The last few months have been a busy time for Soldier ON Service Dogs. Here's just a bit of what we've been able to accomplish, thanks to the incredible support of our local community here in Northwest Arkansas. If you would like to see our newsletter in the full printable format, a PDF version of the Newsletter is available here.
Larry and Anita Jo Roberts are lifelong residents of NWA, and have been volunteer puppy raisers with Soldier On since 2016. Jo is an Occupational Therapist with over 30 years' experience specializing in pre-school children, and teaches at Springdale First Assembly (SFA) where she and Larry attend church. Larry just retired after 33 years with Tyson and Cobb where, most recently, he was U.S. Planning Manager for Cobb. Larry serves on the board at SFA and also on the board at Teen Challenge Adventure Ranch in Morrow, AR. Larry and Jo have raised 3 puppies for SOSD, and share their home with their personal dog, Ranger, a German Shepherd.
There were two things really, a) our love of dogs and belief that dogs should be well behaved and well trained so they can be an active part of our lives and b) our deep gratitude to our veterans for their service. Being puppy raisers allows us to combine those two ideas in a very unique opportunity to give back something of value to our veterans.
We received our puppies at 8-9 weeks of age. It is very rewarding to see a puppy mature into an incredible dog through proper training and socialization. The training and support we receive through SOSD helps a puppy to develop into a very confident dog that is eager to learn. The puppy begins to understand that she has a job and seems genuinely happy when we work on new skills. I think there is a certain element of pride and confidence that a dog has when they understand that they are learning a job. You can see that develop in them as they progress. They should enjoy learning and we try to make it fun for them.
As far as training milestones, probably learning the "place" command and the "heel" position command are pretty impressive. Also learning the down-stay for longer and longer periods of time is a milestone. A puppy will eventually be able to "wait" for increasingly longer periods of time when we are totally out of her sight. Those are important commands that she will use routinely as a service dog.
I remember the first time I took a young SOSD dog to a public store that wasn't a farm store or pet store. I took her in Barnes and Noble bookstore when she was about 6 months old. I was nervous about how she would behave. We went up and down every aisle and she was just as polite and obedient as she could be. From that point on I have learned to trust the training and trust the dog to respond to her training. I have rarely been disappointed or surprised. Service dog trainee puppies make us laugh all the time. They are really clever and keep us on our toes. Without proper guidance I believe a smart dog will get into a lot more trouble than an average dog so we try to stay a step ahead and prevent bad habits before they start.
Our SOSD puppies are full of life and energy. We also have a 3-year-old male German Shepherd, Ranger, and he has been a huge help in raising the pups. He has taught them how to play and interact properly with another dog. We monitor their play, but it is very entertaining to watch them together. Sometimes they will lie on the floor and chew on each end of a Nylabone. I had never seen two dogs chew on the same toy, but they do it all the time. We don't allow any aggression or guarding behavior. Our youngest son, Mitchell, has a 4-year-old German Shepherd, Royce, that he brings over about once a week. Our SOSD pups have always loved Ranger and Royce and the dogs have kind of grown up together. Our dogs are used to us bringing home a strange dog every few weeks or months, so they accept a new dog into our home very easily.
We get up pretty early at our house and the first thing I do is take the pup out of his kennel (crate) and take him outside. We take our SOSD dog (once he is a few months old) and Ranger on a walk every morning about 5:30am. We live on a quiet road without much traffic. During the walk we are working on heel, sit, stay, and loose leash walking and then when we get home we finish with some specific commands. Each time we put on or take off the leash we use the "up" and "off" command. When we go through a doorway, we are working on sit, wait, and release before he follows through the door. The dog is never allowed to pull on a leash or charge through a door. We try to incorporate as much of his training into our daily routine as possible, but we also have specific training sessions to practice new commands that are introduced in class.
I come home each day at noon and let both dogs out and spend some time with them. Then in the evening, we do some more skill work and have time to play. He gets fed morning and evening and we use those opportunities to work on calm behavior. He has to sit and wait until the food is put in his bowl, then he has to give and hold eye contact before he is given the "release" command. While he is eating I try to brush and handle him just a little so he is calm and submissive around food. In the evening, after dinner and a short training session, he likes to lie on his pillow in the living room and just be around us and any family or guests that might be at our house. He goes to bed in his crate about 10:00 every night. He thrives on having a regular routine. I never start a training session if I am in a hurry. Working with a puppy teaches us patience because they need time to figure things out and get it right. It's not something you can rush through.
Our goal, especially for a young puppy, is to keep him in a calm state of mind for as many hours of the day as possible. We follow the practice to "never touch or talk to an excited dog". He must be calm and all four paws on the ground before he gets any attention. When he is allowed to be in an excited state of play, it needs to be controlled excitement and monitored. When we leave for work, we just calmly put him in his kennel, let him settle and then just walk away. No excited goodbyes when we leave or greetings when we get home. It leaves him in a much calmer state of mind. Starting the day with a long walk goes a long way to regulate his energy level also.
On the weekends and sometimes on a weekday evening, he will go with us on a "field trip" as we run errands, shop, go to the bank, etc. He is learning to be very well behaved in public settings and enjoys seeing new places.
I don't know if I would consider any of it especially difficult. We had raised two German Shepherd puppies in the two years before we got our first SOSD puppy, so we were prepared for the work involved and weren't surprised. We are now finishing with our third SOSD puppy. Since we receive our puppy at roughly two months of age, we know that if we devote ourselves to intensely working with her for the next 3 months or so, the hardest part is behind us. Potty training, teething, initial socializing, vaccinations, learning to ride in the car, and carefully monitoring the "fear periods" of age are some of the hurdles. Then, by the time she is 5-6 months old, she will be getting very solid on all her 5 basic obedience commands and ready for more skills. From that point on it is a pleasure to have a well-behaved dog as part of our household. The weekly classes are a time commitment, but I wouldn't describe it as difficult. We just work our schedule around the classes and the staff at SOSD has been very good to try to make things as convenient as possible and the classes are a lot of fun.
A couple of things come to mind. First, seeing the puppy develop both physically and mentally is rewarding. At the first class, our trainer told us not to be surprised if our puppy was mentally very fatigued after each class because we really challenge them to learn. The trainer described it as being like taking a difficult math test and feeling wiped out afterward. Our puppy would come home from Saturday class and sleep for 2-3 hours and just rest most of the day. Soon she was looking forward to class each week and ready to play when she got home and after a short rest.
Secondly, it is rewarding to have a well-behaved dog as a companion both in our home and out in public. We were very selective in where we took the pup in public prior to 6 months of age. We didn't want to put her in a situation where she would be scared, have an accident, or otherwise fail. We always try to set them up for success. After about 6 months of age, we start taking the puppy more places and, in a short time, don't hesitate to take her in just about any public setting. It is really a great feeling to have a well behaved dog to follow along on a loose leash in places that dogs don't normally go.
That is probably the number one question I get. Honestly, we know it will be hard to give a dog up and I would never mislead anyone that it will be easy. We decided to treat this as we would if we had a son or daughter that was becoming an adult and leaving home. They will always be part of our family, but now they are going to be part of a different household. We knew what we were committing to when we signed up so we have been preparing ourselves for it. One thing that has helped is to keep the end goal in mind. The temporary discomfort of giving him up does not begin to compare to the sacrifice a veteran has made for our country. Plus, we know that if our puppy successfully makes the grade and is placed with a veteran, he will have a life most dogs would dream of. Dogs have an inborn desire to be around people. He will be with his veteran 24 hours a day, get to experience the world around him, and go places that only a service dog can go. He will make the transition from our home to another home very easily. It will be a little harder for us but anything worth doing is hard. I have told people the question is not "Is it going to be hard?" The correct question is "Is it worth it?" Yes, absolutely.
Being associated with SOSD has been a great experience and we feel privileged to be part of the program. There is a network of staff and volunteers that make everything work and we realize we are just a small part of it. We have benefited from our association with the SOSD staff and volunteers and hope that our puppy will fulfill his purpose and be able to serve a veteran once he is fully trained.
Soldier ON Service Dogs was selected as the charitable organization of choice by Mary Frances George Junior High for this year's Caroling on the Creek, which took place on December 15, 2017.
Caroling on the Creek was held in Downtown Springdale at Turnbow Park & Shiloh Square on Emma Street and featured over 20 Student Choirs performing Christmas Carols, a business and organizational venue, a visit from the "man" himself– Santa Claus– and the Largest Christmas Tree in Arkansas. While it was a bit chilly, spirits were high and the event was filled with the sounds and sights of the Christmas Season.
Several weeks before the event, Soldier ON Service Dogs was invited to speak to three different groups of students and faculty at George Junior High. The presentations were a way for us to share information regarding our organization and to answer questions from those in attendance.
The students of Mary Frances George Junior High then held a friendly competition within their classes to raise money and donations for Gifts of Appreciation and Respect for Veterans in the Soldier ON Service Dogs program. It was truly amazing what the students and teachers were able to accomplish for Soldier ON and our Veterans this Christmas.
But that's not all. Those same students were still busy at Caroling on the Creek selling raffle tickets, with the proceeds from the raffle going directly to Soldier ON Service Dogs.
Special Thanks to Cara Sedberry, Choir Director, as well as all the students and faculty at Mary Frances George Junior High for all their hard work helping to make the 2017 Christmas season a special time for our Veterans, for our community, and for Soldier ON Service Dogs.
More often than not, seeing a dream come to realization requires more than what one person is able to do on their own. It takes a group, it takes a village.
Soldier ON Service Dogs' Alive Day Tree is no exception. The vision was Angie Pratt's. Angie, founder and executive director of Soldier ON Service Dogs, saw the Alive Tree as a way to provide a physical reflection of the ideas behind Alive Day. Alive Day was created by combat veterans looking for a way to thank and acknowledge military personnel who returned from service alive.
Angie's idea was to create a replica of an oak tree out of rebar to be "planted" at Soldier ON's facility, a tree that would then be hung with engraved metal leaves with the names, branches of service, and years of service of military personnel with a connection to someone in our community. As resourceful of an individual as Angie is, though, this just wasn't something that she could do on her own, so we went looking for a little help.
Over a period of about three months, we went looking for the "village" that could help make Angie's dream a reality, a village that consisted of Home Depot, who supplied the rebar; Northwest Technical Institute student welders, who created the Alive Tree; Caldwell Stone, who transported it to our facility; the Bank of Fayetteville and Williams Tractor, who supplied the concrete foundation the Alive Tree is rooted in and helped us ‘plant' it at the Soldier ON facility; Forge Custom Metal Designs, who supply the leaves for the Alive Tree; and Ozark Laser Engraving, who engrave the leaves.
Thanks to the collaboration of all the member's of our village, we were able to celebrate a very special Alive Day this year. On December 30, 2017, Fayetteville's Mayor Jordan was at our facility, and issued a Proclamation officially marking that day as Alive Day.
Okay, now to answer the question of how you can be a part of this village: Help us fill the Alive Tree's branches, and honor a service member in the process. You can make a donation through our website to have a leaf placed on the tree in honor of someone you care about; someone you want to thank for being alive.
This year Richard Ellett, our very own first Veteran, had the chance to place another checkmark beside one of the items on his bucket list. For more than two years now one of his goals has been to meet Alice Walton, the daughter of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton and Helen Walton, so that he could introduce her to his service dog, Tiger.
Recently, Richard and Tiger were invited to the Bentonville Chamber of Commerce State of the Chamber Luncheon, where Alice Walton was to be presented with the Sam M. Walton Award, which was established by the Bentonville Chamber in 1979 and presented to Sam Walton in recognition of his significant contributions to the city.
After the ceremony concluded, Richard spoke with with Alice Walton. She welcomed him with open arms and showed genuine interest as he shared the story of how he and Tiger became a team through Soldier ON. Thank you, Richard, for taking that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to share our mission with such a great lady!
Without our Volunteers, Soldier ON simply could not have accomplished any of the things we did over the course of the last year. It's thanks to their amazing support that we're able to do what we do, which is why we never run out of reasons to thank our volunteers. One night a year though, we like to make sure volunteers know just how much we care by holding a dinner in their honor. This year's dinner was held on January 27th, and included a homemade spaghetti dinner, pies provided by Village Inn, a silent auction, table games, live comedy, and an awards ceremony.
This night was all about highlighting the amazing things that our volunteers do for us. Because of how much their work means to us, all of our Puppy Raisers were given a recognition award in thanks for their support: Sam Bruton, Rachel Buchanan, Jeff Davis, Lindsey & Calvin Gabbard, Jay Green, Alaina Hartman, John & Kate Kling, Dave & Michelle McMath, Michael & Becky Parmalee, Jack & Angela Pestello, Karen Piper, Larry & Jo Roberts, Viviana Sequeyro, Justin Vandevort, and Michelle Ward. In addition, fourteen of our volunteers (listed below) were chosen to receive specific awards in their honor.
2017 Volunteer Appreciation Awards:
Sooie is one of the service dogs in advanced training here at Soldier ON and was recently paired with her Veteran. Sooie came to us through the Springdale Animal Shelter in March of 2017. She's a one and a half year old mixed breed and she's smart as a whip. She receives anywhere from three to five hours of training a day, and she is one of the happiest dogs in the facility. Her tail is always wagging a mile-a-minute, and she's eager to please!
Sooie really hit the ground running here at Soldier ON. She has mastered a high level of obedience training as well as service tasks such as turning on the lights and retrieving items like cell phones or car keys from the ground, plus nightmare awake and anxiety alert. There is no doubt in our minds that Sooie and her Veteran will make a great team. We are so pleased that she came through our program with flying colors and has such a great future in front of her, with so much good that she can do!
On Saturday, March 10th, join us at the Arkansas Air & Military Museum for the 2nd annual Hero Tales Hangar Party. This year's theme is ‘Red, White, and Blue Jeans', so dust off your boots and break out the denim for a fun, western-themed evening featuring Barrett Baber, hosted by Jack and Angela Pestello.
Jack and Angela met while working at the Walmart Home Office in Bentonville, where Jack has been serving as Senior Vice President for Private Brands for the past five years. They have been puppy raisers and volunteers at Soldier ON for several years now, and feel like family to many of us here at SOSD. They've contributed in more ways than we can count already, but somehow keep finding new ways to make our mission possible.
And then there's Barret Baber, finalist on NBC's the Voice and our headlining act at this year's Hero Tales Hangar Party.An Arkansas native, Barrett's inspiration for singing and creating music started with frequent trips to Memphis TN, only a few miles from his hometown in Marion, Arkansas. On Beale Street and the corners of downtown Memphis, his exposure to artists steeped in Blues, R&B, Country and Rock would become the influence for his vocal style. From Sam Cooke to Levon Helm, you can hear the past in Barrett's tone, delivered with a fresh sound by one of the Southeast's hottest artists.
Baber's recently released full-length album "A Room Full Of Fighters" debuted in the top 10 on iTunes Top 100 Country Album Charts.
We're pulling out the stops this year to truly make the Hero Tales Hangar Party something special.
From the Pestellos– our illustrious hosting duo– to the chart topping Barrett Baber, everyone is giving it a hundred and ten percent. So please, come enjoy dinner and drinks, shop our silent and live auctions, tour the museum, and dance the night away with us at this year's Hero Tales Hangar Party.
Tickets are $75 per person, or $125 if you would like to also attend a pre-event VIP party with Barrett Baber. Sponsor tables for eight and ten are also available, but limited in number.
For tickets or donations, please visit www.soldieronservicedogs.org, or contact us at (479) 521-9301. All proceeds benefit Soldier ON Service Dogs.
Each October, during its Helping Heroes campaign, the Petco Foundation, in partnership with Natural Balance Pet Foods, invites customers to donate online and in Petco stores across the country to support the life-changing work of service, therapy, and working animals.
Last year, Soldier ON helped raise awareness of the campaign by setting up at the Fayetteville and Rogers Petco locations to visit with customers, meet Petco staff members, and support other participating nonprofits. This year, the Petco Foundation awarded Soldier ON Service Dogs a $7,500 grant!
As you may know, it takes roughly two years to properly train a service dog specializing in PTSD/TBI, and our trainers can spend approximately 1,800 hours training each service dog.
Once you combine the cost of the professional training hours with food and medical care, it can cost Soldier ON Service Dogs $40,000 to $50,000 to successfully train just one service dog.
The Petco Foundation's grant will go a long way to help provide routine healthcare for all of our service dogs in training, something we greatly appreciate.Thank you, Petco Foundation!
Join the conversation on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram by using the hashtag #HelpingHeroes. If you would like more information about the Petco Foundation, visit www.petcofoundation.org.
Volunteers make the work we do possible. Delivering trained service dogs to veterans, free of charge, is time consuming. The list of things that need to be done is varied and never ending. Every hour that a volunteer donates to Soldier ON is another hour that Soldier ON can spend focusing on the needs of the veterans in our program and their service dogs. It's really that simple. If you're one of the incredible folks volunteering your time and helping us help those who who have already served, we just want to say, "Thank you. You've made more of a difference than you know."
At the moment, we're gearing up for this year's Hero Tales Hangar Party, which is being held on March 10th at the Arkansas Air & Military Museum, and we could particularly use volunteers interested in setting up, tearing down, or staffing the event. Don't feel like that's the only way you can contribute, though. If you would like to volunteer, even if you're not sure exactly how, please consider filling out our online application today.
We'd like to give a "shout-out" to everyone who helped us out with their donations during our 2017 end of the year campaign. This year's campaign was our best so far, and because of the generosity of our community we're on track for our team graduation this June.
After roughly two years of training and education, team graduations are a very special event, not only for the Veteran and the service dog they have been paired with, but for all who attend. These events provide an opportunity to see the transformation in a Veteran when they take their service dog home for the first time. Moments like those wouldn't be possible without the support of our donors, support that we are profoundly grateful for.
If you're interested in helping us serve those who have already served, you can make a donation through our website, or by mailing your donation to our office at 2378 West Moore Lane, Fayetteville, AR 72704.
All donations are tax deductible.
Sponsors can make all the difference in the world for an organization like ours, and we cannot thank them often enough... but we'd certainly like to try!
If you're looking for a way to promote your business or organization, consider a Soldier ON Service Dogs sponsorship. It is a wonderful way to get your name out there and show your support for a great cause at the same time.
There are still general sponsorships available that can give you exposure throughout 2018, or we can custom tailor a sponsorship package to meet your specific needs. Depending on the sponsorship level, we could have your banner displayed at some or all of our events, your logo placed on event programs or our general marketing material, or we could help get your organization's message out year round through shout-outs on our social media presence.
When it comes to sponsorships, it's all about you. Just reach out to us, start a conversation, and let's find a way to make some amazing things happen together.
The Hero Tales Hangar Party might be the focus of our attention right now, but our work doesn't stop on March 10th. Once we've put the Hangar Party in the rear view mirrior, it just means it's time to start gearing up for the Dickson Street Slide, which we're putting on for the fourth year in a row!
On August 26th, 2018, we're once again turning over a thousand feet of Dickson Street into one giant slip and slide that runs from Collier's Drug Store to the Walton Arts Center.
We're going to have celebrity sliders, competitive events, a community vendor village, a kid's zone, and more, so mark your calendars now!
Between now and then, we'll be reaching out to our NWA community with table events, presentations, facility tours, and volunteer opportunities.
Keep an eye on our website for information on upcoming events, or contact us directly if you're interested in touring our facility or scheduling an off-site presentation.