Heartbeats and Paw Prints

Karen Coney Coplinby Karen Coney Coplin

Springtime is just around the corner; time for a Bark-A-Que. A barbecue, you ask? No, you got it right the first time! That’s right, BARK-A-Que, which is an upcoming benefit to raise awareness (and funds) for an organization many Neapolitans hold near and dear to their heart: Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs, Inc.

This is a non-profit, 501(c)(3) public charity which donates medical service dogs who have been raised or rescued and trained to attend to the needs of mentally and physically disabled persons. These dogs are federally protected, and once placed with an individual upon their “graduation,” they assist the recipient with many vital though sometimes mundane daily tasks.

Training these highly intelligent, focused animals is not an inexpensive matter: such costs easily run $20,000 – $25,000 per service dog. There is no charge to the veteran who receives the dog – the dog is a gift from this group.

Bark-A-QueAn important reason that the Guardian Angels matter in particular, for Naples residents, is the fact that our state ranks third in the nation, having more injured veterans than every other state, save California and Texas. The challenges these veterans face often go beyond physical limitations, as PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) is a common and difficult challenge confronting many veterans. The presence of a service dog has helped many veterans conquer the overwhelming anxiety and stress they may feel on an “ordinary” day, even for something like routine errands.

Studies have proven that service dogs can play a vital role in mitigating disabilities. Of immeasurable or intangible value, however, is a service dog’s effect in curtailing attempted suicides.

Veterans are at a far greater risk of the tragedy of suicide than the general civilian population. Many have brain injuries, losses of limbs, seizure disorders, and other traumas. A publication by the Guardian S Angel Medical Service Dogs, Inc. publication states an estimated 22 veterans commit suicide, daily, across our great nation.

The presence of a service dog has an immediate, and “incredible, life-changing, lifesaving impact,” in the lives of veterans, and other recipients, as well as a positive boost for their loved ones. Can dogs be the answer where drugs and therapy don’t always work? The organization says a resounding yes, with the real-life case studies – and stories – to prove it.

How can you help? Well…back to the Bark-A-Que. Save the date – it’s March 21, 2015, and runs from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Why do the Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs, Inc., hold this event? Saving lives, of course, is their first priority. This organization has attained and maintained a 100 percent success rate with no suicide attempts after pairing service dogs with veterans. While kids under 12 can attend the Bark-A-Que at no charge, adult tickets are $35 ($50 after March 12, or, at the gate). Joe Bachman, the country music singer, will perform, and there will be a Kids’ Playland, silent auction, BBQ, shooting demonstrations, and more – in the heart of the Everglades yet so close to Naples. The event is at 20201 SR 29 S., Copeland, FL, about 20 – 30 minutes from downtown Naples.

For ticket or sponsorship information, call 239.877.3012, or email: mj@medicalservicedogs.com. The organization and event have a Facebook page, Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs, Inc. Bark-A-Que; please “like” this page for more information. It can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/barkaque4GAMSD.

There are other ways readers of Life in Naples can help, in addition to attending the Bark-A-Que. Contact Carol@MedicalServiceDogs.com to find out how you can host your own fundraiser. You can, like Lundy Hedges, who, with Sharon Treiser, brought this organization to my attention, fosters a service dog in training. There are other volunteer opportunities, and, donations are appreciated in any amount. It’s $600 a year to provide basic veterinary care for a medical service dog. Or, $85 supplies a dog’s food for one month. Heartwarming sponsorships of a veteran/service dog team range from $10,000 to $20,000.

We live in a free country because of the sacrifice of others who were called to duty. Let us keep our veterans’ resilience, recovery, and futures intact by supporting those who serve their greatest needs – the Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs, Inc.

Email Karen at NaplesKCC@gmail.com if you want to suggest an organization for future coverage in this column.

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