It has been said that a dog is a man’s best friend.
The people behind the Puppy Jake Foundation could not agree more.
Begun by president, CEO and service dog handler Becky Beach, the organization, based in Des Moines, seeks to pair specially trained canines with combat wounded American veterans, specifically those suffering from the effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and those with mobility issues.
Beach said her devotion to American servicemen was a lifelong passion.
“Both of my grandfathers were Army doctors in World War II, my own father was an Army doc and my husband served 2-1/2 years on active duty in Vietnam,” Beach told ThePerryNews.com. “This is one way we can give back to those who have served all of us.”
The foundation received a boost Saturday in Perry with a non-political event at the Hotel Pattee, where former Texas governor and current GOP presidential hopeful Rick Perry was to begin his “Freedom Ride with Rick” a motorcycle cavalcade from Perry to Boone, where U.S. Senator Joni Ernst was hosting the inaugural “Roast and Ride” fundraiser.
“We really appreciate they attention they our helping to give us,” Beach said. “Governor Perry’s office called us and asked if they could bring along some national heroes to help highlight what we do and of course we were delighted to have them here.”
Puppy Jake began training dogs in February of 2013 and currently has two dogs placed, with three more due to “graduate” and join their new veteran masters in September. Trained utilizing Assistance Dog International guidelines, the process of preparing a young dog — which begins learning their role at age 7-10 weeks — usually takes two years.
Volunteer Josh Schoenblatt, a recent Drake University graduate, said all but one of the dogs currently in training are male. All are either Golden Retreivers, Labradors or German Shepherds.
“Those breeds have the combination of intelligence and obedience we are looking for,” he said. “It takes a special dog to be a service dog, but that only makes sense, as they will belong to a special person.”
Beach spoke of Dillion, a service dog named after Dillion Naslund, a highly-decorated veteran who committed suicide due to PTSD issues.
A young girl named Lisa, who knew Dillion and his parents, heard Beach speak at an elementary school. One week later the 10-year old mailed Puppy Jake Foundation five dollars, telling Beach “she hoped it would help us get a dog to a veteran who needs one so what happened to her friend would not have to happen again.”
Lisa and Naslund’s parents will be headlining a major event at the Iowa State Capitol June 20 designed to call attention to PTSD and to generate support for those dealing with such issues.
“Our dogs learn all sorts of things, from what we call ‘nightwatch’ which is where he (the dog) will turn around so that he is watching the ‘six’. or backside, of the veteran,” Schoeblatt said. “They learn to help a veteran feel his space is not being enclosed upon and all sorts of other jobs that help calm or reassure the veteran.
“For those with mobility issues they will be trained to fetch items, to pick up something that may have been dropped … those kinds of things,” he added. “That is why it takes so long, because there is so much involved. Our goal is to present the veteran with the absolutely best, most well-trained dog he could possibly expect.”
Several dozen dogs were at the event, in which perhaps 200 people were mingling. Each dog wore a big showing his name and the message “Please do not pet me. I am working.” All were perfectly well-behaved.
“We travel with them to all sorts of places,” Beach said. “We have been to Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, D.C. and all over. The goal is to have the dogs trained that they can go anywhere the vet goes and do whatever it is he is doing. They are a constant companion and have to be able to handle any situation a vet might encounter, like an airport, a crowd … they will go everywhere.”
Beach said that while raising funds to help support the project was a big goal, equally as important was the publicity events like Saturday’s can generate.
“We cannot get veteran’s to apply for a dog if they don’t know about us,” she said. “We want all veterans to know we care and that they can apply and learn more about us on our website.”
To learn more, visit www.puppyjakefoundation.org.
ThePerryNews.com reporter Mark Summerson contributed to this report.