Angel Canines Partners with Top Dogs
by Stephanie Singer, Intern, Virginia Wesleyan College
Hampton Roads Hounds for Heroes is a new nonprofit in Portsmouth, Virginia that provides service dogs to individuals who suffer from military-related post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Their founder and executive director is Linda McAbee. The organization is a new partner of Angel Canines for Wounded Warriors, a charitable program of Mercy Medical Angels in Virginia Beach that will provide transportation for veterans to acquire the canine companions.
Filling a Void
Ten years ago, Linda's son worked with the Pentagon as a neurobiologist. His specialty was combat-related PTSD. Specifically, he wanted to remedy the high number of veteransuicides that were related to it. He even wrote a suicide prevention book.
the time, Linda was a veterinarian with 30 years of practice. Her son had recently found out that service dogs could help veterans with PTSD.
"He kept saying, you should do this," Linda said. But she was well into her career and had no intentions of quitting.
e moved to Virginia in 2014 and began working at a small pharmacy, but that job was unfulfilling. She then realized a need: there were no organizations that provided service dogs for vets. Her son's insistence came to the front of her mind.
Linda made a business plan in her head. She filed for a domain name on the internet, hamptonroadshoundsforheroes.org.
"I quit my job the next day," she said.
Once the necessary paperwork was filed and processed, Hampton Roads Hounds for Heroes became a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit.
"They said it would take four to six months," Linda noted. "I was surprised how quickly they finished."
After that, she found an old post office in Portsmouth. The building had been completely empty for four years. It was a perfect training facility.
The Path to Service
She explained the process that is followed when acquiring canines for service. First, the dogs are selected from shelters. "Some of them are too smart for the average household," Linda said. People often misinterpret a highly intelligent or strong-willed dog for an ill-behaved dog. These dogs end up not getting adopted.
Besides intelligence, the dogs must behave properly around very young children and cats. Few of the shelter dogs meet all these criteria. Once selected, the dogs go to the training facility in Portsmouth. They start with basics, such as walking on a leash.
Trainers use only positive reinforcement. If a dog does something "wrong," the trainer doesn't resort to some kind of punishment. Rather, the dog figures out that there is a natural consequence to every action. They're smart enough for that.
When the dogs are fully trained in private and in public, they are matched with veterans who have PTSD. The dogs know when a veteran is having a nightmare or flashback, and can help prevent the reactions.
On the Same Team
Robb Alpaugh, the CEO and president of Mercy Medical Angels, wanted to help Hampton Roads Hounds for Heroes. "We're very pleased to be partnering with Hounds for Heroes. Our role is to help veterans suffering from PTSD to acquire and train with a service dog in Portsmouth by providing transportation that might not be available otherwise," he said.
There's a huge waiting list for veterans to receive a service dog. Linda hopes to rescue, train, and send out 24 dogs per year. So far, Hounds for Heroes has the capacity for eight dogs annually. She intends to find more room as the organization grows. "Our goal is to have a separate kennel in a rural area."
If that happens, the current training facility could be used for administration and as the meeting place for the veterans and service dogs.
Doubling the Good Work
Hampton Roads Hounds for Heroes is actually serving two causes in one. The first is obvious: helping veterans with PTSD. The second is animal welfare; many animals that go to shelters do not make it out alive.
"It's a double rescue," Linda said.
A successful partnership, a strong sense of mission, and strong compassion come together in this organization. Hampton Roads Hounds for Heroes are truly the top dogs!