Pets and Vets: The hunt for a few good dogs

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Editor’s note: The is the second of a five-part series on the Pets and Vets program at Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation in Walnut Creek, which matches rescue dogs with veterans, who train the dogs to be their service animals. Part 1 offered an overview of the program.

Laramie is about to take perhaps the most important tests of her young life, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at her.

The 4-year-old with golden brown eyes and a wide smile is moving from person to person, captivating hearts as she goes. Pass today and her entire life will change.

Laramie is one of scores of rescue dogs tested each year for their suitability to become service animals for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychological disabilities.

Like the Marines, Danny Kimbrell and Merritt Rollins are looking for a few good dogs for Pets and Vets, the lifesaving program at Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation in Walnut Creek.

Kimbrell, a Pets and Vets trainer and a veteran himself, and program manager Rollins typically test one dog a week. The dogs — all sizes, shapes and breeds — are found during frequent “rescue runs,” when ARF visits Northern California shelters looking for dogs and cats for its no-kill shelter. During these visits, they keep an eye out for exceptional dogs that might be suitable for service work.

Don’t expect to find only traditional rescue dogs in this program. It’s the attitudes and abilities of the dogs that matter, Kimbrell says, not their breed.

Danny Kimbrell, Pets and Vets dog trainer, puts Laramie, a pit bull mix, through some tests during the evaluation process at Tony LaRussa’s Animal Rescue Foundation in Walnut Creek. Laramie is being evaluated for a possible entry into the Pets and Vets service dog program.(Laura A. Oda/Bay Area News Group)

Pets and Vets candidates are placed in foster homes that replicate the vets’ home situations. If the veteran has young children or other pets, Rollins looks for a foster home with children or pets. If the dogs do well in those settings, they move on to the next step.

About 80 percent of the dogs don’t make it, Rollins says. They exhibit behaviors that might be OK in a regular home, but not for the highly demanding work of a service dog. The dogs who wash out become part of ARF’s “genpop” — general population. They’ll eventually

Source:: The Mercury News – Lifestyle


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