On the first day of winter break, West Middle School students, staff and community members changed the life of an American hero.
Acting as a representative of the 1,260 students at West Middle School, eighth-grader Mary Kate Bergles presented an eight-week-old puppy to Jessica, a veteran who served eight years in the U.S. Army. Jessica has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the puppy will become her constant companion and service dog. The puppy will help her deal with the effects of PTSD, which can include nightmares, isolation, anger, depression and hyper-vigilance. The puppy was initially called “Puppy Blue,” so that Jessica could choose her own name after getting to know the animal.
“I’m very grateful and thankful to all the West students and teachers and staff members,” said Jessica, as the puppy nipped at her scarf and long hair. “I’m excited for everything, excited to have a companion, someone who can feel my emotions and be there for me, provide that support.”
Jessica’s puppy was provided through Veteran’s Puppy for Life Organization, a nonprofit group that provides service dogs to veterans with PTSD. Veteran Frank Griggs, who founded the organization, dealt with PTSD for 43 years before getting help.
“I don’t want any veterans to go through what I went through, what I put my family through, so that’s why we started this organization,” Griggs said.
Veteran’s Puppy for Life Organization provides the dog, specially bred by Sweetheart Goldens to have the right temperament to be a service dog. Puppy for Life also provides two years of health insurance for the animal and all of the required training, which includes puppy socialization, American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen certification and PTSD training. That gives the dogs the skills it needs to help its master deal with PTSD symptoms and live a more normal life. Together, the puppy, health insurance and training cost about $3,500, which is where West Middle School comes in.
As part of their annual Veterans Day tribute to America’s veterans and active duty military members, the students held a fundraising campaign.
“We thought it would be a pretty cool idea to have dog tags and sell them for $3 to raise money for this puppy and make a veteran happy,” Bergles said.
The students raised nearly $3,900 which more than covered the cost of Jessica’s puppy, which she named Bentley. West became the first organization to wholly sponsor a puppy from Veteran’s Puppy for Life, which has provided 14 service dogs to date, with two more to be delivered to deserving veterans early this year.
“It’s tremendous what the school and students and staff have done,” Griggs said. “Close to $3,900 in donations... That is just phenomenal.”
For more information about Veteran’s Puppy for Life Organization, visit www.vetpuppyforlife.org.