People that have pets, whether it is a cat or a dog or a horse or a goat or whatever it may be, can grow a very strong emotional connection with them. Pet lovers like Duke Cooper with American Veterans First (AVF) and Scott Hicks with the ASTRO (Animal Shelter To Riverbank and Oakdale) Foundation had an organic collaboration of organizations creating a new Pets 4 Vets program.
The kickoff bar-b-que to raise funds for the new program was this past Saturday hosted in Riverbank at AVF on Patterson Road. The day was cool but the sun was out and from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. people mingled, ate, brought their dogs, and donated.
“We are lining up veterans that are suffering from PTSD or other emotional needs and we are going to give them an emotional companion,” said Cooper. “It really is an exciting thing because there are too many animals out there that go to dog pounds and get killed and a lot of strays on the street so we are trying to eliminate that. As an animal lover myself I can tell you that the emotional connection is strong.”
The flags were out which is a sign that AVF is open and there were hot dogs, hamburgers, chips, and sweet treats for guests to enjoy. The lemonade brothers Jude and Jack Locke from Turlock had their stand open for business selling $1 lemonade drinks to raise money for the program. Last month the boys had a lemonade stand in Oakdale at a flag raising ceremony where they raised over $400 for the new program.
“We promote veterans, veteran’s causes, and their needs,” added Cooper. “We are reaching out to as many veterans as we can. If you are a veteran and you are in need you need to talk to us and we will help you.”
AVF was also promoting local veteran Rudy Molina’s new book called the Battle of My Loc, which is a true story about a battle in Vietnam, with the book due to be released next year.
Several Christmas trees, with stands, were brought in by Cheryl Basi from Valley First Credit Union of Modesto, as a donation to American Veterans First. The trees were available to local veterans at no cost during the special Saturday event. Basi said with several of her family members serving or having served in the military, the work of AVF is close to her heart.
ASTRO volunteers posted up and even brought along a mascot, information and freshly baked dog treats that were for sale, accepting donations like dog supplies and cash donations.
“Duke and I have been friends for a number of years,” said Hicks. “AVF will identify a veteran that can use a companion animal or an emotional support animal and ASTRO will find the animal that is appropriate that matches the particular veteran and their needs. Eventually we would like to expand it to actual trained service dogs. Right now it is just what we call emotional support or companion animals that don’t require special training.”
For those that are interested there is an application process so that they can find the right pet with a vet matching their personalities and temperament. The program will connect with other rescues and shelters to find the appropriate animal for the veteran in need.
The first fundraiser was to kick off the new program and receive donations like dog food or any dog supplies or cash so that there is no cost to the veteran for spay/neuter, vaccinations, microchips and any other costs.
“We are also accepting donations of dog food and dog supplies because we want to give each veteran a nice supply of things to start out with,” added Hicks. “We will be adopting the animal to the veteran officially but there will be no charge to the veteran. We also will be looking for homeless veterans in the community that have an animal and we will donate them some food and supplies so they make sure they feed their animals as well.”
The ASTRO Foundation was founded in 2012 with the intent to build a no kill shelter for the area. Currently the Oakdale Animal Shelter handles both Riverbank and Oakdale’s pets.
“It was designed for a population of about 5,000 people and it now serves about 45,000,” expressed Hicks. “It is very small and very old. The staff there is incredible in what they do with what they have to work with. We work with them a lot. We pull dogs from that shelter.”
About four years ago ASTRO created a rescue, foster, adopt program for pets and have done that for about 500 dogs and cats combined in the area and they are growing each year. Last year they bought a piece of property in Oakdale where they plan to build a large no kill shelter facility that will be approximately 4,800 square feet. The next fundraiser for that will be held in March at the Oakdale Country Club.
ASTRO has a basket placed in Petco in the Crossroads Shopping Center designated to the foundation for people that want to donate items.
“What we are wanting to do is work our companion dogs to service dogs,” expressed Cooper. “For our veterans that suffer with PTSD and they have that emotional connection with a pet, that is everything. It is huge. If there is a veteran out there that is struggling with PTSD or other issues please contact us. We are going to help you.”