GATESVILLE — PetSmart donated $17,500 to the Warrior Angels Program, a nonprofit organization helping Texas military members and veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Representatives from PetSmart came not only from Austin and Dallas, but also New Mexico and Oklahoma to present the check during a ceremony at the future site of the Military, Veterans and Pet Sanctuary on Farm-to-Market 9725 in Gatesville.
The sanctuary, under construction, will host a service dog training facility that will provide service dogs as companions for Central Texas military members and veterans who have been diagnosed by a medical professional as having PTSD.
PetSmart pet store chooses a charity every year and then awards that organization a grant.
Lance Runnels, PetSmart district manager for South Texas, said the Warrior Angels Program was chosen out of about 100 charities.
“This organization won our hearts,” said John Paschal, PetSmart district manager for East Texas, about the program. “They’re doing some great stuff out there.”
Runnels said he favored the program for two reasons: It helps wounded military and former military members, and a branch of that charity also provides foster homes for pets of deployed military members.
Although there are other programs that also provide dogs for PTSD sufferers, the Warrior Angels Program is unique, founder Linda Spurlin-Dominik said.
Similar programs train the dogs and then give them to the PTSD sufferer. In the Warrior Angels Program, however, a dog is selected from a shelter or rescue center and the dog and its new owner are trained together.
Service dogs, Spurlin-Dominik explained, are different from pets that merely provide emotional support.
“An animal used for emotional support can be anything — a donkey, a cat, whatever,” she said. A service animal, however, must be a dog. In addition, a service animal can enter businesses such as restaurants because of its training.
At the sanctuary training facility, the owner and dog will take a 14-week class and then pass a test that meets the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the American Kennel Club and Assistance Dogs International for service dogs and their owners.
As the owner and dog learn to be a team during training, the owner also will learn laws governing service animals and how to deal with businesses that don’t like such companions, Spurlin-Dominik said.
The Warrior Angels Program, which includes volunteers from Temple and surrounding cities, is accepting volunteers to help manage the program, she said.
The sanctuary, which also is accepting volunteers, will include a picnic area, fishing pond and a memorial pet garden.
To learn more about the program go to www.guardianangelsforsoldierspet.org.