By Jodi Legge, Executive Director, Wisconsin Veterinary Medical Foundation
The Wisconsin Veterinary Medical Foundation (WVMF) awarded a $2,500 grant to Got Your Six K9s and a $700 grant to Heaven’s Helpers Food Pantry & Soup Kitchen, LLC, to support their mission of assisting others. The funds were made available through the WVMF’s Grant Program.
Got Your Six K9s is a Wisconsin-based nonprofit that trains service dogs to help veterans cope with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other service-related injuries. Jeremy Van Beek, a disabled veteran
with PTSD, founded the organization after he received a service dog and wanted to help others get the same opportunity. Van Beek serves as president of the organization and is also one of the dog trainers. Working with his dog, Frago, they became a certified team.
“I wanted to give other veterans the same opportunity that I had to get a service dog,” said Van Beek. “My life really changed with the assistance of Frago. I realized that Wisconsin didn’t have an organization that helped other veterans get service dogs, so I decided to start one myself.”
So far, seven dogs have gone through the program and placed with veterans. It takes about two years to train the dog and get it certified, with an average cost of care, food and training about $32,000 per dog. (Veterinary bills are paid by Got Your Six K9’s, but many local veterinarians donate time and vaccinations to support the program.)
It costs a veteran $400 to enter the program – a fee Van Beek wants to eliminate once the organization can raise more funds. Veterans are also responsible for 50 percent of the animal’s annual food bill.
“Our long-term goal is to provide all of the services (animal, training, food, veterinary care) without any cost for the veteran,” said Van Beek. “We are also looking to build a state-of-the-art training facility that not only provides space to train the dogs but allows a place for veterans to stay when they travel from far away to train with their dog.”
Veterans interested in the program should fill out an application on the organization’s website (click here).
Heaven’s Helpers Food Pantry, of Pewaukee, first opened its doors in 2008 with a goal to help people/families in need with food donations while experiencing rough times. They quickly realized the needs of area veterans and began partnering with other organizations to help them with housing, clothing, personal items, service/support dogs, and even rent and utility assistance.
Retired Sergeant First Class Henry Almonte is one veteran Heaven’s Helpers has helped.
Sergeant Almonte wanted to join the Army for as long as he can remember. When he turned 18 years old, he enlisted and served our country for 15 years. First stationed in Panama with the 508th Para Infantry Regiment, he was part of a long ranger recon unit that helped capture General Manuel Noriega.
Shortly after that, Sergeant Almonte was accepted into the Military Intelligence Academy at Fort Huachuca in Arizona, where he went through seven months of intense training. Upon graduation, he was
immediately shipped to Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm. While on mission there, he was injured in a terrorist bombing in a barracks.
Sergeant Almonte saw his first female casualty of war during this bombing, and suffered severe damage to his arm, collar bone and pelvis. He was flown to Germany for immediate surgery. The doctors pieced his left arm back together with titanium plates and screws. After spending six weeks in recovery, he was released and spent nine more years with the Army, working for the Department of Defense and National Security Administration for seven of those nine years.
Unfortunately, Sergeant Almonte was diagnosed with colorectal cancer which ended his military career. It was at that time he found having a dog helped him cope with his PTSD and anxiety.
After his former support dog passed, he was looking to get another support dog. That’s where Heaven’s Helpers came in and asked WVMF to help. Because of the grant, Sergeant Almonte became the owner of a beautiful bullmastiff/cane corso mixed pup named Lelu.
“I’m so grateful to WVMF and Heaven’s Helpers for helping me purchase Lelu,” said Sergeant Almonte. “She is truly a beautiful dog and she loves to sit on my lap and have her ears rubbed. I am blessed. I think she needs me as much as I needed her in this time of my life.”
The Wisconsin Veterinary Medical Foundation (WVMF) funds organizations and initiatives that enhance the lives of animals, their owners and the community-at-large. Donations made to WVMF are 100 percent tax deductible. To donate or request a grant, visit our website (click here).