Shelter dogs get second chance, help veterans with disabilities

Program gets results on both ends of leash

PALM COAST, Fla. – Lauren Driscoll, program director for the Florida chapter of Paws of War, is this week's News 6 Getting Results Award winner. 

Paws of War is a national nonprofit that trains and places shelter dogs with veterans and first responders, free of charge. 

Once a week, the street in front of Driscoll's home in Palm Coast turns into an improvised training facility. 

"This is us just getting together, doing our normal weekly training session," Driscoll said as a row of pine trees cast shadows on a couple of dozen people gathered around the cul-de-sac on Wakefield Place.

There wasn't a cloud in the sky as training began. 

"We're lucky (today)," Driscoll said. "Sometimes it's canceled because of storms and stuff."

Everyone takes their place and waits for the first exercise.

"This is a big class. Make sure your dogs are sitting and watching you. OK?" Driscoll said.

Her command of the class resembles that of a drill sergeant.

"They call me 'Gunny.' I don't know what that means, but I hope it's good," she said.

Navy veteran Willie Branch was there with his 1 1/2-year-old German shepherd, Chari.

"She's like a drill sergeant on steroids," he said of Driscoll.

Looking down at his dog, he explained how Chari has changed his life. 

"Her job is just to be near me," Branch said, explaining that he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and his service dog keeps him calm.

Branch was looking for a service dog to help him deal with the emotional effects but was having a difficult time finding an affordable trainer. 

"I couldn't afford it," he said. "I'm on a fixed income." 

That's when he found Paws of War.

"Lauren has a heart of gold for these veterans and first responders," Branch said. "She is definitely getting results." 

Driscoll said most of the dogs are rescued from the Flagler County Humane Society and matched with a veteran. Driscoll said she follows Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines and training can take over a year.

"Battle buddies -- that's what we call them because they have each other's back," Driscoll said.

Driscoll was a professional trainer but said she first got involved with Paws of War after discovering her husband had PTSD. 

"I needed to do it for my family. Now I can do it for other families," she said.

Driscoll said she is inspired by the change she sees in both the dogs and their owners.

"A lot of them are traumatized, and some of them don't want to come out of their shell," she said. "Somehow, the dogs pull them out of that." 

Driscoll said her goal is to find a permanent indoor location for training in the near future.

"They did something so fantastic for us," she said. "We need to do something fantastic for them."  

If you would like more information or would like to donate, visit the Florida chapter's website at PawsofWar.org/Florida-chapter .

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