NAPLES, Fla. — This Monday is Memorial Day, a day to remember those who have died while serving our country. But one local organization is going above and beyond and paying it back to vets on a more day-to-day basis.
They’re called Golden PAWS Assistance Dogs.
“It’s kind of a cool story. The dog picks you, you don’t pick the dog.”
One of those dogs is Palmer. And if you can’t tell already, he’s a really good boy.
“He’s incredibly smart.”
He’s also one of the few service dogs who’s been trained at Golden PAWS.
“Palmer is calm," says CSM Craig Layton, Palmer’s owner. "Him just being present around me keeps my mind from going in different directions.”
Palmer’s owner is Command Sergeant Major Craig Layton. He’s also the veterans' liaison with Golden PAWS.
“I’ll come in and I’ll help train up some of the dogs," he says. "I did that for quite a while but my role as veterans liaison is that I’m truly trying to find veterans that are in need of a service dog.”
Layton knows the process all too well because he was one of those veterans.
“There’s a responsibility that goes with that," said Layton. "I went from 18,000 people to halt. To just basically a halt so I found myself at some certain points getting depressed and I went thru a stage of drinking and all of that but this has truly changed my life.”
It’s a process that sees the dog choose their owner. Not the other way around.
"Palmer came right up to me and then the dog after that didn’t want nothing to do with me!" Layton recounts. "I figured, you know, ‘Okay maybe it’s a scent at this point.’ So then the gentleman, at that point, that had that position said, ‘Well which one between the two?’ And I said, ‘The one with the sugar face.’”
Training takes years of practice and plenty of patience. Years that have seen a new facility spring up for the organization.
"We’re standing in our main training area, so 6,300 square feet," says Cindy Nelson, Vice President of Philanthropy at Golden PAWS Assistance Dogs. "Our previous building was 5,000 square feet so our old building fits into basically a quarter of the new building.”
A spacious facility with a few state-of-the-art features.
“You’re in here with 30+ dogs and nobody’s barking and everyone is quiet," she says. "It’s this lighting system, the sound, and our staff that really help manage the calm environment that these dogs are in.”
It takes years of practice but, with the right training, these future service dogs can help change a veteran’s life.
“I want to help those soldiers because I know they’re out there," says Layton. "I’ve met soldiers that are here and they struggle with that. So I know, I know that golden paws service dogs are making a difference. It’s made a difference to me.”
You can learn more about Golden PAWS when you head to their website.