the VA to share with some of the dogs that accompany veterans in Phoenix experiencing homelessness.
The Arizona Coalition for Military Families’ flagship program, Be Connected, is a statewide collective impact initiative focused on building Arizona’s capacity to care for, serve, support, and employ service members, veterans, and their families with a focus on connecting organizations and community champions with one another to address issues or needs in our military-connected community.
National Service Dog month is an opportunity to recognize the animals that have been specially trained to provide support for people in need who may be living with medical issues, impaired mobility, or addressing mental health needs. Although it has become popular for animals to offer emotional support, it is important to note that service animals are specially and professionally trained and are afforded special legal protections to be present with their human in places that typically would not allow animals or pets. National Service Dog month has been officially observed in Arizona by proclamation of the Governor and was first observed in 2008 through the efforts of actor Dick Van Patten.