OXFORD – This year’s Christmas Parade is going to the dogs, and Lorraine Hill of the Auxiliary to VFW Post 9787 couldn’t be happier about it.
That’s because Christy Gardner of Oxford, a veteran who suffered multiple amputations from an accident while serving in South Korea, accepted Hill’s invitation to be the guest of honor. of the auxiliary during their very first float in the parade.
Hill said their plan for the parade is to collect enough donations for the mission’s working dogs to fill the beds of two pickup trucks and stack on the float. Some dogs will get on the chariot and others will walk alongside their owners.
The Auxiliary lead truck will pull a flatbed trailer equipped with hay bale seats, a Christmas tree with vintage and handmade ornaments and a decorative reindeer. A second truck will serve as the rear bookends. And Hill said recruit volunteers of all ages will participate. Two 90-year-old auxiliary members, Mary Maberry and Dot Forini, already have their chosen places in each of the pickups. Students from Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School will walk alongside the float, handing out candy to spectators and collecting financial donations to Mission Working Dogs.
“We’re focusing on the mission working dogs,” Hill said. “We will have Christy’s banners on the sides of the float. Our boom box will play ‘Who let the dogs out’ and the barking song ‘Jingle Bells’. And we also have some patriotic songs to sing about.
While Auxiliary VFW builds his float, Gardner has been busy lining up Mission Working Dog colleagues and clients to participate. She wants as many dogs as possible to accompany her and her two assistance dogs, retired Moxie and the soaring Doug.
Eight dogs – Moxie and Doug along with eight young dogs in training – make up an exuberant welcoming committee of visitors to Gardner’s home in Oxford, supplemented last summer by two veterans support groups, Tunnel to Towers and A Soldier’s Journey Home. The pack immediately befriends anyone who crosses the threshold and gets along wonderfully.
To distract them from their excitement, Gardner called them into the kitchen and each sat patiently as she handed out rawhide treats.
“There are up to 28 dogs in the program,” Gardner said. “And three new candidates. Last April, we graduated our first cohort of four.
When asked what the foundation most needed for the donated property, Gardner’s response was short and sweet. “Croquettes. Dry dog food. A bag of dog food lasts about four days.
Monetary support is also always welcome. Gardner’s vision for Mission Working Dogs is a training facility with a kennel, offices and cubicles where clients can stay when they come to meet and train with their service partners. The training “campus,” as she calls it, will cost just over a million dollars to build.
There are a myriad of other ways people can support Mission Working Dogs, including puppy supplies and training materials like portable kennels, dog treats, leashes, collars, and harnesses. The group maintains wishlists on Amazon and Chewy, which can be accessed through their website, missionworkingdogs.com. Human volunteers are also in great demand.
“We need puppy breeders,” Gardner said, adding that it wasn’t the easiest job. “The basic requirements for raising a service dog are that people love dogs. They must be disciplined to commit to helping transport the dog for training. Other animals in the house are possible but there are conditions for a dog in training to coexist with other dogs. And they have to be ready to let go of the dog after taking care of it for so long.
There are other ways of working with dogs for volunteers. People can help with training sessions for socialization and exposure to different public situations, as a manager or distractor, or participate in organizing or working at fundraising events. Breeders whose puppies have the temperament and intellect to work as a service dog often donate their litters.
In addition to sponsorship of Mission Working Dogs in South Paris VFW, the VFW Auxiliary State-level President has adopted Mission Working Dogs as his signature support project for the year.
Hill said his entire group was thrilled that Gardner accepted their invitation to the Christmas parade and looked forward to meeting her.
“Between dogs and veterans, we are addicted! she laughed.