COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - A new program through a Columbia non-profit aims to unite local service members and veterans with man's best friend.
The program is called V.I.P. or Veteran's Important PAALS, and it's the latest initiative from PAALS (Palmetto Animal Assisted Life Services).
PAALS already has a program that provides service dogs, free of charge, to soldiers or veterans with mental or physical combat-related injuries. However, PAALS founder Jennifer Rogers says there are many veterans who may not qualify for a full-fledged service dog, and that's where V.I.P. comes in.
"I met one young man (veteran) in particular who wasn't necessarily qualifying for a service dog, but during the interview I noticed that the dog that was with me was comforting him a great deal and breaking through to him in ways that we couldn't," said Rogers.
Rogers said she immediately thought of some of the dogs who train to be a service dog, but don't necessarily meet all of the criteria. She said while they work to put those dogs in a good home, she felt it was a no-brainer when it came to meeting the latest need. She adds while most service dogs have to be trained as puppies, it also helps the organization utilize young rescues in a new way.
"There are so many great dogs ending up in shelters right now that have so much more potential than being put to sleep," said Rogers. "So I wanted to combine both of those passions to serve our community better and what better way than giving dogs a second chance while helping some people who have already served us."
Rogers says often a dog can connect with a person in a way other people cannot. She adds a trained dog helps a veteran who may have a combat-related stress disorder avoid the stresses of trying to train a rescue themselves.
"The bonus is we've worked with these dogs, in some cases for a year and a half, and we know them very well," said Rogers. "We know exactly what you're going to get, and we can match them to your lifestyle and your needs."
Trainers at PAALS work with these V.I.P. dogs and some of them are trained through the Prison PAALS program. PAALS currently has two dogs that are ready to be matched with a local service member of veteran.
For more information on how to apply for a V.I.P. dog visit - http://paals.org/vip.