Photo by Kelly White
Pam Barnett, president and founder of Paws Assisting Wounded Warriors (PAWWS) joins veteran Michael Thorpe and his service dog, 3-year-old Fecteau, at the PAWWS ninth annual fundraiser on Feb. 22 at The Garden Chalet in Worth.
By Kelly White
Enlisting in the Marines and later the U.S. Army, veteran Michael Thorpe has more than 13 years of military service that includes tours of duty in Fallujah, Iraq, and Afghanistan. After receiving a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder in 2013, he was medically discharged.
Having a service dog has changed his life, he said.
“He’s really amazing; we’ve developed such a strong bond,” said Thorpe, 36, of Grayslake.
Thorpe received his chocolate Labrador, Fecteau, in August of 2018 through Paws Assisting Wounded Warriors, or PAWWS, a volunteer organization dedicated to helping qualified veterans with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by enriching their lives with the use of service dogs.
Pam Barnett holds a special place in her heart for our nation’s heroes like Thorpe.
She is the founder and president of PAWWS, which is located in Bridgeview. PAWWS helps veterans by providing each dog free of charge and taking care of food, training, veterinary care and any equipment necessary for the service dog during the duration of the dog’s life.
“This is all about changing veteran’s lives and giving them a dog that loves them unconditionally,” said Barnett, of Burbank.
Thorpe is the purest example of the organization’s underlying mission.
From February through August of 2019, he hiked the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine with his canine companion. His purpose was to unwind while raising money and awareness for PAWWS, an organization he credits for giving him his life back.
“Fecteau did better than me on the journey,” Thorpe said. “He’s an incredible dog.”
Veterans, their family members, and the local community were invited out to attend PAWWS ninth annual fundraiser on Feb. 22 at The Garden Chalet, 11000 S. Ridgeland Ave., Worth.
This year’s fundraiser had a 1950s sock-hop theme and was cleverly titled, “PAWWS at the Hop.”
“This is the first year we’ve had a theme and it’s a lot of fun,” Barnett said. “Everybody looks forward to the PAWWS fundraiser every year. It’s a lot of fun and a chance for veterans to reconnect.”
The event featured a fun night out with a dinner buffet, cash bar, raffles, split-the-pot, dancing and musical entertainment provided by DJ Billy D. Attendees were encouraged to dress in 1950s attire and were also able to participate in several contests, including best dance, best dress, hula-hoop contest, jitter bug contest, and twist contest.
The cost to attend was $40 at the door with all proceeds going directly to benefit PAWWS.
“We’re there to have fun, but this is really about the service dogs and providing food and veterinary care,” Barnett said.
Since opening its doors in 2011, PAWWS has placed 14 dogs with veterans living in the local area, including Oak Lawn, all the way to Wisconsin and Minnesota. PAWWS dogs come from breeders and shelters. The process then begins with puppy and obedience training typically at the age of eight weeks.
The dog must pass a temperament test to determine therapeutic qualities. After that, the dogs are trained for a series of standard commands. Training stages include individual and group sessions focusing on canine behavior, hygiene, obedience, public access and socialization.
The dogs stay under Barnett and PAWWS’ care for a minimum of one to years while completing training, including socialization with humans and other dogs, anxiety stimulated situations and noise sensitivity.
After completing the extensive training process, the dog becomes an official Certified Service Dog. Through the Americans with Disabilities Act, a Certified Service Dog is allowed by law to enter public places, such as a workplace, restaurant and stores with the veteran.
PAWWS dogs assist the qualified veteran in the process of re-entering civilian life and help them cope with these challenges so they can live more independently, Barnett said.
“Placing a dog with a veteran helps our veterans to not be on guard so much,” Barnett said.
Some of the veterans who have received dogs have received inspiration and have gone on to train dogs.
PAWWS also offers comfort dogs to veterans year-round.
“Seeing the difference in the veterans, seeing the bond and the love between them and their service dog is really what this is all about,” Barnett said.