CHELMSFORD (CBS) – There’s a very special place in Chelmsford that’s saving veterans and homeless dogs.
Operation Delta Dog supports local veterans like Mike Geary by finding their dog match made in heaven.
“When a veteran calls our program, we know that they have tried therapy, that they have tried medication, they’ve often tried ignoring the problem. They are sort of at their last straw. You will hear it from their families that they came back different, and we don’t know how to get them back. So, they call us,” executive director Charlotte Troddyn told WBZ-TV.
The non-profit was started back in 2013 by Chelmsford resident Trisha Blanchet, the daughter of a U.S. Army veteran, and is entirely funded by grants and donations.
Money is used to rescue homeless dogs all over the country and train them to become service animals for veterans struggling with PTSD, a traumatic brain injury or military sexual trauma.
“When you’re overseas you feel like you’re going to be attacked at any moment. You’re on high alert at all times. So, when you come home you remain on high alert at all times,” Geary said.
After three tours in Iraq and a fourth in Kuwait, he struggled to leave the house or socialize, but ever since matching with rescue dog Jose in January, he doesn’t feel anxious about the things he used to.
“He’s made such an impact on my life. I just wouldn’t want to go back to that life pre-Jose,” Geary told WBZ. “Now with Jose I’m able to walk around, introduce myself to everybody, just be able to be more interactive with people.”
“We have all kinds of dogs with all kinds of personalities. So when they’re getting matched with a veteran we kind of joke that it’s like Match.com,” Troddyn said. “When you can see the match happen, you feel it in the room.”
Unlike other service dog organizations, veterans take part in dog training. Once matched with a dog, they are required to attend weekly training classes for one year. During that time, Operation Delta Dog pays for veterinary care and dog food. A graduated training team can cost up to $30,000.
“Many people will have waitlists years long. We know these people do not have years to wait to get healthy. Their life is literally on the line by the time they call us, so we bring them in the door immediately. We don’t want to say that they have to pay any money as an obstacle to walk through our door. Our service is 100-percent free to our veterans. It’s completely funded on donations from the public and grants. So that is the first obstacle we take out of their way. Our veterans have done a lot for us and our country and this is really a small thing we can give back to them,” said Troddyn.
“Not all disabilities are visible and that’s something that I deal with often,” veteran and Operation Delta Dog recipient Jenilee Geldermann told WBZ.
She matched with her rescue dog Forest earlier this year.
“Coming to class is the highlight of my week. He’ll wake me up from nightmares. He’s by my side everywhere we go,” said Geldermann. “He means so much to me. He’s my shadow. I don’t know what I would do without him.”
It’s an unbreakable bond, giving both veterans and their best friend a fresh start.
“Operation Delta Dog has given me a new lease on life,” Geary said.
He and Jose are set to graduate in January.
If you’re a veteran who suffers from PTSD, a traumatic brain injury or military sexual trauma, you can apply for a Delta Dog on their website.
They have a big event coming up Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. called “Walk and Wag” in Carlisle, it’s their largest fundraiser of the year.
Operation Delta Dog is currently looking for fosters for dogs who are not quite ready to begin their training. You can reach out to the foster coordination team at email@example.com.
Mike Geary is the Founder of Hellfish Haven, a nonprofit assisting veterans through a combination of online gaming, recreational activities, peer support, and advocacy. Hellfish Haven’s mission is to reduce suicide by fostering an all-inclusive veteran community. For more information visit hellfishhaven.org.