By LOIS KINDLE
You may not be familiar with Valor Service Dogs, but it’s quietly helping injured post-9/11 veterans and first responders improve their lives and regain their independence.
The 501(c)(3) tax-exempt nonprofit group provides $15,000 mobility assistance and PTSD service dogs free-of-charge and builds public awareness about service dogs, how they’re trained and the laws surrounding their role in society.
Founder Carol Lansford, the organization’s executive director, started the organization after her husband, Justin, became a combat-wounded veteran in Afghanistan in 2012. While staying with him at the Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C., she learned about service dogs and how they could change the lives of the permanently disabled.
She decided to switch career paths from working as an animal behaviorist with dolphins and marine animals to working with service dogs.
It’s been a rewarding change.
“I enjoy being able to give independence back to injured post 9/11 veterans and first responders through Valor Service Dogs and to help them reintegrate to normal everyday life,” Lansford said.
Currently, Valor Service Dogs works with other service dog organizations to acquire golden retrievers and Labrador retrievers through donations. Beginning in January 2023, the charity will breed on site at 15006 McGrady Road, Wimauma.
When the pups are 8 weeks old, they go for a year or two to volunteer puppy coaches who work with and socialize them and teach them tasks. The puppy coaches take them everywhere to desensitize them to crowds, noises and different situations and get them used to being around people and other animals.
The pups also return once a week to train in evening or weekend classes on site at Valor Service Dogs.
All costs are covered.
Some folks volunteer as puppy sitters. These people take the puppies home when their puppy coach is traveling or on vacation or simply needs a break.
South Shore Hospital CEO Sheldon Barr is a Valor Service Dogs puppy sitter.
“As a busy healthcare leader, I knew I wanted to volunteer with the Valor Service Dogs, but I didn’t think I had the bandwidth,” she said. “After reaching out and talking with Carol about my busy work and home schedule, we came up with a plan for me to be a puppy sitter or a person who can transport service dogs to their forever homes.
“We were able to match the needs of the puppy to my schedule, so they stay on their schedule but also have fun,” the Apollo Beach resident added. “It’s important for them to have their play time after the work day. What I didn’t realize was how much being a puppy sitter would fill my bucket and bring so much joy to our home.”
Applicants for a dog are accepted at any time, and there is currently a two-year wait. Once Valor Service Dogs starts its own breeding program, Lansford hopes to cut the wait time in half.
All volunteers and applicants are fully vetted.
Valor Service Dogs is in the midst of a capital campaign to raise funding.for renovation of two buildings on the Wimauma property. One will become a whelping center and the other a training center. The goal is $295,000, and thus far $115,000 has been raised.
If you’d like to help, visit https://valorservicedogs.org/support to donate by credit card or mail a check to Valor Service Dogs, 15006 McGrady Road, Wimauma 33598.
For more information, email email@example.com or visit www.valorservicedogs.org/.