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Tails of Valor–Paws of Honor Partners Vets with Pets
Written by Kelly Chandler Staff Writer
2016-02-24

Heather Lloyd, founder and president of Tails of Valor–Paws of Honor, with five of the dogs currently undergoing training to become service dogs for veterans. The program uses mainly mixed breeds and Labradors, because of their intelligence and attentiveness.

        Already rescued themselves, the dogs involved in the Tails of Valor–Paws of Honor program are now rescuing another potentially vulnerable population – veterans.

        The non-profit program, created by Heather Lloyd, partners rescued dogs with veterans who suffer from physical disabilities, traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  The goal is to use the animals to rehabilitate the veterans to improve both their quality of life and their familial relationships.

        Lloyd, who owns Critter Corral, a pet resort and separate storefront in the Coopersburg area, said that she founded Tails of Valor–Paws of Honor after a chance meeting with an Army veteran while on vacation.  His passion and desire for this type of program became her commitment, she said.

        "I wanted to give back to my country because I wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for their sacrifices," she said, talking about friends who served in the military and encouraged her to move forward. 

        Lloyd said the program uses mixed breeds and Labradors, because of their intelligence and attentiveness, optimally between eight and 14 weeks of age.  Many come from Coopersburg animal rescue Logan's Heroes.  During that time of their lives, which she referred to as their "sponge period," it's easy for them to learn the multitude of things involved in being an assistance and therapy dog.

        Basic training, which begins as early as eight weeks of age, involves leash and potty training and basic commands.  Intermediate skills like opening doors, turning on and off light switches, and fetching keys and other objects, come later.

        "We make the tests fun, but repetition is what makes them remember," Lloyd said, urging a 10-week-old Labrador, McGinnis, to bite onto a toy mounted onto a rope to open a door.  McGinnis, like all the program's dogs, was named in honor of a fallen soldier.  Ross A. McGinnis of Meadville, Crawford County, died in Iraq in 2006 when he threw himself on a grenade to save four of his fellow soldiers. 

        The dogs are also trained to be companion animals.  Lloyd is currently working with Grand View Hospital in Sellersville to get the dogs acclimated to hospital life and will also take a team to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center  next week for training and to provide therapy.

        A part of the dog's education also involves being routinely woken up during the night by Lloyd and other volunteers to recognize disruptions in sleep patterns. 

        "We wake ourselves up to have 'nightmares.'  The dog will pick up that change in my normal sleep pattern and wake up, jump on the bed and grab my arm or lick my hand," she said.  "That way when people are having night sweats, PTSD they can help."

        Lloyd, a former physician's assistant, said she's happy to be making the services available as a non-medicinal alternative for veterans.  It can also supplement any medicinal therapies they may already be on, she said.  

        "The only side effect is a little bit of dog hair," she noted, laughing. 

        All the instruction, aided by puppy raisers and volunteer trainers, demands long hours and a mountain of patience and persistence.  There are currently seven dogs in the program and each requires between eight and 10 hours of training per day.

        Aside from civilian volunteers, Lloyd said veterans volunteer from homeless shelters in the region to help work with the dogs.  Veterans interested in getting a dog are encouraged to help train them through the program, which was formerly known as the Logan's Heroes PAWS Program.  

        The dogs, themselves, are used to military-like rigidity.  They aren't allowed to sleep or jump on beds or couches.  They can't be overzealous or aggressive in their play and they definitely can't be fed table scraps or eat food off the floor. 

        But the end result, after 12 to 16 months and successful testing, is a dog ready to be placed into a home.  To date, one dog, a Rottweiler/Lab mix named Pi, has been placed in Maryland with a Vietnam vet named Gene Anthony. 

        Lloyd said the program's job is also to be an advocate for the dogs, so veterans have to have a home visit, provide proof of evaluations and, if they're in therapy, be a year or more in to get a dog.  Through the program and Verus pet food company, the dogs are inoculated and receive free food for life.

        All in all, each dog is a more than $30,000 investment, she said, which is all privately funded.

        This year, the Red Hill VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) Post 5954 pledged thousands of dollars to sponsor a lab mix puppy named Faith.  Once she's done her training, Faith will be going to an Afghanistan/Iraq war veteran in Ohio, who is raising funds on his own for her training.

        "His story is extremely compelling," Lloyd said.  "His best friend was killed in front of him by an IED that he lived through…He befriended a dog over there that he named "Faith" that slept where his buddy once slept.  After that he had to make it through 13 more months of service untouched."

Coopersburg Fire Company is currently sponsoring McGinnis. 

        For more information on Tails of Valor-Paws of Honor, visit www.crittercorral.com.  The organization is holding a Comedy Boot Camp fundraising event Saturday, Feb. 27 at 8 p.m. at the State Theater in Easton under the Logan's Heroes PAWS Program name.  Tickets are still available starting at $25.  


 

 

 

 

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