A perfect pair: Local dog trainer, veteran seek to connect military vets with service dogs
An Essex County dog trainer is teaming up with a Canadian veteran to try and connect other Canadian military veterans with qualified service dogs.
They said service dogs can bring energy, life and joy back to those struggling with post traumatic stress disorder, but that the wait times to be paired with a proper dog are too long.
“We’re losing veterans every day,” said Cindy Weir, Veterans Elite Canines founder and a veteran of the Gulf War.
“We're not trying to save the world, we're just trying to save a life,” she said. “One dog at a time saves one life at a time, right?”
Weir said the not-for-profit group started after she was told the wait list to be paired with a service dog in Canada would take over half a decade, prompting Weir to train her dog herself.
“At the time it was a five to six year waiting list for service dogs,” Weir explained. “And if you have a veteran in need and you tell them that they're [going to] have to wait that length of time, it's kind of a disaster waiting to happen.”
Veterans Elite Canines founder and Gulf War veteran Cindy Weir and Ontario K9 owner Ryan Isley seek to pair veterans with service dogs in Essex County. (Chris Campbell/CTV News Windsor)Weir added, “So the next option was for me to train my own dog. And again, if you take somebody who's in crisis, and you ask them to train their own dog, it really can't be done because you're going to run into an issue with the dog itself and yourself.”
Weir said she eventually found a place in Florida that trained her dog Gracie pro bono since Weir is a veteran, inspiring her to partner with an Ontario dog trainer near Kingsville, Ont. in an attempt to pay it forward.
“Being able to give a veteran hope is just incredible,” Weir said. “We can be saving lives right now and all that's preventing us is funding.”
Ontario K9 owner Ryan Isley said it’s important to remember the sacrifices Canadian veterans have made, and added his business trains dogs for basic obedience and to be qualified service animals.
“It's a great tool. The dogs get to help veterans and the veterans get to earn a buddy,” Isley said.
According to Isley, “Humans have been using dogs for a very, very long time. We've used dogs in the war. We've used dogs in service, and we've used dogs as pets. There's a purpose for every dog out there, and these dogs just happen to have the purpose of serving for our veterans.”
Veterans Elite Canines founder and Gulf War veteran Cindy Weir and Ontario K9 owner Ryan Isley seek to pair veterans with service dogs in Essex County. (Chris Campbell/CTV News Windsor)Now, the group needs funding and sponsors for each dog to be equipped. They recently received a $500 donation from Holy Names High School in Windsor, Ont. and a sponsorship deal for two of the dogs through Boeing Canada.
Isley told CTV News Windsor, “We have dogs that are available. They are looking for more sponsors. We have had two dogs sponsored by Boeing Canada, which was an excellent opportunity and we are very grateful for it. But we do have three more prospects in the works of training that need to get sponsors to find a home for the veterans.”
Isley said the Canadian military needs to be taken care of “in the way you know they deserve,” and veterans being paired with the perfect service dog can be a life changing experience.
“We have to get these people back into society, we have to get them out into the world. These people need to wake up in the morning, and you know, everybody sometimes needs that little push to get you out of the house…and get your day started” he said. “So the dogs are able to do that for the veterans, and I think it's a great thing.”
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