Thursday, December 10, 2009

Graduation 2009

It's very obvious that I am about the worst blogger on Earth! Kyria had to ask me to blog about Graduation; shame on me!

It's been about a month since Graduation but I find myself continuing to reflect on the day. I think I cried for the entire 2-hour ceremony because everything that everyone had to say was so completely genuine and heartfelt. 2009 was my first Graduation so on my list of things to bring in 2010.....#1: Tissues!

Over the past year, my role in the organization has evolved from Certified Handler/Dog Team with my Golden Retriever, MAX, at a couple of local schools to Director of K-9 Operations in VA and Director of the Medical Evaluation Team for paws4vets. I think that for many of us, Terry, Debbie, Kyria, and the organization came into our lives at an impeccable "time"; volunteers and clients alike. Personally, I was searching for "what was next" in my life and my career. I had grown dissatified with my "corporate America" job and was pretty much in a total and complete "funk" back in 2005 when I happened across the paws4people booth at the Reston PetFiesta.

I had wanted to become involved with "pet therapy" since 1999 when I was working as a Pediatric Oncology Nurse at a Children's Hospital in Atlanta. We had a 16-year old girl who had just been diagnosed with Ewing's Sarcoma, she had been away from her friends and school, she was stuck in a hospital receiving chemotherapy and losing her hair. Needless to say, we were having a difficult time reaching her. She had not smiled for 2 weeks. Well, one day, a four-legged furry beam of sunshine entered her room, jumped up on her bed, and cuddled with her. The young girl lit up the room with her smile for the first time in 2 weeks and it was all thanks to a wonderful Golden Retriever. I told myself that if I could ever find time to volunteer with an organization like that; I was going to do it!

Four years later, I am still finding it hard to believe that my e-mail inquiry to volunteer in the schools would lead me to an opportunity to work, not only with our local handlers, but with our Veterans as well. I am not able to describe how proud I was of Brandon, Paul, and Ryan as they walked up to receive their dog as the past 6 months for each of them had been a roller coaster of emotions as well as growth. WYATT, LIA, and SADIE are, without a doubt, making a difference in the lives of these men.

I've watched Brandon gain an enormous amount of self-confidence over the past few months. A couple of months ago, Brandon and WYATT attended a CFC event with Terry and I in Bethesda. At the event there were a group of women who were asking Brandon questions about his PTSD and how his Service Dog was helping him. I admit that I was concerned that these questions in a large crowd would be a bit "too much" for Brandon but he handled it like a pro. He was able to answer all of the ladies' questions and I think that he felt a real sense of accomplishment as we were walking out. When asked if he would have been able to speak at an event like that 3 or 4 months ago, his simple answer was "no way". Brandon has also become our Veteran's Advocate and I have to say...... he is incredible at his job.

Paul is my "leaps and bound" guy. When I met Paul, he was at the VA in Martinsburg, participating in a PTSD Recovery program for the second time. Paul found us; he knew that he needed additional help and he knew that he needed a dog. I don't have words to explain the progress that Paul has made over the past 6 months. He has gone from not being able to say much more that "yes" or "no" to gaining the self-confidence to be able to talk about his PTSD and TBI in front of a local Boy Scout Troop and their parents as well as take LIA to an elementary school for a reading program. Amazing! I found out today that Paul will also be making his debut on You Tube, describing exactly what LIA has done for him. Like I said, he is my "leaps and bounds" guy.

I did not have the opportunity to meet Ryan in person until Graduation. We had communicated via e-mail for a couple of months in putting his profile story together. I loved his e-mail address: Let me tell you that Ryan Mullins is just that; a "good 'ole country boy" that I am absolutely delighted to have had the pleasure to meet. I'm looking forward to following up with him and SADIE tover the next year. Ryan is one of the most down to earth people I have ever met; real laid back and real easy to talk to. His story about how and why he chose SADIE is very heartwarming; simply put, she is the one who came up to him and put her head in his lap. His last blog entry was a hoot; it sounds like SADIE is going to be quite the hunter once she gets past the deer heads on the wall!

paws4people is about making a difference in people's lives whether they be our clients, the inmate trainers, the staff at the prison, the psychological treatment teams of our veterans, or our local volunteers. Each person who is involved makes a difference in the life or lives of another/other human being(s). The inmate trainers' stories touch us when they are sharing with us how much the program has made a difference in their lives. Many of these ladies feel love, nurturance, and acceptance for the very first time in the paws4prisons program; when they hand over a dog that they have loved and trained for a Veteran or a child with a disability, they know in their hearts, at that moment, that they have made a difference. When the audience listens to the story about how a woman can change her life around although she has made mistakes, we are more likely to forgive and accept that people do make mistakes and to give people a second chance. This is a gift in itself.

What did I find to be one of the most amazing parts of the day? The dogs knowing who their people were......... I don't think anyone will forget our "trained" Assistance Dogs pulling and jumping to get to "their people" while the trainers were talking about their time with the dog. The dogs instinctively "knew" who they belonged with.

I spoke with Terry briefly over the phone today about one of our active duty military guys and the impact this guy's first visit to the prison had on him. The client was, of course, making great strides regarding some of his fears during his very first visit. I proceeded to tell Terry that he and Kyria and their organization provide a tremendous therapeutic benefit that traditional medicine cannot touch. His response? "No Allison, our organization." I am honored........absolutely honored to be affiliated with this organization and all of the people who make up the paws4people foundation.

Let's ROCK ON and continue to make a difference; it is, as Terry so eloquently put it, our "instinct".

Monday, August 31, 2009

SOLOMON visits "The Hill"

A couple of weeks ago he was the guest of honor at the Canadian Embassy but today our loveable SOLOMON made his debut on, none other than, Capitol Hill. Terry, Diana, SOLOMON, and I met with a Legislative Director from Congressman Ron Klein's (FL) office and a Senior Legislative Assistant from Congressman Ed Whitfield's (KY) office regarding a piece of legislation entitled; 'The Wounded Warrior K-9 Corps Act'. The bill would establish a grant program for nonprofit organizations that provide wounded warriors and disabled veterans with service animals. We had a very positive, pleasant conversation with the staffers, both of whom appeared quite passionate about the legislation. We can only keep our paws crossed that this bipartisan piece of legislation will pass!

We also had the opportunity to meet the Military Legislative Assistant from Congressman Walter B. Jones (NC) office; representative for Camp Lejeune. Walter B. Jones favored having a dog program in the Military Prison at Camp Lejeune, however, the Military Prison has since moved to SC. This created an opening for a dog program at Camp Lejeune and we happened to be in the right place at the right time.........we have been making contacts with a group of physicians, psychologists, psychiatrists, and case managers at Camp Lejeune over the past couple of months who are in favor of beginning a dog program within the Wounded Warrior Battalion. How cool would that be?

Stay tuned......more to follow regarding our potential at Wounded Warrior Battalion East-Camp Lejeune tomorrow. Look for the blog entitled "Road Trip- Camp Lejeune to UNC-Wilmington".