As we head into a new year, Patriot Service Dogs is looking back at all that we accomplished in 2021! With such a full year, it was hard to narrow this list down to 10 milestones.
As you read through these, know that it takes a village to train a service dog and match them with a veteran and that we appreciate everyone in our village—so if you are a volunteer, donor, graduate, cheerleader, or at all in the PSD community, thank you for all you’ve done in 2021. We have big plans for next year and hope you will join us in creating our Top 10 list of 2022!
1. New Puppies in Training
It is hard to decide if graduations or new puppies are more exciting for our organization. But, as we head into a new year, we are looking into the future, and for us, puppies are the future. In 2021 we welcomed the final members of the Class of 2023 and the first members of the class of 2024. In total, that was 7 pups!
- Rosie (sponsored by Jacaranda Isles neighborhood)
- Murphy (sponsored by Kay Weathers & Villagers for Veterans)
- Sam (sponsored by the Dynamic Dogs Club)
- Millie (sponsored by Mary Miller)
- Bo Bear (sponsored by Jacaranda Isles neighborhood)
- Dolley (sponsored by Doug Brodbeck)
- Richard (sponsored by Richard Blair)
Already, Rosie, Murphy, Richard, and Sam feel like the “big kids,” so it is hard to believe they joined us in 2021 and that by next year they will be finishing their training. The cycle of pups, to dogs in training, to service dogs continues!
Graduations are always emotional events and can feel like the end of the story for those of us who are hands-on during the dogs’ training, but really, they are the end of the beginning for our dogs and their veterans as they begin their new lives as a team. In 2021, we welcomed 6 new teams into the PSD family.
- Dakota & Chuck
- Major & Jim
- Charlie & Kristy
- Molly & Matt
- Wiley & Bob
- Tucker & Yacov
We love hearing from these teams and getting a chance to see our dogs in their grown-up lives (Teams, please keep sending those photos)!
3.Tank’s Placement & Graduation
For a while, we didn’t know what would become of Tank. We never could have predicted that he would find his true calling at the Nassau County Sherriff’s Department, but we are so pleased he did! He works every day with Captain Graham and Captain Crews as their Community Relations and Officer Wellness Dog and he seems to be loving it. For this special placement, we held a special graduation inside Lowell Correctional Facility with representatives from Dept. of Corrections, Shamrock Animal Hospital, the Women of WOOF, our Weekend Raiser Team, the PSD Board, and the Nassau County Sheriff’s Department. For more information on Tank’s job, click here. And for photos of Tank’s graduation, click here!
4.Updates from Graduates:
We love hearing from and seeing our graduate teams, especially teams that have been together for a long time.
This year, we were lucky enough to see Theo and Radar at our summer graduation and have their veterans tell us about their lives together. Jack and Maverick attended a Jacaranda Isles fundraiser in The Villages and were the stars of the show. Patriot sent us holiday greetings all the way from Las Vegas, Nevada! Morgan showed us his Christmas tree. Freedom (the black lab) sent us photos from his birthday party, while Freedom (the white poodle) shared photos of his family life. Rosa’s veteran, Phillip, shared a moving message with us on how she continues to support him through his recovery. And Everlove came for a visit with his friends at Shamrock Animal Hospital, his raiser Jim, and his mini-me, Sam!
No matter how much time has passed since their graduations, it is always a treat to see or hear from our dogs (oh yeah, and their people)! Thanks to the veterans and their families who keep us updated. It means the world to us.
5. Disney Training Weekend
For years, the fall season was marked at PSD by a training weekend at Disney World, but we had to cancel the event in 2020. Luckily, the Disney Training Weekend returned in 2021! We had a great time taking the dogs trick-or-treating at the Halloween event and a successful training day with our Weekend Raisers during our “Transportation Day.” The dogs were exposed to trains, boats, buses, and trams and practiced on stairs and elevators. They were great—and totally exhausted by the end of the trip. For more info on how we train at Disney, click here.
6. Weekend Raiser Training Meetings
This year, we revamped our usual Weekend Raiser meetings. Now, we are including training sessions with our raisers on specific commands. This allows us to not only address the needs of each dog, but give our whole team a monthly refresher course on important commands. Our President, Julie Sanderson, is leading these training sessions and getting into the details of how to use a command, when to praise and when to correct during the dog’s learning process, and how to reinforce positive outcomes. In 2022, we hope to add more training sessions with our Weekend Raisers and offer more training outings! It should be a blast!
*Thanks to the Villages Pet Spa on Rolling Acres for donating the use of their play yard for our training sessions.
Shamrock has been a crucial part of the PSD team for a while now, so long it is hard to imagine how we ever did this without them. But, until 2021, we still had dogs in training who began their training using other veterinarians. Now, all PSD dogs in training are also “Shamrock Dogs!” Dr. Fagan and her team know our dogs from their first puppy check-up to their final vet visit as dogs in training with their veterans. We are so lucky to have the support of a great medical team who takes the time to get to know each dog individually and who supports the organization as a whole. In honor of all they do for us, all PSD vests will now include the Shamrock logo!
To the Shamrock Team—we just love you guys!
8. New Digital Presence
2021 was a big year for PSD’s online presence. We launched a new website, started a blog, created a digital newsletter, hit over 1,000 followers on Instagram, started a YouTube channel, and continued to grow our Facebook presence. We apricate all the positive feedback we’ve received from our longtime supporters who can now stay better connected to the organization and welcome all the new supporters our digital efforts have attracted. In 2022, we hope to continue growing so we can spread our mission to more people!
*Thanks to Anitra Larsen at Blue Lake Websites and Pharmacists Mutual for their support in building our new website.
9. Return of Fundraising
After a year of almost no fundraising, 2021 brought back events we have long cherished, like the Army vs Navy Golf Tournament at Juliette Falls and the Veteran’s Day Fundraiser at Old Town Trolley in Saint Augustine! While the monetary support was important for the organization after a year without these kinds of events, it was equally important to us to reconnect with our long-time supporters. As we said, it takes a village to train a service dog and fundraisers are an important part of that village. In 2022, we hope to have even more events with old and new friends!
10. The WOOF Program Move
After many years at the Lowell Correctional Facility work camp, the WOOF Program moved to the main unit of the prison. At first, this was a struggle. Our inmate-trainers had to make many adjustments to their new environment, and we had to change many of our prison protocols. But the Lowell staff was very supportive of the program during our move and worked with us to make it go as smoothly as possible. Today, we are settled in a new dorm and continuing training as usual. We take pride in the resourcefulness and determination our inmate-trainers showed during a stressful time and are happy to report that they think the food is better on the main unit! Another victory for the Women of WOOF!
Sadly, 2021 also saw the loss of some of the original PSD dogs. After 12 years of training service dogs, this is to be expected, but the news of their passings still came as a shock to us who knew the dogs as puppies in training. Our hearts go out to their veterans and their families who are grieving.