Old Glory Services Dogs 4 Veterans is a local not for profit organization out of Bunnell. The entire goal of this organization is to help veterans and save animals. Old Glory works to pair veterans with animals and help them work through the time and training to turn that dog into a service dog.
We sat down with some of the trainers and members of this organization to really get a look behind the curtains as to how this organization works. President of Old Glory Service Dogs 4 Veterans, Lauren Driscoll, Trainer Tina Feliciano, Stephen Watkins and Bruce Miller, told us about the organization, how it got started and how it operates.
“I became a dog trainer, and I fell in love with the idea of volunteering and helping veterans. So the combination actually, it was a match made in heaven for me” President Lauren Driscoll told us when asked what made her want to get involved with an organization that helps vets get service dogs.
Stephen Watkins told us that he has already been through two dogs, and he told us how when Lauren started her own organization he knew he wanted to be involved in helping and volunteering with it.
We asked Lauren why start her own organization? “I didn’t want to lose sight of the mission. I found that working with other people, their missions started to change and add things. I think the most important thing is rescuing the dogs, and we need to help our veterans and first responders” said Lauren.
We talked to the team at Old Glory about the process of picking the dogs, the training and everything in between. We asked them where they get their dogs, and why they choose to rescue dogs vs get them as puppies. Lauren, Tina, Bruce and Stephen all told us that most of their dogs they get are rescues. Lauren also explained that ideally for service dog training, you want a dog closer to 8-9 months old so that behaviors can be tested, and you can really see the personality of the dog. She also mentioned that because many vets suffer from PTSD, handling a small and young 8-10 week old puppy can actually trigger their stress and anxiety. Lauren told us that they have gotten dogs from the Flagler Humane Society, Halifax Humane society and many other rescues in the area.
We wanted to know how they determine what dogs will work as a service dog. Lauren went on to list all the qualities that a service dog must show. She said they must be friendly, not skittish, not aggressive in any way, willing to work, have a little bit of drive, she said that they must be the most balanced dog they could be in order to qualify to move into service dog training.
Training starts with basic obedience training, then environmental training, working around other animals and distractions, and then they really start to focus on learning the tasks. They have to have 360 hours of training in order to graduate from the Old Glory’s service dog training program. Tina told us that generally that comes out to about 2 years, give or take, based on how much the veteran works with the dog.
We wanted to know how they pick dogs for the vets who sign up for the program. Lauren told us that it is dependant on the vet or first responder and the tasks they need the dog to do. The vet or first responder then takes the dog home for 2 weeks to see if the vet will bond with the dog. The vets and first responders then work in a monthly group class for 8 weeks, as well as a weekly group class to train the dogs. They do work with the vets and first responders so if classes are missed, they can catch up with private sessions with any of the trainers.
Bruce Miller was one of the first veterans to get a dog from Lauren through this program. He is on is second dog now, and has been doing it ever since. “I wouldn’t have it any other way, because I see what it’s done for me, I see what it’s done for a lot of the guys I have worked with and it’s a far better thing to see them go out that door with their dog. They are leaving here better than when they came. They are ready to go into society” said Bruce Miller who is a volunteer and a recipient of the program.
We asked Lauren what her most memorable moment has been working with vets and first responders and helping them train their service dogs. She told us that it had to be Stephen. The organization she was at before starting her own did not provide first responders with service dogs at the time, and she decided that she was going to train Stephen a service dog herself. She told us his first dog is the only dog she has trained to do 12 tasks. She said seeing that dog do those tasks for Stephen is really the most memorable moment so far for her.
We wanted to know what the most rewarding part of volunteering in this organization was and Stephen told us, “Seeing them come out to events, because when they have their dogs and they can come to the events is big. We know that the dog is doing something because they are out in public and crowds and are around triggers.”
We asked how the community can help this organization with their mission. Donations are always welcomed, they can always use financial support, but willing fosters are a big need they have too, because they do get people who want to donate a dog to the program and they only have two fosters currently, and no physical place to house dogs. So having fosters for the potential service dogs, while they work to match them to a veteran or first responder is a big need they have as well.
To find out more about this organization and how to contact them, you can read more about them here on their site.