Hounds for Heroes seeks support

Published 7:19 pm Monday, February 15, 2016

Linda McAbee rescued two pit bull mixes, Mike, 2, and Malec, 3, from local shelters.

With the right training, the executive director of Hampton Roads Hounds for Heroes believes the dogs will pay it forward by rescuing veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress.

“The two dogs in the program now are attentive to people, sensitive, intuitive and smart,” said McAbee, a former pharmaceutical sales representative who retired last year. “These are all attributes that will … allow them to be trained to help veterans in many situations.

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“We are home to one of the world’s largest naval bases … and I believe there’s an overwhelming need for service or companion dogs for our veterans suffering from PTSD,” McAbee said.

The Portsmouth-based organization will focus on serving the Hampton Roads community, she said.

PTSD can occur after individuals go through traumatic events, including combat exposure and terrorist attacks, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Center for PTSD. If reactions and feelings of fear and loss of control don’t fade over time and become disruptive to daily living, PTSD may be to blame.

According to the center, the main symptoms of PTSD include reliving events through nightmares or flashbacks; avoiding situations that trigger memories of the traumatic events; negative changes in beliefs or feelings, such as guilt or fear; and constantly feeling jittery and on the lookout for danger.

McAbee said she is investing roughly $100,000 from her retirement into starting Hampton Roads Hounds for Heroes, which received its tax-exempt nonprofit status last July. Although she had been operating from her home, she is moving it into a 5,300-square-foot warehouse at 3207 Glasgow St. in Portsmouth.

The organization’s budget — mainly, her retirement so far — is getting thin, McAbee said. The organization will begin an aggressive fundraising and volunteer recruitment campaign in coming weeks, she said.

The organization needs a refrigerator, washer and dryer, and will have an ongoing need for contributions of dog food and blankets, she said.

Hounds for Heroes is having an open house from 6 to 10 p.m. April 2, where people will have chance to meet the dogs and trainer Tim Molina and hear from veterans who have service dogs.

Hounds for Heroes will use only shelter dogs, McAbee said.

Although gender doesn’t matter, all dogs selected to participate must be between the ages of 1 and 3, McAbee said. Before adopting a dog, she has an extensive battery of tests run to make sure they are healthy.

There are certain breeds that don’t make good service dogs, McAbee said. For example, while an Australian shepherd is smart and driven, he’s not as focused on an individual as a service dog must be, she said.

All the dogs will be named after Hampton Roads service members who suffered from PTSD and committed suicide, McAbee said.

Dogs will go through six to eight months of training with a contracted professional dog trainer before being turned over to the veterans, she said. The trainer will continue working with the dog and warrior together for another year at no charge, she said.

Ideally, the service dogs will go to warriors who have no children or other animals, she said.

The dog will be free to the veteran, who must have the dog ordered by prescription, McAbee said.

Initially, she expects to take in up to eight dogs. The estimated cost to train and care for each dog ranges from $15,000 to $20,000, she said.

“These dogs are very intuitive,” McAbee said. “If they sense the veteran is suicidal, they will make sure it doesn’t happen.”

For information, call Hampton Roads Hounds for Heroes at 633-0269.