On Sunday, September 17, parishioners at Trinity Church, Allendale joined with many members and friends of the Tails of Hope Foundation, Inc. (TOHF), an all-volunteer non-profit organization, to celebrate the rewarding relationship between the parish and this exceptional service group over the past ten years.
During the Holy Eucharist service, Linda Blick, president of Tails of Hope, highlighted the organization’s purpose, history, and many accomplishments. Former Army Sergeant, David Kist, whose service dog, Patrick, recently succumbed to incurable illness, followed, recounting the vital outreach extended to him personally through TOHF’s ongoing commitment to military veterans. Because TOHF service dogs save many lives by extracting individuals from dangerous situations, or by by providing life-saving comfort to persons overpowered by distress, when these canines die, they commonly are honored with end-of-life ceremonies.
As a rule, a service dog is placed with the recipient following 18 months to two years of training. The canines TOHF gifts are highly trained multi-functioning service dogs that are even taught how to “call 911” in emergencies. Dogs are exceptional in so many ways – their senses are far superior to those of humans in sight, sound, scent capabilities, and agility.
While dogs are complex, what is exceptional about them is the unconditional love and loyalty they will devote to an individual. An invaluable bond thus develops between the owner, who is sorely challenged, and the canine that becomes a reliable, loving partner in life. When one’s day-to-day existence is profoundly twisted by terrible events, explained Kist, a service canine can become one’s sole source of salvation. Kist came to Trinity on September 17 to say good-bye to his loving dog, Patrick, and shared that Patrick’s profound effect on him would last his lifetime.
An example of only one type of wound endured by military personnel is that shouldered by Trinity parishioner Kevin Henry, who recounted that upon his return from Vietnam, a woman did not want to ride in a cab with him because he was in a military uniform. He had experienced the grueling nature of war, receiving two Purple Hearts. He noted, although some individuals treated Vietnam veterans poorly, a service dog will care about its owner “all day long.”
Kist explained that it is very hard to engage in combat, even though one has been trained in preparation for it. What can have an even more lasting effect, however, is the lack of training to return home from the first-hand experience of war.
Tails of Hope Foundation offers special opportunities to many, including students who wish to engage in community service. As only one example, Zach, a grandchild of Trinity parishioner Donna Speizer, served as a Tails of Hope Foundation Youth Ambassador, who earned his Eagle Scout Award by building agility equipment for the Paterson, N. J. Police K9 Unit. This unit taught Zach about professional K9 police work. Zach, in turn, built a car door “agility window,” through which police K9s could jump to apprehend criminals.
Female Youth Ambassadors have joined the mission, too. For example, they have supported the Canine Operational First Aid Kit (COFAK) Campaign to protect America’s national security K9 teams from line-of-duty injuries from bomb, bullet, stab, and slash wounds as well as toxic exposure. Tails of Hope seeks to educate youth about working dogs through mentoring and pointing toward career and volunteer opportunities by raising awareness of the importance of sustaining pure breeds that perform essential services.
Tails of Hope Foundation was founded in 2006 to help elderly and disabled people fund treatment for pets that faced euthanasia for lack of ability to pay. Thereafter, TOHF became deeply involved in honoring the service K9s active after 9/11. Dr. Cindy Otto at the University of Pennsylvania founded the Penn Vet Working Dog Program and noted that the dogs that had served in recoveries after 9/11 had never been nationally recognized. Linda Blick stepped forward on September 11, 2011, to correct this oversight in an outpouring of trainers and canine teams from all over the country to Liberty State Park in Jersey City, across the river from Ground Zero. Following the stately and patriotic tenth anniversary ceremony, Tails of Hope Foundation legally changed its mission to solely supporting America’s national security K9 teams and service dogs for disabled veterans and 9/11 responders.
Photos by Sharon Pierson, Janet Zacco, and Bernie Milano.