Big Paws with Big Hearts

It was a cold afternoon in November of 2015 when I was running errands.  My last stop before going home and staying in for the rest of the day was to pick up a few groceries. Leaving the store and anticipating the cold wind, I scrunched up my neck into my warm collar and proceeded to leave the store with my bag of items. As I left the store, off to the side of the doors I noticed a soldier with a bunch of red poppy flowers.  I made a quick turn and walked over to where he was sitting in a wheelchair.  It’s hard to resist a soldier with flowers.  The subject of organizations that help wounded veterans came up and then the soldier sitting in the wheelchair told me about Big Paws.  He told me a service dog from the Big Paws Canine Foundation had recently saved the life of his soldier in a nearby city. After purchasing a poppy, I left, determined to find out all about Big Paws. 

After being elected State Regent in 2015, I knew I would need to choose a state regent’s project. This sounded like a good choice if it was indeed as wonderful as it sounded.  There are great efforts to supply our returning injured soldiers with various activities, events and even retreats that are a huge contribution to enhancing an otherwise frustrating life.   The activities that are provided by generous people are very important additions to a life that can quickly become lonely and void of any special occasions. Big Paws Service Dogs do not provide a small break from a very difficult and lonely life – they give the wounded soldier a life they never dreamed possible.  The warm and fuzzy friends that sometimes literally leap into the arms of the injured soldier are so much more than just a wagging and happy companion. They are meticulously trained for giving the soldier, their family and friends another way to support their loved one. This is an investment in every moment of the veterans’ life. These service dogs will be with the soldier for the rest of their life as a helper, a life saver and a companion.  These dogs mean so much more than an occasional outing, an afternoon of an arranged activity – these dogs will make it possible for our returning heroes to choose to go shopping, go for a walk, a movie, out to dinner and to be participating in life every single day. They no longer have to wait for their assigned home helper, wait for their friend to pick them up, wait for a family member to get them their medicines ... and wait and wait  every day of their life.   With their Big Paws Service dog they no longer have to spend their days waiting. The suicide rate is at approximately twenty-two veterans per day.  The suicide rate for a Big Paws veteran is currently at zero.  It is easy to see why this comparison is so drastic. A Big Paws Service dog is the combined miracle of a faithful companion, an intelligent helper and a perfect way to enable the chores that would be impossible.  Independence is achieved through these dogs and a deserving hero is given back their life choices.

A Big Paws Service Dog is not giving a soldier an event in his life – it is giving him his life.

Sharon Young, Regent SDSDAR