PAWS AND STRIPES

with LINDSEY KAY

This week’s guest, Lindsey Kaye is the Founder and CEO of Paws and Stripes, a not for profit organization dedicated to providing veterans with service dogs.  Paws and Stripes focuses on vets that have PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and/or TBI (traumatic brain injury).  What makes Paws and Stripes unique is two-fold; there is no cost to the veteran for the service dog, and all of the service dogs are rescued from shelters.  Two lives are saved simultaneously; the veteran and the dog.  I love their motto: Helping Dogs, Helping Heroes.

We learned that the cost of a service dog, including training the dog and the handler, can be upwards of $30,000 per team.  When Lindsey had a family member that needed these services, she was motivated in 2010 to create Paws and Stripes.  To date, they have graduated 96 dog/handler teams and have placed more than 150 rescue dogs in forever homes. Paws and Stripes uses a holistic approach to the training of their teams employing a twelve-month training program whereby the veteran co-trains their dog and receives a variety of other mental health services.

Traditionally, purpose bred service dogs have a drop out rate of approximately 43%.  Paws and Stripes reports 33% of their dogs don’t complete their training.  Usually this is more people related than dog related.  Sometimes the veteran is unable to complete the program for personal reasons just as a decline in their health or relocation.

When seeking shelter dogs for the Paws and Stripes program, there are no specific breed restrictions.  Typically, the dog will be a healthy 50 pounds or more.  Some may need to be taller if their handler has mobility challenges and the dog will need to help support their weight when transferring or in the event of a fall.  Dogs are usually 2-4 years of age.  Dogs are chosen to meet the specific needs of the individual veteran after a robust interview process.  Dogs also undergo temperament testing.

In the training process, each dog will learn between 30 and 50 different service dog skills depending on the needs of their handler.  Training can be adjusted as the team progresses through the program.  Typical skills will include positioning skills to permit the creation of a “buffering” space for the veteran, stays, targeting for operating lights, doors and retrieving.  Dogs can also be taught recovery skills in the event their handler falls or needs help getting up and down or navigating stairs. Some dogs are taught behavior interruption skills in the event their handler engages in self-harming behavior or has intense anxiety.  One dog was taught to wake his owner whenever he would sleepwalk.

Lindsey says the success stories over their last 10 years are numerous.   One of her favorites is a veteran with PTSD who was able to walk his daughter down the aisle at her wedding, with his service dog by his side.  This was something he never thought we would be able to do.  Another veteran was able to enter and complete law school and is now practicing where she can pay it forward to other veterans.  Many have gone on to do volunteer and social work.

In August 2017, Paws and Stripes moved into their current facility in Albuquerque, NM, where they are now headquartered.  They have an onsite training facility and corporate offices all in one location.  The team members at Paws and Stripes have the added bonus of a “pets in the office” policy so they can bring their own dogs to work.

In order to raise money, Paws and Stripes hosts two major fundraising events.  One is their Celebration of Heroes gala, held each year in April.  The celebration for 2020 will be in honor of their ten-year anniversary and will take place on April 25, 2020.  They also host an annual “Show Your Paws with Ink” event that features tattoo artists, food trucks, games and other entertainment.

If you are a veteran in need of a service dog, visit Paws and Stripes.  If you don’t live in New Mexico, their website can offer a variety of other resources to help you find that perfect dog.  You can donate or volunteer to help out Paws and Stripes.  Learn more at PawsAndStripes.org. 

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