Local puppies donated for wounded patriots
By Pearl Cantrell
Monitor Staff Writer
CEDAR CREEK LAKE–Wounded veterans returning home have many
challenges to overcome before they can begin to resume anything
approaching a normal life.
It’s not just their physical scars and missing limbs that set
them apart, the memories of friends lost in combat, even their
own survival while others did not tend to isolate them in their
own cocoon of despair.
Some of these find help and hope from an animal companion.
A service dog is often just the friend to break the barriers and
open the doors to making new friends, who will begin to see them
as valuable, heroic, courageous and the capable individuals they
are - with just a little help.
Monitor Photo/Pearl Cantrell
Patriot Paws trainer Rhonda Lee (left) holds Labrador puppy
Dakota, while Evelyn Harrell holds puppy sibling Hannah. Harrell
purchased and donated Hannah to Patriot Paws for training as a
service dog for wounded veterans in loving memory for her
granddaughter. Dakota was also purchased by members of Aley
Methodist Church, represented by Pastor Eston Williams in memory
of another church member who died this year. The dogs were bred
by church member and Sunnybrook Labradors co-owner Jan Flowers
(right) and husband Larry (see bottom photo). Patriot Paws of
Rockwall is also represented by volunteer Tracey McCormick. The
puppies' mother, Babe, lies at their feet. The puppies were two
of eleven in a litter.
That’s where Patriot Paws comes in. Founded by dog trainer Lori
Stevens in 2006, the Rockwall-based organization was recently
awarded the Criminal Justice Volunteer Service Award for its
work with inmates to help train and socialize the puppies that
meet the stringent qualifications to become a candidate for
training as a service dog for wounded warriors and to those
seriously hurt under noncombat circumstances.
“I feel honored that two of our puppies were chosen by Patriot
Paws to go into training as service dogs,” local resident and
Labrador breeder Jan Flowers said.
Ten years ago, Jan and husband Larry started breeding Labrador
retrievers just north of Mabank.
Today, Sunnybrook Labradors mostly offers dog-sitting services
for owners of large-breed dogs who don’t want their dogs in
kennels while their owners are traveling.
The Flowers both retired after a long career with the Mabank
Earlier this year, Jan’s friend Evelyn Harrell learned about
Patriot Paws and knew exactly how she would help a wounded
veteran while expressing her love and memorializing the life of
her granddaughter Hannah, who recently died of leukemia.
She asked Patriot Paws to evaluate the most recent litter born
at Sunnybrook for a possible female puppy she would purchase and
donate to Patriot Paws once the puppy was weaned or around 8
Patriot Paws sent someone out and selected one from a litter of
Jan blasted out an e-mail with the news to all her friends and
church members at Aley United Methodist Church.
“When our church heard about this, many of our members wanted to
buy a puppy for the program,” Aley pastor Eston Williams
Patriot Paws came out again and this time selected a male puppy,
which the church purchased for donation to the program.
Jan brought the male puppy to church. He was an immediate hit
with the members. At the time , the puppy was called Ernie after
an Aley church member Ernestine Aechtenacht ,who had recently
died. “You should have heard him sing the first hymn with us,”
Dogs are carefully evaluated prior to selection and only the
best of the best become candidates, graduate, and are certified.
The Patriot PAWS’ selection process is extensive.
Harrell and two volunteers from Patriot Paws returned at the
appointed time to collect the weaned puppies. At that time, the
church also presented the organization with a check for $390 to
aid in the dogs’ upkeep.
But the story doesn’t end here. These puppies spend their first
weeks and months of training with select inmates in Gatesville.
Two TDCJ facilities are participating in the first phase of the
program, and include the Lane Murray Unit and the Crain Women’s
Correctional Unit in Gatesville.
The partnership is intended to provide help not only for
disabled veterans, but opportunities for prisoners to have a job
while serving their sentence, learning a career trade and giving
back to the community.
The service dog training was initiated on Feb. 4, 2008. From the
initial pool of 88 applicants, a total of 18 trainers were
selected, and eight Labrador puppies were placed with the
The women live with their dogs in dormitory-like space in each
unit, which include outdoor areas for the dogs. There is also a
shared training facility on-site.
After six months, and demonstrating the program’s success, TDCJ
approved adding six more women inmates to each unit and has
asked Patriot PAWS to expand the program both at the current
facilities and to other correctional institutions in Texas.
Eleven women have been paroled since the program began. Patriot
PAWS has hired one of the parolees’ and at least nine others are
working in dog related programs. At this time, the recidivism
rate is zero.
Rhonda Lee is one of these. She completed her parole and now
works with veterans receiving their dogs.
Of the initial 88 offenders, 20 have been released and 14 have
found work in dog-related fields.
“We are all very proud of Rhonda and look forward to many more
years of working together,” Stevens said.
Once fully trained, the dogs are able to assist physically
disabled individuals to accomplish daily tasks that would
otherwise be difficult or impossible.
There are 29 trained dogs in service currently, serving veterans
around the nation.
Each dog is customized to the individual needs of its owner.
In addition to being trained through positive reinforcement,
each dog chooses its owner.
Jan Flowers visited the Rockwall facility Monday and was amazed
at what the dogs could understand and do.
“I saw dogs bring a wheel chair, pick up clothes off the floor,
put them in a laundry basket, pull it with a rope to the washing
machine and load laundry into the machine,” she said.
“They asked me to drop something and say ‘Oops!’ So I dropped my
keys, said Oops, and the dog placed the keys in my hand.
“The trainer put her cell phone on a desk across a large room
then told the dog to ‘get the phone.’ The dog found the phone
and brought it to her. All amazing! The dogs have a huge
receptive vocabulary,” Flowers exclaimed.
The dogs are trained to perform many services including:
• Get help in emergencies!
• Open and close doors and cabinets
• Provide bracing to stand, walk, and sit down
• Help with chores, such as laundry
• Take shoes and socks off .
Perhaps one of the most beneficial remedies is the unconditional
love and devotion a dog can provide to their lifelong partners.
Once a strong bond forms between the dog and the companion, the
dog’s trust, devotion, and a desire to please will follow.
The cost to train a service dog is approximately $20,000 -
$30,000. This expense represents 12 to 18 months training,
housing, feeding, and health related costs. Patriot PAWS Service
Dogs Organization specializes in using positive reinforcement to
train its dogs.
“Our goal is to help disabled persons and their service dogs
learn to work as a team toward the physical and emotional
Those interested in learning more about Patriot Paws can go to
www.PatriotPAWS.org or call (972) 772-3282.