A Day in the Life of PPH Alaska
Can you imagine what it would be like to train a Paws for Purple Hearts service dog in Alaska? From sub-freezing temperatures to moose visits to almost 24 hours of darkness at mid-winter, our pups and trainers “Way up North” experience a world that is truly unique
Meet the Team
Our Alaska team is small, but they accomplish so much. Debbie and Melissa are the wonderful program instructors who care for and train our future assistance dogs. Right now, they are training two-year-old Reagan and 10-month-old Andi, and they are often visited by our recent Specialist Therapy Dog graduate Elma!
It’s not just the beautiful mountain views that bring PPH to Alaska; it’s the people.
Despite the extreme weather and remote location, opening a Paws for Purple Hearts facility in Alaska was an obvious choice because of the dense active-duty military and Veteran population residing there. According to the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, over 21,000 active-duty military personnel were stationed in Alaska in 2019. In addition to those active duty service members, there is a very sizable and robust population of Veterans who call Alaska home.
After a few years operating in Fairbanks, our team transferred to Anchorage in 2019. The move allowed our team to serve a larger population of Warriors to whom we provide assistance dogs and our innovative Canine-Assisted Warrior Therapy® in partnership with the wonderful healthcare professionals at the VA Domiciliary and Chris Kyle Patriots Hospital.
The Alaska site is also home to some other great partnerships, like our social therapy programs with Army Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson personnel and the USO. Warriors at these sites assist in training PPH service dogs for their fellow veterans and spend quality time with our dogs-in-training.
So what makes training in Alaska so different?
For starters, the weather is a major factor! Because of the sub-freezing temperatures and short daylight hours each winter, our training staff has to get creative with field trips and public outings.
One way we conquer the cold is by visiting an indoor dog swimming facility called Alaska K9 Aquatics.
Two times a month, Reagan and Andi get to visit the pool for some exercise, enrichment and yes, even some training. Spending time with our friends at the indoor canine swimming pool has been a great experience for the entire Alaska team.
Sometimes going outside for training during the winter is necessary, so our pups wear special booties to keep their paws warm and dry. This winter, our team visited the Anchorage Christmas Village and the Alaska Zoo’s Festival of Lights, where Andi got to put her new fleece booties to the test during her first Alaska winter!
Training in cold weather may come with some challenges. Still, it creates opportunities that are very special to our Alaska team, like the change to conduct amazing socialization activities for our dogs with nature and wildlife.
Socialization is a huge part of the training process for our pups. It is imperative that the assistance dogs we place with our beloved injured Warriors experience all the sights, smells, and sounds characteristic of their environment without losing focus on the task at hand. One major distraction we work on with our dogs in Alaska is wildlife.
At the beginning of 2020, service-dog-in-training Reagan got to experience his first major animal interaction right in his trainer’s front yard. On this occasion the visitor was… a moose! This massive creature cast quite an imposing shadow, but Reagan did a great job staying relaxed while taking in this exciting new sight.
Watch Reagan’s first moose sighting
When there is no snow on the ground during the summer months, our pups and trainers visit places like the wildlife conservation center, which is home to bears, wolves, big cats, and even porcupines!
This type of field trip allows for controlled exposure to animals of various sizes and shapes, like when Andi recently spent time with her trainer, Debbie, near the bear enclosure.
The beautiful nature is a perk too! Beyond visiting the breathtaking mountains, Alaska has unique beaches and rivers and an elaborate walking trail system, too. Reagan and his puppy parents frequently visit the beach on weekends, when the weather permits, of course!
From harsh weather to exotic wildlife to working with our great Warriors, PPH Alaska is truly one of a kind. And the uniqueness of this PPH location and program calls for extra special support – especially during the current pandemic.
Supporting PPH Alaska
During this challenging time, our volunteers have been priceless. While the team still gets to work with some Warriors during virtual canine therapy, the in-person love and socialization our dogs receive from program participants has gone away. Willing volunteers have stepped in conduct simulated Canine-Assisted Warrior Therapy® sessions to allow Andi and Reagan to continue practicing their commands and experiencing new people.
If you’d like to become a volunteer, click here.
More Ways to Help
The Alaska team is always looking for new toys and treats for their dogs-in-training. You can find all of their favorite items, plus a list of other donation ideas when you visit their Amazon Wish List.
If you’d like to support the Alaska program further, please visit our website or text PURPLEPAWS to 707070 to contribute today.