BALTIMORE — Service dogs help people of all ages, races and gender. Service dogs from paws4people focus on veterans, first responders and children with special needs.
Helping veterans is specifically through the paws4vets branch of paws4people.
The title of this non-profit organization is always in lower case and their dogs names are always capitalized. There's a reason for that.
"That symbolizes that the dog is the most important thing to our organization. I don’t mean that the dog is more important than a person but without the dog we couldn’t help that person," said Randy Powers, an Air Force and Army veteran as well as a Communications Officers for paws4vets in Virginia, DC and Maryland.
Powers works for paws4vets now that he's retired but he's a client first.
"In my second year in the Air Force I had a back and spine injury," said Powers.
He fought a medical board and stayed in the Air Force. He wound up serving 8.5 years in the Air Force and a year in the Army National Guard.
After a year deployment in the U.S. Army, he decided to get out of the military for his wife and children. He got a civilian job in federal law enforcement. Over the years, his back injury just got worse. He had several falls and surgeries, until one day his doctor said he needed to get a wheelchair.
"I wasn’t getting in a wheelchair there was nothing in the world going to make me do that so my VA doctor said what about a service dog? I was like heck yeah! I’m all about having a dog. They gave me a prescription and basically told me to go get a dog," said Powers.
That's when he found paws4vets and MORGAN. She was the first dog he met and now they've been together for more than five years.
Powers' quality of life has improved quite a bit since getting MORGAN.
"I got to the point where I could only walk about 75 steps a day so I could walk to my front door out to get my mail come back in the house and I was stuck in the chair the rest of the day. I’ve got pretty severe arthritis and my joints don’t work the way I’d like them too. I just couldn’t move. Six weeks after I had Morgan home, I could walk about a half mile. Within six months, I was doing a mile and before the end of the first year, I could do a two-mile loop walking my dog," said Powers. "The motivation was to have her, my dog sitting there looking at me. Hey Dad can we go out? They’re totally dependent on you and you become totally dependent on them. So, it's a win-win for both of us."
Powers is 130 pounds lighter now too from all this movement. MORGAN helps him be active and helps him with his balance.
"18 months prior to me getting Morgan I had about 25 falls and 5 surgeries to fix the things I was breaking every time I fell. Since I’ve had Morgan, just over five years. I’ve had three falls," said Powers.
He said each one of those times he wasn't with MORGAN. She also helps him pick up things that he drops, helps with groceries, picks up her own toys, carries his shoes to the front door and helps him get up by bracing if he needs it.
"She's the best thing, behind my marriage and kids and grandkids. She's right there with the rest of the family. I'm very proud of her and how she helps me, and she doesn't just help me, she helps other people," said Powers.
Powers takes her to DC regularly and talks with homeless people. He also makes visits to Korean and Vietnam war veterans, so they have someone to talk to while being comforted by a service dog. He focuses on older veterans who may be alone and struggling.
"While we’re sitting here talking there’s people that aren’t going to make it home tonight. It’s tragic. The government does a phenomenal job on training war fighters, maybe not so much turning them back into civilians.
22 veterans commit suicide a day, many over 50.
"It's very sad to know that these people in one point in life were bad asses and it boils right down to that, it hurts. So, if you can give back, do something about it. Why wouldn’t you? If I can make a difference in one person's life, I’m going to do it," said Powers. "If we have someone that needs that help, we’ll stop at nothing. I’m proud of being part of this program."
So far, they've trained and paired 1,500 service dogs. They started off placing 2-3 dozen dogs a year and they're working to get to where they can place hundreds of dogs a year.
They don't have a waitlist since someone who needs a service dog typically needs it right away. They can accept one out of every 50 applications right now. Their priority clients are those who've experienced sexual trauma in the military.
Powers explained how they want to help everyone but it's a supply issue. He said, "the demand for service dogs is way higher than the supply of service dogs, true certified service dogs."
This program also helps inmates and shelter dogs. All the dogs are trained in prison by inmates at the WV Department of Corrections.
Before they train the service dogs that eventually are paired with someone, they practice on shelter dogs. Once they finish, the shelter dogs are adopted with a little more ease since they are so well trained.
Each dog is valued at around $100,000 but the only charge a client pays for is when they need to complete training with the dog.
When a client is paired with a dog, the dog is trained but the person needs to be trained so they pay for some hotel stays during that training and that's it.
For more information about paws4people, click here.
Since they are a non-profit organization, they rely on fundraisers. They have a virtual walk/hike scheduled for Memorial Dat weekend. To register, click here.
You're only asked to post on social media to help spread the word and to donate $22 to symbolize the number of veterans who take their own life every day.