The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Group pairs service dogs with veterans

Photo by Vanessa Peña
Animal science senior Mikaela Stanislav trains her service dog, Terra, as part of the Patriot PAWS program.
Photo by Vanessa Peña Animal science senior Mikaela Stanislav trains her service dog, Terra, as part of the Patriot PAWS program.

Puppies and dogs led around by students have a constant campus presence. Many Aggies, however, resist the urge to run up and pet them — their future owner may have post-traumatic stress disorder or other battlefield scars, making the training they receive at Texas A&M vital.
According to a report released by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 18-22 veterans commit suicide everyday and 20 percent of all veterans suffer from PTSD.
Patriot PAWS is a non-profit organization that trains and provides service dogs to disabled veterans in order to help restore their physical and emotional independence.
The organization’s A&M branch has grown to 165 active members who hope to increase the amount of service dogs available to U.S. military members returning from active duty.
In 2006, Lori Stevens, founder of Patriot PAWS, combined two of her passions — her love for training dogs and her compassion for veterans.
“The idea behind Patriot PAWS actually began in 2005,” Stevens said. “I was approached by a group of veterans at the VA hospital who expressed their need for a service dog.”
Patriot PAWS didn’t extend to Texas A&M until 2012 when Brianna Acevedo, Class of 2014, was a sophomore.
“I contacted Patriot PAWS and said I was interested in becoming a puppy raiser,” Acevedo said. “About a month later I received my first Patriot PAWS puppy, Taylor.”
As Acevedo continued raising dogs during her time at A&M, she had many friends and classmates ask about Patriot PAWS and puppy raising. As the interest began to grow, Patriot PAWS contacted Acevedo to ask whether she would be interested in starting a satellite program.
“I was pushed to start this program due to the immense demand of service dogs from Patriot PAWS,” Acevedo said.
With more than 100 veterans on the waiting list, Acevedo said Patriot PAWS needed more volunteer trainers, dogs and resources to meet the demand.
“College Station is not only extremely pet friendly, but also a very military-oriented location,” Acevedo said. “I spent most of my senior year creating Patriot PAWS of Aggieland and am so proud at the growth we have experienced.”
In December 2013, A&M’s chapter of Patriot PAWS became a recognized student organization on campus and is now about to finish its first full year.
“We have seven dogs currently in our program being raised by students and expect that number to double during the next semester,” Acevedo said. “Patriot PAWS is extremely thankful to have the students at Texas A&M helping our cause.”
Acevedo said before receiving a dog, the student puppy raisers go through an extensive training process during which they are required to attend classes, read books and spend hours learning the science behind dog training.
“Once they receive a dog they spend hours every week taking their dog with them everywhere and teaching them how to be an extension of a person with a disability,” Acevedo said. “Raising a service dog is a life-changing opportunity and an incredible way to give back to those who have given so much to us and our country.”
Mikaela Stanislav, animal science senior and puppy raiser, has a line of family members who are or were in the U.S. military. She said she always thought a soldier’s job was selfless and valiant.
“They do not ask for anything in return from the people they fight to protect,” Stanislav said. “I figured if I could give a little something back to them, then it maybe could show some of the appreciation I feel for them.”
Stanislav said Patriot PAWS has helped her grasp the severity of post-traumatic stress disorder and how it affects soldiers.
“Seeing these dogs work with veterans and the independence that these dogs provide is amazing,” Stanislav said. “It helps give the veterans their lives back. It is something that no other person or animal can give them.”
Stanislav and the other puppy raisers’ job is to socialize the puppy and teach basic commands like “sit,” “stay,” “leash,” “down” and “get it.” The puppies are also taught to help with daily tasks like helping with laundry, picking up objects, retrieving the phone and helping the veteran walk up and down the stairs.
One of the problems the organization encounters is people running up and trying to pet the dogs without asking, Stanislav said. She said the dogs are friendly and love greeting people, but shouldn’t be distracted.
Stanislav said when she shows people what her puppy, Terra, will eventually do for a veteran, they are amazed. Stanislav said she also has met veterans and families of veterans who told her how grateful they are for Patriot PAWS.
“I am just a student working with a dog, not fighting for our country,” Stanislav said.
Patriot PAWS currently has 165 active members. Acevedo said she wants to see Patriot PAWS grow to the point of raising 100-plus service dogs.
“I would like to see Patriot PAWS of Aggieland grow and be able to grow and be able to accomplish getting these veterans off our waiting list,” Acevedo said. “They need these dogs more than we understand.”

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