Labs For Liberty—Serving Those Who Served Our Country

Since November, I’ve had a Labs For Liberty (L4L) service-dog-in-training by my side. The organization provides fully trained service dogs to PTSD-affected military veterans completely free of charge. The pups, most of them Labradors, are placed with fosters at about 8 weeks of age, and generally stay a little past that half-year mark. We teach basic commands (sit, stay, come, down position, etc.). As they progress, more skills and tasks are added. But probably our most important role is socialization and public access. Hence, where we go…the dog goes. Grocery store. Sporting events. Church. Family visits. And in my case, ag co-ops. Anywhere, and everywhere.

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Have dog, will travel. In service-dog-training speak, it’s called public access and socialization. I have been blessed with how receptive our ag cooperative clients have been to these young dogs coming on-site.

Early last week, my number two pup—Gunner, the dog in these pictures—left for his next level of advanced, customized training. He will eventually be paired with his Marine veteran from Texas, who is literally counting down the days until he is united with this life-changing, endearing red Lab. I couldn’t be more gratified by this match, and our small role in making it all happen. I say ‘our’ because it’s a true team effort, among family, friends, and all the many folks who have embraced and welcomed these L4L service-dogs-in-training. Another dog has already arrived, making it a pretty meaningful way to celebrate the week of Independence Day. Because that’s what these dogs do—provide independence and healing for some of our nation’s finest.

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NCFE Director of Communications Subrena Green with Gunner.“When Katie first told us she would be bringing a pup to interviews, our response was, ‘We can’t wait to meet him.’ He ended up stealing everyone’s heart. With so many veterans here at the co-op and across our rural communities, we are absolutely on board with the L4L mission.”

FAQs:

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Backpack journalism at its best. “Have laptop/camera/video capabilities—will tell your story” is the VC journalist’s way. My backpack, however, includes a few extra items these days: bowls, water, kibbles, and, oh yes, green bags, which we fosters wryly refer to as “tickets.”

May I pet your dog?

Generally, “yes,” since mine are “in-training.” However, this transitions when they become full-fledged service dogs. When you see one wearing its working dog service harness, please don’t pet. Ever. A friendly “your dog is amazing and beautiful” greeting is much more appropriate.    

Isn’t it hard to give up your foster puppy?

Yes, it’s a little tough, but we are such believers in the L4L mission. These dogs save lives and enhance life for veterans and their families—it’s that simple. Besides…there’s generally always another puppy available through the L4L pipeline!

What are some Labs For Liberty numbers?

In 2015, 16 dogs were placed with veterans. As of June, 11 dogs have already been placed. Another 20-plus puppies are in various stages of training across the country. L4L is a 100% volunteer nonprofit organization. Here’s one more number and it’s tragic: 22.  22 veterans take their lives daily. One dog with one veteran can help positively impact that heinous statistic.

How can we help?

If you’d like information on being a foster or would like to donate, go to the L4L website at labsforliberty.org. They also have captivating Facebook and Instagram accounts.