Two years ago representatives from Southeastern Guide Dogs visited the Greater Pine Island Lions Club to make a presentation about its Paws for Patriots program. This program serves American heroes, both active duty and retired servicemen and women, who are visually impaired or suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.
"Following that meeting the Pine Island Lions began supporting the Paws for Patriots program at Southeastern Guide Dogs," Lion President Mary von Berg said. "They started out years ago quite small and recently have added their own veterinary complex."
"At Southeastern Guide Dogs, our mission is to provide visually impaired people with guide dogs through our Paws for Independence program," Helen Arnold, community outreach coordinator, said. "It is our Paws for Patriots program that provides guide dogs for blind veterans and service dogs for veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Although we've always served our veterans, we started the Paws for Patriots program in 2005."
In the case of guide dogs, Southeastern Guide Dogs partners students with professionally trained guide dogs. Certified instructors also provide visually impaired students and their new guide dog with 26 days of instruction and a lifetime of followup and support.
Students accepted into the program will spend up to four weeks bonding and training their new guide dog. Almost constant supervision by certified instructors at a student-to-trainer ratio of 3 to 1 is also provided. The goal is to create a bond of love, trust and devotion between dog and student.
"Not all dogs are suited to be guide dogs," Arnold said. "Some dogs don't have the temperament to be guide dogs those dogs sometimes become service dogs."
The Veteran Service Dogs program has been designed to provide dogs to veterans living with Post Traumatic Stress. PTSD is a severe condition that may develop after a person is exposed to one or more traumatic events. Symptoms of PTSD can include flashbacks, bad dreams, feelings of strong guilt, depression, worry and fear, being edgy, angry outbursts and difficulty sleeping.
According to the Veterans Administration, 2 1/2 million Americans have served in Iraq and Afghanistan; many of them, more than once. Based on VA data, there are estimated to be more than 158,000 veterans in America that suffer from severe vision impairment or blindness and about 500,000 that suffer from PTSD.
According to the Southeastern Guide Dogs website, "they have seen substantial successful placing dogs with servicemen and women whose PTS prevented them from returning to their previously active lifestyle. These dogs help prevent or combat emotional overload..."
Lions Club International members like to say, "Whenever a Lions Club gets together, problems get smaller and communities get better." The Lions have about 46,000 clubs and 1.35 million members worldwide. They are the largest service club in the world.
"You have a great Lions Club there on Pine Island," Arnold said. "We are really grateful for the Lions Clubs helping to defray all of the costs that go into providing dogs to people in need."
Southeastern Guide Dogs is at 4210 77th St., E., Palmetto, FL 34221; 941-729-5665