Paws For Patriots Matches Dogs With Student Veterans
A unique service dog program is helping college students who are also military veterans, bringing furry Paws to American Patriots.
Paws To Patriots is a unique new program being offered to Veteran students at The University of Southern Mississippi. Major General Jeff Hammond is a retired Army veteran who heads the Southern Miss Center For Military Veterans, Service Members and Families. He says that they focus on veterans who attend the school, and are looking for ways to make their transitions from military life back to civilian life an easier one.
Gary Crispell is a Ph.D. student at the University and a veteran who deployed with the Navy in 2008, 2009 and 2010. Crispell said that since his service, he’s felt generalized anxiety symptoms, and he attributes much of that to his service time. He’s studying molecular biology and now has a helper in the cause–a German Shepherd puppy through the Paws for Patriots Program.
The puppy, named Major, as donated by Army veteran Dustin Simmons, and his gift of the first puppy officially launched the project. The Paws for Patriots program is the first in Mississippi–focusing not just on veterans, but student veterans, and seeks individuals in the community who may be interested in donating a dog to a student veteran and his/her family.
The center also offers other services to veterans, including scholarships, transition assistance and textbook loan programs, and they felt trying to match their student veterans with dogs to help the transition was a good fit for both dogs and students.
Military members are often in the company of dogs in combat and tracking situations, says General Hammond, particularly German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois. He says they also see beagles a lot when deploying, and those are the breeds the program is focusing on with regard to matches for their students.
General Hammond says military members often have soft spots for dogs, seeing them when deployed, and often abused or treated poorly by the local citizens. Hammond says that for many in those difficult situations and cultures, the dogs would end up providing protection and security for the service members, and most importantly, unconditional love in such tough circumstances.
General Hammond says that many of the students who are prior military have anxiety from their service. They face difficulty fitting in with their peers and a dog helps ease the anxiety and gives them a friend.
Crispell says that having Major helps his mind have a safe place to go when it wanders, and finds it rewarding to take care of him. He appreciates the generosity Simmons had when donating Major, and believes that generosity is true patriotism as well.
Paws For Patriots is already looking to have a second dog transferred to a student veteran, and says that with a good dog can always be trusted, no matter what the need.