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Sunday, October 22 News

VFW fundraiser to pair service dog with veteran

WESTPORT — A new event later this month in Westport is aiming to raise enough money to pair a service dog with a veteran in the hope of offering support and possibly saving a life.

The Connecticut chapter of Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs, a new branch of the Florida-based charity that pairs medical service dogs with veterans, is hosting Barks, Brews & BBQ at Westport’s Veterans of Foreign Wars post Aug. 27 for the chapter’s inaugural fundraiser. The goal is to raise enough to fund one service dog pairing — $25,000 — which can offer medical service aid for several disabilities, including post-traumatic stress disorder.

“If you hear something that’s good for a vet, do something,” said Westport VFW Post 399 Commander Bernie Rombout. He noted Guardian Angels’ consistent top rating among nonprofits and urged people to come to the Sunday event and judge for themselves.

In the case of PTSD, medical service dogs are trained to demand attention from their owner at the first sign of a panic attack, interrupting the process before their owner is even aware anything is happening, according to Rick McFarland, Guardian Angels regional coordinator for Connecticut and a retired Norwalk veterinarian. Similarly, the dogs are trained to recognize signals and intervene early to prevent suicide, explained McFarland, who also previously owned Norwalk Animal Hospital.

“As a veterinarian, I can tell you without hesitation that man’s best friend — we’re talking a dog — has value and has abilities that far exceed your expectations,” McFarland said, noting the unconditional love dogs give.

Rombout said Post 399 always looks to support organizations aiding veterans. Joe Gallo, the VFW caterer and food service operator, added hosting was a “no-brainer” when McFarland asked him.

Providing a veteran with a service dog “could be life and death,” Gallo said.

“Vets are trained to depend on one another in combat,” said VFW Quartermaster Robin Custer. He added a service dog offers a continuation of the “brotherhood” veterans often experience while serving.

Rombout added that veterans make it possible for Americans to live normal lives. By supporting them, he urged people to make it possible for veterans returning from service to live normal lives, too.

“Let’s help them,” he said.

Barks, Brews & BBQ will include a barbecue, a silent auction, raffles, a cash bar and live music. If the $25,000 fundraising goal is met, attendees will also be able to select the name of the German shepherd their donations will go toward. McFarland’s pick is Nutmeg, a fitting name for a dog funded by the “nutmeg state” chapter.

Organizers hope to make the fundraiser an annual event and McFarland wants to double it by next year, setting a $50,000 goal to fund two dogs. He is also looking to raise awareness and hoping that Connecticut veterans will realize there is an opportunity for aid from Guardian Angels if they have a need.

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The event will take place Aug. 27 from 2-6 p.m. at Westport’s VFW post, 465 Riverside Ave. Funds raised will go to purchasing, training and pairing a service dog with a veteran in need, and any funds raised beyond the $25,000 will go toward fundraising for additional service dogs next year. Tickets cost $20 and can be purchased at the door or by going to medicalservicedogs.org

/event/ct2017.

LWeiss@hearstmediact.com; @LauraEWeiss16

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