Jim Williams never knew an animal would change his life.
Williams served 20 years in the military and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. He signed up for Patriot Service Dogs, an organization that pairs well-trained service dogs with veterans for free, about four years ago to find a service dog that could aid in his recovery.
The organization placed him with a goldendoodle named Major. Today, Williams doesn’t go anywhere without his fluffy companion.
“When I go places now, whether it’s church or work, I find that people are always more excited about seeing Major than myself,” he said. “I go into the office and people are like, ‘Hey Major, how are you doing?’”
Patriot Service Dogs won the 2022 Defender Service Award, which recognizes chartitable organizations for extraordinary service work. The award, which is sponsored by Land Rover and presented by Chase Bank, honored 25 finalists across the U.S. and Canada. The five winners were based on a public vote and won a Land Rover Defender 130 along with $25,000.
The Patriot Service Dogs’ team revealed the Land Rover to veterans and their families Feb. 18 at an event hosted at the PRP Aviation hangar at the Ocala airport.
Director Julie Sanderson told veterans the car will be used daily to transport dogs and veterans when they come for advanced training
Sanderson said she is excited for the new car and is thankful for everyone’s efforts.
“When we started Patriot Service Dogs, this was not in the business plan,” she said.
For the application, the members of the organization helped to create a video to show Patriot Service Dogs’ impact on the community.
“We decided to make our video submission with what we have available: a good idea, good people and a few supplies,” Sanderson said. “We’re a small, tightknit organization, so we made a video that reflected that.”
But the organization only found out about the awards four days before the deadline.
“We had to ask our volunteers and veterans at the very last minute to participate,” she said. “They all answered our call even though we thought we had little chance of winning.”
Sharon Boehmer, who also owns a patriot service dog, served 10 years in the United States military, and she suffers from anxiety. She said her dog Radar helps her anxiety and makes her feel free.
“He can detect when I get very anxious, and he can detect migraines, too,” Boehmer said.
The car will help the organization connect more veterans with service dogs, like Major and Radar.
Along with the car, Patriot Service Dogs plans to use the money for one of its programs. Sanderson said it will use the funds to help expand the puppy raiser volunteer program. The time commitments for the program range from a year to a few days at a time. People who participate are expected to provide a loving home committed to training a service dog for a veteran.
Sanderson said there is nothing better than seeing the organization’s volunteers and teams work together at events like the one for the unveiling.
“It is an amazing feeling to go to work every day and provide comfort in a storm and hope,” Sanderson said.