DES MOINES, Iowa - A new puppy might just be the perfect Christmas gift for many, but it's an even greater gift for those who have served our country, one local group says.
"What Puppy Jake Foundation does, is it raises service dogs for military veterans with post-traumatic stress syndrome," said Dr. Nancy Peterson, a veterinary adviser for the foundation.
It might sound a bit far-fetched, but Dr. Peterson points to numerous studies proving man's best friend can do wonders for someone suffering from post-traumatic stress.
"They are trying to be a safety net, essentially, between the veterans and the environment - the stimuli that can trigger their syndrome," she said. "Whether it be other people, noises in the environment, we do find that the veterans do a lot better when they have that kind of barrier there."
The Puppy Jake Foundation's problem, however, is that demand is much higher than supply. Since it takes anywhere from 18-24 months to fully train a puppy before it can act adequately as a service dog for a veteran, and considering the foundation has only been around for about three years, the group only has 15 dogs actively in the program. To get more dogs - and thus, help more vets - they need more puppy raisers to volunteer.
"Puppy-raisers are an individual or family that commits to raising and training a dog for the 18-24 months from beginning to end," said Renee Jetter, the head trainer for the foundation. "It's a pretty extensive process, it's a lot to commit to. But it's extremely rewarding."
Jetter calls the process "extensive" for a reason; weekly training sessions are required by both dog and "raiser," and training field trips are thrown in the mix, too. But the reward of giving such a life-changing gift to someone who served the United States, she says, is worth the investment you'll put in this furry friend.
"It's amazing what strength a dog gives that veteran, that allows them to then get part of their life back that they've lost," she said. "It's a huge gift - a huge gift."
To find out how you can get involved, visit the Puppy Jake Foundation's website.