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Paws for Purple Hearts Alaska Graduated its first Service Dog with a Veteran with PTSD

 In Events, General, PPH Alaska

Paws for Purple Hearts (PPH) Alaska celebrated the graduation of its first Service Dog/Veteran team on Saturday, December 16th, 2017.

The momentous occasion was commemorated with a heart-warming Graduation Ceremony at PPH’s Fairbanks, AK facility.  Service dog Annie, a Labrador/golden retriever mix, joined Mr. Jeff Bizzarro, a US Army Veteran who served in combat in Iraq, as his trusty helper.  Both had undergone an intensive 2-week Service Dog Client Training Course.  Jeff has been associated with PPH since 2015.  He participated in PPH’s service dog training therapy program.  The program helps active duty Military Service Members and Veterans reduce the symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).  He helped train Paws for Purple Hearts service dogs and also helped as a general PPH volunteer.  “Paws not Pills” is how Jeff sums up the value of the Paws for Purple Hearts service dog training therapy program as compared to his previous drug-based therapy. Check out the great interview with Kathryn Harris on iHeart Media.

Kathryn Harris interview with Betsy Jacobs, Program Coordinator PPH Fairbanks

Client Training - building a solid bond for a life together

Just prior to the December 16th Graduation Ceremony, Jeff and Annie spent two weeks together learning about each other attending lectures and practice sessions to learn the application of over 100 service dog commands.  To kick off the bonding process, Jeff and Annie were tethered together for an entire week, which makes for some intimate moments as Jeff describes in his interview on Fairbanks local public radio station KUAC.  During the first week, Jeff learned about the service dog training concepts and methods used to train service dogs at the Bergin College of Canine Studies.  Week two involved outings in the community to movies, restaurants, and grocery stores.  Jeff and Annie were accompanied by two simulated clients, who were actually volunteers experiencing the Client Training to learn about it and to help PPH refine its program.  Their efforts are very much appreciated.  The course entailed a solid 2-week commitment to long, full days of study and practice.

Graduation - a celebration of the team

The Graduation Ceremony began with an introduction by Dave Platte, COO of Paws for Purple Hearts and culminated with a service dog demonstration by the PPH service pups-in-training, including the newest addition, 9-week old “Cheechako” (“a newcomer to the mining districts of Alaska or northwestern Canada”).

Cheechako, Newest Member of the PPH Alaska team!
Cheechako, Newest Member of the PPH Alaska team!

The highlight of the night was when Annie’s Puppy Parent Heidi Faulkner of the Silent Springs FFA officially presented Jeff with his service dog Annie.  During Jeff’s acceptance speech, he invited several fellow Veterans who spent many hours training the service dogs up to the podium.  He acknowledged their contributions and thanked them for their unwavering support.

Heidi Faulkner officially presents Jeff with service dog Annie
Heidi Faulkner officially presents Jeff with service dog Annie

Community Support- it takes a community

Fairbanks, Alaska lives up to its name, “Golden Heart Community.”  Since Paws for Purple Hearts began programming in Alaska in November, 2015, the program has grown from four Warriors to over fifty regular participants in the service dog training therapy programs, including Veterans who are homeless and who are incarcerated at Fairbanks Correctional Center.  PPH Alaska is grateful for the support of its many dedicated volunteers and donors and for the support of many local businesses and organizations.

Jeff and Fellow Veterans at Paws for Purple Hearts Fairbanks
Jeff acknowledges the contribution of his fellow Veterans
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