About Patriot Service Dogs
History of Patriot Service Dogs
Patriot Service Dogs (PSD) was founded in 2009 by Julie Sanderson and Susan Bolton. Both women had volunteered and worked for multiple service dog organizations and knew the comfort and assistance a well-trained dog could be to individuals in need. Seeing a specific need in the veteran community, Sanderson and Bolton created their own nonprofit organization to provide service dogs exclusively to veterans. With a small but dedicated team of seven board members and one promising puppy donated from Country Goldens (our largest puppy breeder to date), PSD began to grow.
In 2011, we began training dogs in prison, and we're proud that our relationship with the Florida Department of Corrections remains strong. Over many years, we have worked with hundreds of inmates. Many of them continue to support PSD as volunteers after their sentences are served. Our board member, Ivette Alvarez, joined us in the WOOF program while she served her sentence. Today, she is the WOOF Liaison and one of our most talented trainers. When we began the prison program, we never expected it to become so integral to the organization, but now, it’s hard to imagine PSD without WOOF.
In 2022, PSD became an accredited member of Assistance Dogs International (ADI). With fewer than 150 organizations awarded membership worldwide, we are very proud of this achievement. ADI accreditation ensures that PSD is following the highest standards in the assistance dog industry.
Since 2009 we have placed over 50 dogs and continue to receive great reports on the dogs we’ve trained. Our commitment to our dogs continues for the dog's life, and our support for the veteran is broad. Many of our veterans come to our fundraising events and are happy to speak at events on the organization’s behalf. PSD is proud of the veterans we serve and love every dog we have had the pleasure of raising. Each pup is unique and brings its own spirit to training. We appreciate our volunteers, board, and sponsors, and look forward to the future!
About Our Training:
Patriot Service Dogs places high-quality service dogs with veterans. After two years of intensive training, each dog is evaluated to determine how their personal strengths match our pool of veteran applicants' needs. While not all dogs are born to be service dogs, we train and love them all for the time they are with us. The journey from puppy to a service dog is always an adventure!
Training begins at eight weeks old when the puppies are brought to the Lowell Correctional Facility in Central Florida to meet their inmate-trainer. This trainer often remains the dog’s lead trainer for the full two-year program. Puppies are taught basic manners and obedience commands like sit, stay, and wait. These form a strong foundation so that the puppies can learn more advanced commands as they grow older—like turning lights on and off and opening cabinets. Once the puppies have mastered the obedience commands, they begin their exposure training with volunteer puppy raisers.
Our dedicated volunteers work with our inmate-trainers through letters and evaluations to work on specific skills that cannot be practiced in an institutional setting, like behaving in a restaurant, ignoring other animals like ducks, and working around shopping carts. Before the dogs are returned to their inmate-trainer, the volunteer raiser writes a report to let the trainer know how the dog responded to certain situations. Through this teamwork, each dog receives personalized training.
During a ten-day Advanced Training program, dogs meet their veteran and begin working together. At the end of this training, teams must pass the Assistance Dogs International Public Access test to become fully certified teams.
Who is Part of the Team?
Julie Sanderson, President and Cofounder
With over 20 years of service dog experience, Sanderson co-founded Patriot Service Dogs in 2009 and created the W.O.O.F. program at Lowell Correctional Institution in 2011. Sanderson holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Business Management from the College of Central Florida and a Master’s of Social Work from Saint Leo University.
Lori Frye, Treasurer
Frye has 20 years of experience in accounting, customer service, supervisory, secretarial, and office management. Currently working as Assistant Controller for Taylor Residences, Lori earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting from American Public University.
Ivette Alvarez, Secretary
Alvarez is a dedicated service dog trainer and advocate for returning citizens. She is a certified Canine Good Citizen evaluator and fluent in Spanish.
Mike Appelbaum, Board Member
Mike Appelbaum is the Village Coordinator. He brings a strong past of board participation, having served on the United Cerebral Palsy of Broward County and the Broward Zoological Society Markham Park. He has been a volunteer for the past seven years and has helped us establish our presence in the Villages, FL.
Flynn LaVrar, Board Member
LaVrar has been a practicing attorney in South Florida for over 20 years. In addition to running his firm, LaVrar has been active on the boards of several industry organizations and has voluntarily served multiple terms on various Florida Bar rules committees. He acts as legal advisor to the organization.
Russ Palecek, Board Member
An Army Veteran and retired Corrections Police Sergeant, Palecek serves Patriot Service Dogs as a WOOF program volunteer and Warrior Week training assistant. Palecek’s passion for helping his fellow veterans makes him a valuable member of Patriot Service Dogs.
Lauren Faw, Board Member
Faw brings ten years of rescue dog experience and a wealth of training knowledge to Patriot Service Dogs. She is closely involved with Whitman’s Warrior Project, an initiative to create a “rescue track” for service dogs in training at Patriot Service Dogs.
Shamrock Animal Hospital
Since 2019, Shamrock Animal Hospital in Mount Dora, Florida has proved all veterinary care for our dogs in training - from puppy shots to final medical evaluations. Led by Dr. Raquel and Jeff Fagan, Shamrock has not only committed themselves to the PSD dogs, but our whole community of volunteers, veterans, and inmate-trainers. Their passion for Patriot Service Dogs has expanded our community and made us a better organization.