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‘Yappy Hour’ to help PAWWS help veterans in need

 

A Palos Heights organization that trains service dogs to help heal the psychological wounds of military veterans is calling on everyone to support its upcoming fundraiser to help a puppy in training.

“This is going to be a lot of fun, which is why we’re calling it a ‘Yappy Hour,’” said Pam Barnett, founder and president of PAWWS (Paws Assisting Wounded WarriorS), headquartered at 12332 S. Harlem Ave. in the Pack Leader Academy dog-care facility and behavior center. “We encourage everyone to stop out and support our important work.”

“Joseph’s Journey” is the formal name of the event and is a nod to Joseph Ellis Bohon, an English black Labrador puppy born May 1 and in training at PAWWS for the last four months.

The fundraiser is set for 4 p.m. Friday, Oct. 10, at Joe Daniels Bar and Grill, 12218 S. Harlem Ave., Palos Heights. Admission is free, although $5 wristbands will be sold for those eating pizza. Drinks are extra. The event, which will run deep into the evening, will include raffles for prizes, as well as a “split the pot” raffle.

“We set the start time for 4, so that our local senior citizens, who have been supportive of our efforts to help veterans, will feel a bit more comfortable stopping by,” Barnett explained. “But really, this is the type of event where you could also drop in later, after work, and still have a great time.”

The puppy will be at the event, as will Harold Koal, a gentle, older black lab that serves as an ambassador for PAWWS.

Launched several years ago and formally incorporated as a not-for-profit last year, PAWWS aims to acquire dogs and train them as service dogs to be paired with veterans in need, particularly men and women with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or traumatic brain injuries, at no cost to veterans, including the cost of food and veterinary care.

To date, PAWWS has trained three service dogs, but has ambitious plans to expand beyond its storefront in Palos Heights.

Like most service animals, PAWWS dogs are trained to handle an array of duties.

The dogs are obedience-trained and house-trained, as well as trained to do house tasks. The majority of the tasks are the same from dog to dog, Barnett added, such as picking up stuff, reminding them to take their medication, waking them up when they have a nightmare, leading them outside of a building when they have a panic attack, alerting them when someone is approaching from behind, clearing a home when a veteran comes home (to re-assure the veteran that no intruders are in the home).

“The most important thing is, we teach the dogs to block, to keep people away from the veteran by getting in between or even nudging people away from the veteran,” she added.

That’s important for veterans with PTSD. “What most people don’t realize is that [many veterans with PTSD] don’t want to celebrate,” she explained. “They don’t want you to throw a party for them. They don’t want to come to your party. We can barely get them to come to our events.”

Many of those tasks are performed because many veterans with PTSD don’t feel safe anymore, Barnett explained.

“[In combat situations], they always had a battle buddy to watch out for them, but now they don’t. Now, they’re on their own,” she added.

Most of the veterans she serves are homeless, as well as suicidal. “Twenty-four [veterans] a day kill themselves,” she said. “It was one a day when I started this.”

Part of the canine training, Barnett added, is to ensure that the service dog never becomes a trigger for a veteran’s stressors.

“Just about anything can be a trigger [for a veteran with PTSD]. It’s anything that reminds them of war, and it can be something you’d never expect,” she noted. “For example, the wife made chicken again, and now he got mad at her and beat her up or whatever because he can’t stand to eat any meat with bones in it, because that reminds him of bodies.

“And that’s just one thing. It can be a Coke can on the ground. It can be a little kid running up to them. It can be a word, a TV newscast, seeing a person on the street [in Middle Eastern attire]. Anything can remind them of war, because everything reminds them of war.”

The service dogs are not a trigger, Barnett said, because they “never hurt [a veteran’s] feelings. They give love unconditionally and never do anything wrong.”

The dogs bond with their new owners and often make a remarkable improvement in a veteran’s life. Barnett tells the tale of a Palos Heights veteran who came to PAWWS to return his dog, because he was about to become homeless and he did not want the dog to be homeless, too. “I said, ‘Are you kidding me?’” Barnett said as she recalled that she then found lodging for the man—the same man who later credited the service dog with preventing his suicide.

In a more recent example, Lou Palos, a poodle purchased and trained in part through a donation from the Beautification Committee of Palos Heights, took action that may have saved a veteran’s life, as well as the lives of others.

“The veteran [paired with Lou Palos] was driving his car, in traffic, when he hit a gray zone,” Barnett recalled. “The sun was beating down on his left arm, and it reminded him of the hot sun in Iraq, and he just zoned out.

“Lou Palos picked up on that the energy change in the man’s body and immediately started licking his hand,” she continued. “That brought him back to the present day and ensured that he didn’t lose control of his car. That’s the type of life-saving work these dogs do, and that’s what I’m hoping people will come out and support.”

A similar fundraiser for PAWWS last year raised about $2,100. This year’s goal is $6,000, mostly to help cover the costs of veterinary bills and the labor-intensive training that Barnett provides.

“I think the more people see the work we do here, and how it helps veterans in need, the more support we’ll get,” Barnett concluded. “If everyone—even just in Palos Heights—donated $10, we could improve the lives of so many of our veterans.”

For more details on the organization, visit pawws.org online.

 Color-page-one-2-col-PAWWS

Photo by Tim Hadac

Joseph Ellis Bohan, a puppy currently in training to serve a veteran with PTSD, pauses for a photo last week before going for a walk with Pam Barnett down Harlem Avenue.

 

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