Please take a moment to read a great article that was recently published.
By Jennifer Feals
April 26, 2012 2:00 AMKENNEBUNK — The partnership of two local organizations is giving rescue and shelter dogs all they need: a forever home and a mission.
In 2004, Brooke Corson was serving in Fort Benning, Ga. as a supply sergeant for the U.S. Air Force when she got Angus, a Cairn Terrior puppy who travelled everywhere with her. Angus won the hearts of soldiers serving with Corson, sitting in their laps when they had a bad day or simply needed a symbol of affection.
When she returned home Corson, who now lives in North Berwick, lost Angus tragically, but remembered the impact he had on her fellow members of the military.
"When I got home, I just kept thinking and you read in the newspaper about veterans who come home and commit suicide. I thought there's got to be a connection," she said. "These dogs can save these guys' lives. For every one you place you're saving a life. Actually, you're saving two."
In 2008, Corson founded Mutts with a Mission, training rescue and shelter dogs to become "battle buddys" for veterans and service men and women. The emotional and physical support service dogs can offer veterans with physical and psychological disabilities can help them regain their freedom and independence.
"When you are in the military and you go through basic training, it's you and another person. You have to have your battle buddy," Corson said of the role these dogs will fill for veterans, many who return home with lingering effects, some as severe as post traumatic stress disorder.
Now, Corson is partnering with the Kennebunks-based Lucky Pup Rescue, which finds forever homes for shelter dogs, many from the south. The two are banding together to find the right rescue for the right veteran. One Lucky Pup Rescue dog has already been placed with its veteran and more are soon to be on their way..
Overall, Corson said two dogs trained for therapy assistance have been placed with their "battle buddy" as has another full-fledged service dog. Currently, there are three dogs in training, she said, and the organization is reviewing 14 applications.
Even if a dog does not end up being a good fit as a "battle buddy," Corson and Sue Richardson of Lucky Pup Rescue said they are able to work together towards the common goal of finding the right home for the animal.
The veterans need assistance with boundaries, everyday tasks, keeping calm in certain situations and more. The dog can help with all of that, Corson says.
"Whatever you want them to do," Corson said explaining that the animals can turn on lights, pull wheelchairs, clear a house, assist with night terrors, and more.
All the dogs are trained to position themselves on their buddy's lap upon command, can create personal space for their veteran when needed, and even show that they have to go outside if their buddy wants to exit an uncomfortable situation without drawing attention to their unease.
Corson says not every dog can be a service dog. For every 25 dogs she looks at, she may take one for the program. She looks for a dog that is able to put up with noise, able to be around other dogs, is good with people and kids, and who is able to deal with and recover from stressful situations.
The dogs undergo training that provides mental and physical stimulation. Dog raisers, like Moriah Delisle of Sanford, volunteer to start the dogs' training while Corson will often finish with the animal in the final few months before they go to their "battle buddy." Corson said she meets with the dog raisers once a week for a training class and guides them through the training process.
"Any time these dogs can get in a different home, it enables us to help another veteran," Corson said. "If I could get five or 10 dog raisers a year, that's 10 veterans who won't go home and commit suicide."
Delisle started fostering with Lucky Pup Rescue when she learned of Mutts With A Mission. For eight months she served as a dog raiser to Liza, who has since been placed with her "battle buddy." Delisle said she grew up with dogs and has found fostering and working with Mutts With A Mission to be a rewarding experience.
"It's the same as if you were to watch a dog for a friend. You know all along it's not your dog and you have to give it back. With Liza she's done some pretty fantastic things with who she's been set up with," Delisle said. "With Lucky Pup Rescue it's the same thing. I have a foster and they get set up with a forever family. A couple days ago I heard from one of the dogs we set up with a family who eventually adopted him. This dog came from poor circumstances. He's with a family now and I've never seen a dog with so many toys. He's happy."
In Maine, service dogs in training are given all the rights of a service dog, Corson said, so they are able to travel with their trainer, going through the grocery store, the post office, and anywhere else needed. Liza and Delisle travelled everywhere together, even work, said Delisle who works in the mental health field.
"We want these dogs to be as prepared as they can be when they go out," Corson said.
The cost of preparing a service dog is estimated at $15,000 per dog, Corson said.
While some may raise concerns about using dogs in this capacity, Corson and Richardson said it's a perfect fit.
"When we talk to people about service dogs they have this perception that the dog is going to always be by a person's side and is working all the time and never gets to play or be a dog. It's so far from the truth," Corson said. "It's like a dog's dream. When service dogs go home, especially psychiatric service dogs, they sleep in the bed. They get exercise, but they get the mental stimulation that they need."
Richardson said the largest reason dogs are returned to Lucky Pup Rescue is that their potential owner is unable to provide that stimulation.
"When we say a dog needs a job, it's not just a walk down the street," Richardson said. "It's dogs that are candidates for service dogs that are so special. It's a great life for a dog."
For some veterans there is still a stigma surrounding service dogs, Corson said, but it's an assistance more are opening up to.
"The military makes it hard. If someone were to try to go through the military to get a dog, it's at least a six month process to get permission. But if they are out, they are seeing the dogs more and more. The stigma is still there, but they are finally starting to see that they need the help," she said. "The soldiers themselves are starting to realize it."
For more information on Mutts With A Mission, to donate, or to serve as a dog raiser, visit www.muttswithamission.com or e-mail