Every October, Ogden Elementary School hosts a Make A Difference Day, and for this year they partnered with Paws of War, an organization that trains rescue dogs to be service animals for veterans.
The school that houses second-to fifth-graders auctioned off 10 decorated statues of bulldogs, the school district’s mascot, along with several paintings by students to help raise money for the organization. Students also had the chance to contribute to a grade-wide mural or do some arts and crafts. However, the service dogs stole the show as students crowded around to pet them.
Each year the school chooses a different organization, this year Thomas Finn, an art teacher, suggested Paws of War. Finn found the organization after his dog became friendly with one of the service dogs at a park. The veteran, John, had befriended a dog while on duty before getting injured and sent back home. “Paws of War went back to Afghanistan, into the war zone and found the dog and brought him back,” Finn said. “I mean, a dog gets lost in a neighborhood and it’s hard to find, but in a war zone can you imagine?”
Cassandra Espadas, a Paws of War employee, said they do everything they can to make sure every veteran gets the right dog. That could be flying across the world to find it, providing training for a dog they already have or working with shelters to find the perfect pup. “It give the dogs a new purpose, beyond just being a companion animal,” she said, “and it gives the vet the support that they need, whatever that may be. We work with vets that have PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), traumatic brain injury and some have physical problems as well.”
Lionel Bauman, a Vietnam veteran, was there with his service dog, Mr. Wrinkles. Bauman had adopted Mr. Wrinkles on his own about a year before finding Paws of War and going through their training. “He helps me, ” said Bauman, “my wife and I both love animals.”
Bauman was also thrilled to see the work students had put into the day. “It’s good that the kids know about the service dog and what they do,” he said. “It’s an opportunity for the kids to learn how to give of themselves without necessarily getting anything in return.”
While most of the children were excited to pet the dogs there were a select few who were helping to run the event. Sofia Toumazatos, a fifth-grader, set up the ribbon barrier around the dogs and was tasked with keeping the younger students from getting to crazy when they see the dogs. “I think it’s a really good program to help the help the most,” she said, adding that spending the day around the dogs wasn’t a bad perk either.
Finn said that the program’s grand finale will be Nov. 9, when they hold a Veterans Day assembly, where they present Paws of War with the $3,000 they earned from the auction. “I hope people become members and do monthly donations, and I hope the kids remember … that’s showing me this is working, they’re really understanding what we’re doing here,” he said.