New York Firefighters Raise Money to Give Dogs to Iraq War Veterans Through VetDogs

Thanks to the New York Daily News for this article. Dogs of war! FDNY gives vets best pal BY JESS WISLOSKI DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER...

Joy  |  Dec 29th 2006


VetDogs Stryker and Elvis.jpg

Thanks to the New York Daily News for this article.

Dogs of war!

FDNY gives vets best pal

BY JESS WISLOSKI
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER

When they’re not battling blazes in the Bronx, these firefighters are lending a hand – and paw – to Iraq war veterans.
“There’s a really strong bond between soldiers and firefighters for a lot of reasons,” said Fire Capt. Michael Buckheit, who raised more than $1,500 from Bronx and upper Manhattan firefighters to supply disabled veterans with service dogs.

“I feel like we really passed the flag to them after 9/11,” said Buckheit, whose 15th Battalion suffered the loss of the city’s first firefighter, Chris Engeldrum, in Iraq.

The money will go to VetDogs, a program run by the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind that pairs soldiers with dogs which can fetch objects; provide balance and support; warn others in the event of an emergency and act as a companion.

“No matter how great the rehab, they still have a psychological battle going back into society,” said Michael Sergeant, chief training officer for the VetDogs program, based in Smithtown, L.I. “The dog takes the focus off the rehab and [puts it] into the world around them.”

In the coming year, 15 service dogs will be sent to severely disabled veterans nationwide after they undergo training at the Smithtown headquarters.

Today, the battalion’s Engine Co. 63 and Ladder Co. 39 will host inductees to VetDogs in a ceremony at their E. 233rd St. firehouse. Among them are Sparks, a golden retriever who will help veterans learning to walk at Walter Reade Army Hospital, and Striker, a black Lab who will join a 26-year-old Navy medic with an artificial arm and extensive back and leg damage from a rocket.

Sergeant said that during a recent training session, the injured medic told him, “This is my ticket back to the real world.”

“He just sat there for an hour talking to the dog, petting the dog. He said, ‘I’ve got a chance, I’ve got a chance.’ To me, that’s very profound.”