Friendly, inquisitive and sweet, Oz hardly knows a stranger.
Which makes the 3-year-old pit bull-Aussie mix a perfect companion animal for LaVonne Bower to take with her when she is visiting wounded veterans.
One other thing: Oz is a three-legged rescue dog.
Prior to his adoption, he was seriously injured in an accident — possibly hit by a car — and had to have a damaged hind leg removed.
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Oz gets around just fine on three legs. With his outgoing personality, he brings smiles to veterans’ faces when he meets them, wearing his vest of many military insignia and patches.
Bower founded the Paws and Warriors Foundation after learning the effects therapy dogs can have on veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and other wounds.
A pet can provide love and company to the veteran and help lower stress and blood pressure levels and combat depression.
Oz is a Nate’s Honor Animal Rescue dog who might have otherwise been euthanized.
“We have been really following what LaVonne has been doing with Oz since she adopted him. LaVonne has been doing great work with Oz in bringing him to visit veterans in the VA hospitals. We have really watched her passion for helping veterans grow and grow. And then she decided to start her own organization, and we wanted to be part of that,” said Karen Slomba, associate director of Nate’s.
Bower wanted to find a way for Nate’s and Paws to help each other after seeing how well Oz worked with veterans and their reaction to him.
Through a grant from the Bill and Maryann Vinall Fund of the Manatee Community Foundation, Nate’s and Paws for Warriors are partnering to provide fee-waived companion animals to 40 veterans. In addition to a cat or dog, the veteran also receives a starter kit to include a crate, leash, collar and food. Veterans who receive a dog also receive six weeks of once-a-week, off-site training.
A veteran of two tours of duty in Afghanistan recently became the first to adopt under the new program.
“It gave him something to look forward to. He has someone with him when he is not in school or at work,” Bower said.
Or put another way, “He is in love with his dog,” Slomba said.
A second application for a companion animal has been approved, leaving 38 dogs or cats left to adopt under the program.