CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - If you're an animal lover, you know that feeling you get when your dog or cat snuggles next to you… how calming just their presence can be. Imagine if you've returned from war and simple, everyday sounds startle you and you feel sad and alone. That is where the help of a service dog comes in.
When I heard about a local program designed to give our veterans service dogs, called "Operation SideKick," I knew there were MANY heroes in this story.
Jennifer Ondrako is the first Mo's Hero I met when looking into this new program.
"With the number of Veterans with PTSD on the rise and in need of service dogs, our organization had the idea to help. We are training our beloved and intelligent pit bulls to be service dogs and then pairing them with Veterans who suffer from PTSD as their own personal 'Sidekick,'" Jen told me.
Jen is a volunteer at the American Pit Bull Foundation. It's a non-profit that works to educate people about the breed with programs like 'Positive Pit Care Program' in schools. Jen told me the American Pit Bull Foundation began in 2010 by Sara Enos. Eros wanted to help educate the public about The American Pit Bull Terrier.
"We provide services to responsible owners needing assistance and we continually work to bring the pit bull into a positive light for the public to see," Jen says of APBF.
And now a new chapter begins. But with this program for veterans, Jen says they're taking on their biggest fundraising effort yet, "The Rescue Me 5K." The money raised will help support the new training program.
Jen knows the service dogs could mean the difference between life and death for veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD.
There have been conflicting numbers on how many veterans take their own lives every day. But even one veteran death to suicide is too much.
When I asked Jen about the feeling it gives her to be on the ground floor of this new mission, it was clear she has a heart for her pit bulls and the heroes who've served our country.
"The reward will to be seeing how veterans with PTSD are able to function in society when they are paired with the correct service dog and they are no longer debilitated by this disease," Jen said.
The Rescue Me 5K is October 17th at 9am at McAlpine Creek Park.
Thanks Jen and the other volunteers at APBF for your commitment to education about the breed. But more importantly, thanks for helping address a serious social issue we face as a country.
Our veterans served our nation and served for all of us. It is our job to make sure they're taken care of in their time of need. As a dog lover, I know the joy my rescues give me. I hope your mission is a great success!