With the goal of giving back to the community, Pine View’s Students Organized for Animal Rights (SOAR) club has partnered with the local organization, Paws and Warriors, to create a whole new project called Paws for the Cause.
Paws for the Cause strives to reduce the suicide rate of veterans, first responders, and gold star families by gifting them emotional support dogs. Gold star families are those who have lost a family member in the military. Not only do these people receive the support and help of a guide dog, but the dogs themselves are also taken away from overcrowded and high-kill shelters, places where people can freely leave their pets without any costs.
“Normally when you get a guide dog or something that has gone through a facility, it costs thousands of dollars [because] they were trained since they were puppies. It’s very expensive and a very long process,” twelfth-grader Sofia Karey, co-president of SOAR, said in regard to the high cost of buying a service dog.
The first task of SOAR is to raise $5,000 to donate to Paws and Warriors while also having a donation drive of pet items at Pine View. The donations to Paws and Warriors will be paired with the dogs on the list that SOAR sponsor and social studies teacher, Robin Melton receives from retired veteran and board member of Paws and Warriors, Krystal Heller.
Paws for the Cause is open to all grade levels at Pine View. The elementary school students will be offered to make gratification cards and personalized fleece blankets for the veterans’ care package, a gift given when the dog and owner meet for the first time. The care package will consist of a $100 gift card for PetSmart along with the necessities for the dogs such as leashes and collars, which will be donated from the schoolwide donation drive. Middle school students can also help through the National Junior Honor Society where they can make blankets and care packages. High school students can aid by fundraising through their clubs while also volunteering to help train guide dogs.
Along with the donation drive, a new fundraiser, Valentines for Vets, will be held. Paws and Warriors has partnered with the restaurant Capital Taco, also known as Capital Cookie, in Brandon, Florida and 50% of the money made from selling cookies for the fundraiser will be given to Paws and Warriors. For this fundraiser, SOAR members will be giving out pre-orders for the cookies from Capital Cookie throughout the school, which will then be handed out Feb. 12 and 13. The cookies, without preservatives, will come in many flavors such as snicker-doodle and cookies and cream, each batch costing $7.
Apart from the project, another mission for SOAR, still in progress, is to train guide dogs with high school students starting in March or April. The hope is to start a student-driven service dog program, using Pine View as a pilot school. With the aid of Paws and Warriors, people taught to train service dogs from Nate’s Honor Animal Rescue, a non-profit rescue organization, will teach high school students how to train service dogs.
“[Helping train guide dogs] could mean taking them to Target with [the dog’s] service vests on, getting them acclimated, spending time with them, and socializing them. That’s really the big aspect…We would like this to be a future connection with our Pine View Veterans Day celebration,” Melton said.
Melton remembers an impactful moment while shopping at Costco. “I was at Costco maybe a year ago and there was a retired veteran, and he was with his service dog… It gave that man the confidence to leave his house, and that’s a big deal because sometimes these veterans become closed off because they feel too scared to go out and socialize. This is what these animals can change,” Melton said.
Photo shows the founder of Paws and Warrior Lavonne L. Bower’s service dog, Oz. More information on his story and the organization can be found at pawsandwarriors.org