Have you ever wondered if you would enjoy volunteering with Patriot Service Dogs? We certainly do have several volunteer opportunities available. One of the most rewarding tasks our volunteers perform is puppy raising. We could think of no other way to tell you about it than through this interview with Mike Applebaum and Sandy Jensen, two of our dedicated puppy raisers.
How and when did you become involved as volunteers with Patriot Service Dogs?
“In December 2015, my wife Sandy and I saw a small article in our newspaper about Patriot Service Dogs with a phone number to call to volunteer… The day before making the call, my wife Sandy felt driven to attend a karaoke/fund raiser for two female combat veterans who had been severely wounded. One of them had a service dog, but the other had been trying for years to get one. Sgt. Pam was restricted to a wheelchair and only had the use of one arm. Her story was truly compelling and we were both moved by what we learned. When Sandy saw the article in the paper the next day about Patriot Service Dogs, I was on the phone within minutes. Our expectation was that we could volunteer for a few hours a week mailing letters, making doggie toys or possibly helping with phone calls. We knew we wanted to do something with dogs that could help our veterans. Our Molly had passed away several months before and for the first time, we didn’t have a dog in the house.
Julie Drexel answered my call and we spoke for quite awhile about the program and how things were structured. Julie seemed thrilled that I was a man with this interest. She explained that the dogs were raised and trained by the women inmates at Lowell Correctional Institute in Ocala. The dogs needed to get used to men as well. For one assignment, the dogs needed to be taken into men’s rooms so they could get used to the difference. As Julie put it, “There are no urinals in women’s rooms.” Aha, a task I was capable of executing. She asked how we felt about being weekend mentors and taking a dog home for several days at a time. This was getting a lot more exciting than stuffing envelopes.
A couple of days later, we met at a local restaurant… Julie, Sandy, myself and the new love in our life, Patriot (a beautiful young golden retriever). We had an immediate connection with Julie and were in sync with everything we discovered about Patriot Service Dogs (PSD) and the Women Offering Obedience and Friendship (WOOF) Program that Julie started at Lowell. But, Patriot…well, what can I say. Patriot paid enough attention to Sandy under the table, to make it a no-brainer. We were going to sign a stack of papers and in a few days get to take Patriot home to begin what would become our new journey with Patriot Service Dogs.”
What is your current volunteer role with Patriot Service Dogs? In this capacity what do you do for the organization?
“Now, Sandy and I feel we are deeply involved with Patriot Service Dogs on several levels. We love dogs and the concept of helping our veterans was a combination we had to pursue. As we worked with Julie, we became more involved in the entire program. We continue to work at home with all the dogs in the WOOF program and have also helped to expand the program with other volunteers here in The Villages near Ocala.
I have been functioning as The Villages coordinator, working with local clubs, organizations and our other volunteers. Sandy and I have been active members of several clubs in our area. The Villagers for Veterans Club has now sponsored two dogs, Sarge (golden) and Bradley (white lab). Villagers for Veterans is a most wonderful organization that has been incredibly supportive for over a year and wants to continue an ongoing program. Our newest sponsor, the Dynamic Dog Club of the Villages has just sponsored Radar, the cutest golden retriever you’ve ever seen. The Dynamic Dog Club has made Patriot Service Dogs and Radar their project for the year! The energy and excitement generated by these clubs is beyond my expectations. They are truly “All In.” This kind of support is spectacular.
In addition to working with these groups, we have become very active with the inmates and staff at Lowell. I spend time there whenever possible to offer any assistance with their needs and always come away learning how to do a better job working with the dogs. We have also set up a Go Fund Me campaign for Hawkeye (a remarkable golden/lab mix) who is not yet sponsored.”
What do you find most rewarding in your work as volunteers with Patriot Service Dogs?
“Just about everything! Working with wonderful service dogs to help wounded soldiers improve the quality of their lives is rewarding enough, but the inner satisfaction and joy cannot be measured. Volunteering with other very like-minded supportive people is also an uplifting experience. Seeing a soldier with his service dog is witnessing a special bond that is inspiring. Witnessing the difference the dogs make in the lives of the inmates who train them helps us realize how beneficial this program is in getting their lives back to normal.“
Is there anything you experienced while volunteering with Patriot Service Dogs which is especially memorable to you?
“The March PSD graduation in Jacksonville was an incredible event. Seeing the four veterans with their dogs after just 2 weeks of bonding and hearing their stories was the most inspiring event we’ve experienced. After over a year of working with service dogs and inmates, this put everything into perspective and was the reason we became involved. The absolute joy in seeing how everything came together for these four soldiers and their dogs was a sign of hope for their future. It will be forever memorable”.
What type of person would especially enjoy volunteering for this organization?
“A volunteer for Patriot Service Dogs needs to have a desire to be part of an organization that can make a difference in many lives. Someone who loves big, wonderful dogs and has patience would be ideal. This organization will make a difference in the lives of its volunteers, the inmates, the sponsors, the service dogs and most importantly the soldiers/veterans who will find a permanent partner because of your time and efforts. Be especially prepared for the difference it makes in your own life. You won’t regret it.”
Over to You…
If you are interested in volunteering with Patriot Service Dogs, please Contact Julie Drexel at 352-514-9903 or Susan Bolton at 904-777-1371. We will find a “pawsome” volunteer opportunity for you which will match your skills and interests.
Patriot Service Dogs, Inc is a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to helping our disabled military community gain a sense of independence through their partnership with a well-trained service dog. Our focus is placing service dogs with disabled active, retired or medically discharged military who have given so much for our freedom. We were formed in July of 2009 in Central Florida with initial offices in Jacksonville & Belleview. At the time of our incorporation, we had 7 founding members with an active and dedicated board. To get more informative updates about our organization, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter. We welcome your suggestions as well as financial support through our Donate button on this website. If you are interested in volunteering, contact us at 352-514-9903, and we’ll gladly find a spot for you. We hope you will share our blog posts with your family and friends.