Golfers will get a chance to give back to veterans while they play a round on Saturday.
The Partners for Patriots golf tournament at Silverthorn Country Club will raise funds to provide service dogs to veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Partners for Patriots is a new program founded in October 2013 by Mary Peter of Stillwater Dog Training in Brooksville.
Peter is a certified master dog trainer and has been training dogs professionally for the past 27 years. She has a heart for helping others in need. Her certification includes disability assistance dog training.
“I am just one person with a wonderful volunteer staff who has a heart for veterans suffering with PTSD,” Peter said. “It’s an unseen disability and these veterans are challenged constantly even when they have a service dog because they don’t “look” disabled. The need, however, is just as great as those with physical disabilities, just different.”
Peter started Partners for Patriots so that she could have a program to take to the community and ask for help so that many more veterans could be helped.
“I can’t do this alone,” said Peter. “The need for service dogs for veterans has become greater over the years and there are so many that need help now.”
Partners for Patriots does not charge a veteran anything for a service dog or its training or for the equipment needed for the service dog, including a service vest. A veteran must have an honorable discharge and proof of service related PTSD.
Peter explained that she loves to watch a veteran who has been unable to go out into society, or sometimes even leave their home, turn completely around in a very short period of time with a service dog.
“I’ve watched them go from sullen, angry and scared to proud and able to start pulling their life back to some normalcy,” said Peter. “Veterans tell me it’s giving veterans a second chance at life. That is now our motto. It’s my greatest blessing.”
The Partners for Patriots program is unique in that they work with veterans with dogs in small groups of 10 that may include other veterans and other clients coming to train their personal dogs.
“The veterans learn to participate in their dog’s training, giving both of them jobs to do, and they generally do them very well,” Peter said. “It helps the veteran to focus on the dog instead of their anxieties.”
A PTSD service dog is taught to draw close to its handler when anxiety attacks start and to redirect a handler’s focus when anger starts to rise.
“Each dog will respond differently and will learn when their handler needs help almost instinctively,” Peter said.
The length of training depends on how the veteran is handling the classes and how well he works with the dog. Training can take anywhere from two to eight months. The dogs live with the veterans through the whole training process.
Registration for the tournament begins at 8 a.m. with the play starting at 8:30 a.m. at the country club, 4550 Golf Club Lane in Brooksville.
Entry fees are $65 per player or $260 for a team of four.
The MacDill Air Force Base color guard will present the colors, along with the national anthem to honor veterans and kick off the tournament. A buffet luncheon and prizes will follow the tournament. For more information, call Mary Peter at (352) 232-7912 or visit www.stillwaterdogtraining.com.
Hernando Today correspondent Heather Francis can be reached at email@example.com.