Canine Companions for Independence, a nonprofit that provides assistance dogs to people with disabilities, is turning its annual Veterans Day ceremony into a virtual event due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The event on Nov. 11, titled Saluting Independence event, will recognize those who have served in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, and the War Against Terrorism. Saluting Independence raises money for initiatives that provide assistance dogs to veterans with disabilities.
“As we draw closer to Veterans Day and celebrate the service that America’s men and women have dedicated to the country,” said Debra Dougherty, executive director of the group, who is located at the organization’s Medford-based northeast region training center. “This also is a time to champion the companions that assist the veterans who have returned with combat injuries and need a little extra support in their lives.”
Two years ago, the organization created a Veterans Initiative program, placing service dogs with military veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The dogs are not only trained for basic tasks like item retrieval and turning on lights but also help in situations that may cause anxiety, such as night interruptions or crowded public spaces. More fundraising efforts will be made to expand the program this year.
“The service dogs create new opportunities and new possibilities for people that lead to increased independence and confidence,” Dougherty said.
Serving people who have varying mental and physical challenges, the nonprofit has gained international recognition and support from all over Long Island and beyond. Kevin Schmidt from Islip Terrace says that his service dog, Kip, makes his life better.
“It’s been tough, and he gives me a smile every day. It’s called Canine Companions, but the companion part is what really fulfills me,” Schmidt said.
At the Saluting Independence ceremony, Capt. Victor Prato of East Marion and his service dog, Barbossa, will be honored. Prato, a Purple Heart recipient who was wounded three years ago while serving in Afghanistan, is the president of the PenFed Foundation, helping veterans and military service members with housing, financial, and care-giving opportunities.
“I knew that a perfect fit for me would be to get a dog that could be my companion and be with me as I navigate the world now,” Prato said. “Barbossa is my rock.”
Registration is required to receive access to the event, which will run from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on Nov. 11. Register at cci.org/salutingindependence. Suggested donation is $75. Canine Companions can be reached at 1-800-572-BARK (2275).