Runners and walkers—of the two- and four-legged variety—packed the Old Bethpage Village Restoration recently to support the men and women of the armed forces.
The second annual Long Island Run and Dog Walk encompassed a 5K timed run for those seeking to test themselves and a two-mile dog walk for those who still wanted to get involved, but at a more leisurely pace through the picturesque grounds of the 19th century-era Restoration Village.
All proceeds raised by the event went directly to charitable group America’s VetDogs according to Jaime McGrade, community fundraising events manager for the nonprofit organization.
“America’s VetDogs provides service dogs to veterans with disabilities. It was a sister organization that developed in 2003 as a special project under the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind,” she said. “We had been providing veterans with guide dogs ever since the foundation was first founded in 1946, but America’s VetDogs provides service dogs for disabilities other than blindness—traumatic brain injury, seizure disorder, loss of limbs, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, just about any issue they may encounter.”
This year, the run saw close to 500 runners and walkers participate, including more than 100 who registered at the last moment. In 2015, the event grossed about $50,000—this year McGrade noted that the total, thanks to the increased attendance, should surpass $60,000, making the event an unbridled success.
“We’re very pleased with the support from the community. They’ve made it very clear that they are very interested in helping our veterans,” she said. “[Nassau County] actually asked us to hold the event here at Old Bethpage Village restoration, which they thought would be a good location for it due to the fact that the Museum of American Armor is here.”
John O’Brien is a U.S. military veteran and member of America’s VetDogs’ board of directors. He is also a client of the organization, after having been wounded while on active duty in Iraq.
He received his service dog, an English Lab/Golden Retriever mix named Quinn, in 2013 and credits the fiercely loyal canine with saving his life.
“They train dogs for very specific needs for each person. For example, they can train a dog for someone who may need assistance opening doors, turning light switches on and off or getting them help when they need it, which is what happened to me,” he said. “After I got wounded in Iraq and came home, I had a heart attack and Quinn got the phone for me so I could dial 911. I live in a small, close-knit little community in Rhode Island, so Fire & Rescue were there within two minutes. Quinn does so much for me, and that day I’m convinced he saved my life.”
O’Brien stressed the hard work put forth by both employees of America’s VetDogs and especially the countless people who give their time for free to help the organization keep up with the unfortunate large demand for their service animals.
“It’s all done by volunteers and paid professional staff. The volunteers do puppy raising and dog walking and the training, and bring them home on weekends so they don’t have to sit in a kennel alone. All of that comes together to train and create a fantastic working partner for veterans and first responders,” he said. “Your service dog goes everywhere with you—shopping, the movies, restaurants, everywhere and they all re-evaluated regularly to ensure they’re still properly doingvhe function that they’ve been trained for. In 2013, America’s VetDogs became the second assistance dog school in the United States to be certified by both the International Guide Dog Federation and Assistance Dogs International…the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind was the first.”
Deb Stroner of Massapequa participated in the walk with her golden retriever, Buck, and said that she always takes every opportunity to support veterans of the Armed Forces for their service to our country.
“With a group like America’s VetDogs, you know your money is going to a great charity that does so much good for our veterans,” she said. “I want to cry every time someone comes home with some horrible injury after serving and I want to do my part to help see that they get the assistance they need.”