‘Patriots for Puppies’: Pooches give vets unconditional love


Dogs For Life supporters had a barking good time during the second annual Patriots for Puppies fundraiser at the Pointe West Country Club to finance programs for disabled individuals and veterans.

Before kicking off the celebration, Shelly Ferger, DFL CEO and director of training, announced that they had raised $95,000 of their $100,000 goal through sponsorships and ticket sales.

That funding, she said, will enable them to continue to improve the quality of life for veterans and other individuals and help them achieve self-reliance and independence by training hearing and service dogs.

Of course, the real stars of the evening were several of the service dogs that accompanied their human partners, providing the physical and emotional support needed along with unconditional love.

When Ferger founded DFL in 2001, the work primarily focused on training hearing dogs. But in 2015 they were inundated with requests from veterans returning from the Gulf War.

“The older veterans were told to suck it up and not to admit they had PTSD,” said Ferger.

However, after seeing so many of their comrades commit suicide, the Next Generation veterans realized that to save themselves, they needed to talk about what they had been through.

“They found that the dogs were the thing they needed. It’s the unconditional love a dog gives.

These veterans don’t love themselves after having fought a war. They can talk to their dog and tell it everything they’ve done, and the dog still loves them,” said Ferger.

She said that dogs help veterans integrate back into their families and society, explaining that regardless of a person’s appearance, most people will look past the individual if they have a dog.

“They might be in a wheelchair, or they might be walking on a cane. They might barely be making it through the grocery store, but people will look past that when they have a dog,” said Ferger.

“It’s amazing how a dog can not only change your life but save your life and give you back the security and independence that you’ve lost for so long.”

It takes eight months to a year to train adult dogs and two years to train the puppies. DFL currently has three puppies in training and will celebrate the graduation of eight dogs on April 22.

Attendees enjoyed a delicious dinner, live music, and a silent auction at the military-themed golden oldies dance and show that featured Jerry and the Dolls, who took folks down memory lane’ with the music of the ’50s and ’60s.

DFL programs include Service Dog Training, Veteran Service Dog Training, Veterans Training Veterans PAWS program, Veteran PTSD and Support Groups, Puppy Raising, Female Veterans and First Responders Support Group, Pet-Assisted Therapy program with the Vero Beach Police Department, the School Resource Dog program with the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office, the Foster Dog Program, and its Off-Leash Dog Park.

For more information, visit DogsForLifeVB.org.

Photos by Joshua Kodis

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