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A Day in the Life of our Virginia Team

 In PPH BLog, Service Dog Training, Virginia

Our Virginia team started working with Paws for Purple Hearts (PPH) Service-Dogs-In-Training in 2015. Since we opened our Virginia facility in Ruther back then, over 30 dogs have gone through training with our local Program Instructors. The team has also been dedicated to providing Canine-Assisted Warrior Therapy® to Warriors all across Virginia, as well as Washington, DC and Maryland.

Meet the Team

Right now, the Virginia Team has two Program Instructors who put their hearts and souls into working with their dogs. Heather has been with Paws For Purple Hearts for over five years and started the Ruther Glen site after she graduated from Bergin University. She is currently working with assistance dogs-in-training David, Booth and Antje.  Mami started with Paws For Purple Hearts as a Kennel Custodian at our San Diego site before coming to Virginia in 2018. Assistance dogs-in-training Jeanette and Hicks are currently in her string of dogs!

Mami and Heather with the RG Facility Cats, Broccoli and Pepper
Mami and Heather with the RG Facility Cats, Broccoli and Pepper

Why Virginia?

It’s pretty obvious why Paws For Purple Hearts has a training facility in Virginia. The Old Dominion is home to more than 780,000 veterans, and there are numerous major military bases located throughout the Commonwealth.

Virginia’s CAWT Participants
Virginia’s CAWT Participants

But you may be wondering why the Virginia team is headquartered in Ruther Glen, Virginia. That’s because of its excellent location! Although Ruther Glen is a small town, it is located halfway between the capital of Virginia, Richmond and Fredericksburg, another large and growing Virginia city. An hour and half further north is Washington, D.C., while an hour and half east is the Hampton Roads, Virginia area, where many naval bases are located. Being in Ruther Glen allows us to best serve veterans across the state!

The Virginia team is proud to have several long standing partnerships with the Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center and the Hampton VA Medical Center to provide canine-assisted therapy programs to veterans and active duty service members.

Patients from the Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center visit our facility once a week to participate in our signature Canine-Assisted Warrior Therapy® program. During these sessions, Warriors learn how to reinforce commands for a PPH service dog in training and build bonds with our four-legged colleagues.

So, what is it like to train dogs in Virginia?

Weather

One of the things to consider when working with dogs is the weather! While not technically the hottest of all the PPH sites, Virginia still gets pretty toasty during the Summer. One of the things our training staff needs to be aware of is how hot the pavement gets during the hot months.

In order to combat this challenge. Our Program Instructors, teach their dogs how to wear booties. Booties help to protect dogs’ paws from hot surfaces that can damage the paw pads.

Hicks practices wearing his back booties!
Hicks practices wearing his back booties!

During the Summer, our team tends to stay inside on the hottest and most humid days, but once Fall arrives, the dogs love to go on outdoor field trips. This Fall, the whole team took a trip to the Virginia State Fair!

Booth and Jeanette went to the Virginia State Fair this year.
Booth and Jeanette went to the Virginia State Fair this year.

Training in these various temperatures may come with some challenges. But it creates new opportunities for the Program Instructors to get creative when socializing their dogs!

Socialization

Our dogs can’t become top-tier service dogs without proper socialization. Service dogs need to be able to experience a wide variety of sights, smells and sounds without getting distracted. One of the major distractions our trainers work on?  People!

Socialization with people begins as soon as our pups are born. Puppy Petters are special volunteers that handle the newborn puppies at headquarters to socialize them to the human touch. Socialization to different people doesn’t end there though! Throughout their 2 and one half years of training, our dogs continue to see and interact with all kinds of people.

Our Program Instructors often take trips to grocery stores and department stores to work on reducing the likelihood that our dogs will react to other people while in public. A service dog must remain focused on their handler.

Field trip to grocery stores are a great way to practice socialization.
Field trip to grocery stores are a great way to practice socialization.

One of our favorite places to take our dogs for socialization is a school down the road from our facility. The dogs love meeting the students and it’s a great opportunity to interact with children of all ages. The students enjoying hanging out with the dogs too!

Supporting PPH Virginia

With five dogs currently resident at our Virginia training facility, there are plenty of things for volunteers to help with. From cleaning to grooming dogs to helping staff tables at public events, a general volunteer can have a big impact!

If you’d like to become a volunteer, click here

More Ways to Help

The Virginia team is always in need of food and toys for our dogs-in-training. Check out our Amazon Wish List for all of our most used items!

If you’d like to support our program, please visit our donation page to contribute today.

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