About Patriot Service Dogs

Founded in 2009 and based in Marion County, Florida, Patriot Service Dogs trains high-quality service dogs for veterans without charge. The organization is an accredited member of Assistance Dogs International, the leading authority on assistance dogs world-wide. All dogs are trained to assist veterans struggling with a range of issues including PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury, Military Sexual Trauma, mobility loss, and more. To date, Patriot Service Dogs has matched 53 veterans with a service dog.

The two-year training each puppy undergoes is supported by sponsorship donations and conducted by volunteer puppy raisers and incarcerated women in the WOOF Prison Program at Lowell Correctional Facility. This dual training program creates a unique bond between volunteer members of the community, incarcerated women, sponsorship donors, and the veteran recipients.

With an average of 15-20 dogs in training at any time, Patriot Service Dogs is not a large organization, but its size is its strength. No volunteer, veteran, sponsor, or dog is just a name on a spreadsheet. Patriot Service Dogs is a community working hard together to improve the lives of veterans.

Patriot Service Dogs in a registered 501(c)(3) organization.

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Mission

Patriot Service Dogs trains quality service dogs for military veterans struggling with mobility, PTSD, and MST, using the skills and dedication of women incarcerated in Florida's largest women's correctional facility. This dual purpose allows us to serve veterans and to uplift incarcerated women with life and job skills.

We do not require veterans to have served in specific eras or to be combat wounded.

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Vision

A supportive community of veterans, volunteers, and formally incarcerated women brought together by well-trained service dogs.

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Values

We value the life of each individual and though our work with service dogs we reach many marginalized communities. By bringing these groups together we are able to provide a sense of independence for veterans while developing our own skills.

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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!

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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?

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Julie Sanderson, President and Cofounder

Co Founded Patriot Service Dogs in 2009 and created the W.O.O.F. program at Lowell Correctional Institution in 2011. Julie volunteered for New Horizons Service Dogs, raising and training puppies from 2000 to 2007 and was a volunteer puppy raiser for CCI from 2000 to 2003. Julie has a BS in Early Childhood Education, specializing in disabilities/ELL from the College of Central Florida, as well as a BS in Business Management. She has an MSW from Saint Leo University.

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Lori Frye, Treasurer

As a member of the Board, the Treasurer oversees the management and reporting of finances and provides the annual budget for the Board's approval. Lori 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.

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Ivette Alvarez, Secretary

Ivette Alvarez is the board secretary and Veterans Liason. She has been with Patriot Service Dogs for over two years and provides a strong background in training. Ivette follows up with our Veterans after a service dog is placed with them. She provides troubleshooting in training as well as dog exposure. Ivette has one of the pups full time, travels with a pup and is currently working on her CGC (Canine Good Citizenship) certification. She is active in community outreach and a great ambassador to Patriot Service Dogs.

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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.

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Flynn LaVrar, Board Member

Mr. LaVrar has been a practicing attorney in South Florida for over 20 years. In addition to running his firm, during his career Mr. LaVrar has been active on the boards of several industry organizations and has voluntarily served multiple terms on various Florida Bar rules committees.

A native of South Florida, Mr. LaVrar, together with his wife, Susan, and their three children, has been actively involved in Patriot Services Dogs in varying capacities since its inception. Currently he serves on the board of Patriot Services Dogs and also acts as legal advisor to the organization.

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Russ Palecek, Board Member

Russ Palecek began volunteering with Patriot Service Dogs in 2019 as a puppy raiser. Since then, Russ has become an important volunteer for both the WOOF Prison Program and advanced training with PSD’s veteran recipients. He is uniquely qualified for these additional responsibilities as an Army Veteran and retired Corrections Police Sergeant himself. Russ has used his prior experience and passion for training service dogs to help create a stronger team at Patriot Service Dogs. Today, it is rare to find Russ, and his wonderful wife Anne, without a PSD dog in training at their side.

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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.