It started with a simple conversation with a homeless veteran, recalls Heather Lloyd, executive director and founder of Tails of Valor. As they chatted, the Army vet shared how he had rescued a dog, which in turn, had become his best friend.
At the time, Heather was running a high-end kennel. The veteran’s story so moved her, she was inspired to start Tails of Valor, Paws of Hope, a non-profit program that trains rescued dogs to become service dogs for veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries and physical disabilities.
All the dogs, rescued from local animal shelters as puppies, are named in honor of military personnel who were killed during or after military service. As Heather explains, the program helps two lives – the rescued dog and the veteran.
The puppies typically are 8-10 weeks old when they’re rescued, and they undergo training that becomes specific to the veteran they’re paired with. It may include door opening, switching on lights, fetching items, bracing or nightmare intervention. Upon competition of their personalized training, the service dogs are given – at no cost – to veterans.
“Our mission is to provide holistic, non-medicinal rehabilitation therapies to improve veterans’ quality of life,” explains Jana Spess, the program administrator for Tails of Valor. “At the same time, we’re giving our rescued pups a chance at a really great life.”