Man’s Best Friend
Tragically, about one veteran takes their life every hour in the United States. When they return home, our service members often face the challenges of conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), and military sexual trauma (MST) — all of which can be unbearable to cope with.
Sleeplessness, debilitation, and depression are just some of the terrible things in store for these people, who are expected to adjust back to normal life almost overnight. For many of these men and women, the companionship and support of a service dog are all it takes to help them make it another day. This sad reality inspired the founding of Operation Delta Dog— a charity that trains homeless dogs and pairs them with recovering veterans.
Here’s the motivational story behind Operation Delta Dog and a look at how they’re making an impact on veterans and homeless dogs in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
Tackling Two Issues at Once
In Massachusetts and New Hampshire, more than 80,000 dogs end up in homeless shelters every year. Over half of those dogs will not find a home in time, and limited resources will force shelters to euthanize them. Meanwhile, an estimated 500,000 veterans live in these two states — and about 100,000 of them are facing mental health challenges.
These startling statistics led to the founding of Operation Delta Dog in 2013 with the mission to place homeless dogs into forever homes while improving the quality of life for recovering veterans. Dog trainer Kerry Hildebrand, kennel manager Rachael Grosman, and assistant Cassidy Nemec are the kind hearts working on the frontlines to make Operation Delta Dog a reality.
The ODDs team seeks out homeless dogs in their region and puts them through some basic testing to make sure that they’re mild-tempered, trainable, and right for the job. The dogs that are selected are the lucky ones, because they go right into a training program, complete with endless treats and snuggles to prepare them for their future homes.
On the other end, Nona Alexander is the caseworker who finds veterans in need of assistance. Veterans might submit an application themselves, but more often, it’s their friends or family members who elect them for the program. Ultimately, Nona is the one who has to make the tough decision to choose which veterans receive a Delta Dog, because the organization’s limited resources only allow them to train so many at a time.
When a veteran is matched with a Delta Dog, the impact that this relationship has on their quality of life is unimaginable, and many veterans have come forward to share their inspiring stories.
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The Impact of Operation Delta Dog
Heather is one veteran lucky enough to receive a Delta Dog. She spent over four years in the Marine Corps, transitioning back to civilian life in 2006. Upon returning home, she was faced with many challenges. It wasn’t until the end of 2020 that she was brave enough to ask Operation Delta Dog for help.
Since being paired with Juno, Heather has made great strides in managing her anxiety, and sleepless nights are becoming few and far between. When she does lay awake, Juno’s cute little snore offers soothing comfort that helps restore peace.
Michael is another proud Delta Dog owner. He served in the National Guard as part of Operation Enduring Freedom in 2012. After being retired from military service shortly after, his friends eventually encouraged him to reach out to Operation Delta Dog in 2020. Up until then, Michael had found it difficult to find the support he needed.
Operation Delta Dog was proud to pair Michael with Jose. Now, Michael is setting up his own veteran support nonprofit in Massachusetts. He says Jose has helped him sleep more soundly at night and take on the world every day.
These are just two stories out of hundreds, and Operation Delta Dog is continuing its mission to place many more dogs with recovering veterans. Through their work, this organization’s members have literally saved lives — and they help inspire many to pay it forward through volunteer work at animal shelters and other places in their community. It’s the circle of positivity that everyone should be a part of.
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What Operation Delta Dog Can Teach Us
It’s true that many problems in our world today can seem all too large to tackle. Whether it’s homelessness, stray animals, environmental issues, or anything in between, it takes a special kind of person to face these overwhelming problems and say, “I can make a difference.” That’s the exact spirit that churches try so hard to inspire in their congregations.
Operation Delta Dog teaches us that by facing up to the biggest issues, we can work together to change the odds. We can find the silver lining in the most difficult of situations, and we can come out victorious for having lent a hand and helped our fellow neighbors. As a pastor, you’re in a place to inspire great action and change — so how do you do it?