Raising Mae, The Hero Dog

After a friend was killed in Afghanistan, Torrey Fronk, an Air Force spouse and nurse, decided she wanted to do something in honor of her friend and other veterans’ sacrifices. Torrey’s search led her to Hero Dogs, a Maryland based non-profit that raises and trains service dogs for veterans.

 Torrey and her husband, Justin, a pilot stationed at Andrews Air Force Base, decided to become “puppy raisers” with the program. In October 2012, Mae, a four-month-old black Labrador retriever, was placed with the Fronks for fourteen months of training to become a service dog. To date, ten military families have helped to raise service dogs through Hero Dogs. Torrey feels that being a puppy raiser not only gave her a way to honor her friend’s memory, but also allowed her family the opportunity to have a dog they could love. 

Interested in raising a service dog? Here’s the inside scoop:

Working with a service dog is hard work! Make sure you understand the time required to raise and train a dog. The Fronks signed a contract committing to a pre-determined level of care for their puppy, Opha “Mae” Johnson, who was named after the first female Marine.

Mae required daily walks and time devoted to “vigorous play” and training. The Fronks were also required to brush Mae’s teeth and make sure she remained healthy. They also had to attend weekly training classes. “Doing the program taught us skills that we can use if we eventually get a dog,” notes Tory, who adds that the rewards that came with raising Mae were worth the time.

In January, Mae went back to the Hero Dog kennel for the next phase of her training. Torrey tries to focus on all of the things Mae will do for the veteran she is eventually paired with rather than the heartbreak of giving her back. “My most rewarding moment will be when I attend Mae’s graduation. To meet her veteran and shake hands, to eventually hear the stories the veteran tells of what she did and how she helped him.”

Now that Torrey has completed nursing school and hopes to soon be busy with a new job, the Fronks have switched to volunteering as puppy sitters for other puppy raisers. Torrey believes being a puppy sitter may be a good choice for people who want to help with a service dog but may not have the time to raise a puppy. Hero Dogs also looks for help with caring for the dogs at the kennel.

Torrey is a proud puppy parent who is encouraged by the feedback from Hero Dog volunteers on how Mae is doing with her training. She says raising Mae and working with Hero Dogs was an amazing opportunity that gave her family a chance to do something great while enjoying the benefits of a puppy’s love.

More about Hero Dogs:

Founded in August 2009, Hero Dogs raises and trains service dogs for veterans in the greater Washington, DC and Baltimore metropolitan areas who have served honorably in the military and who have been wounded or have a disabling medical condition.

Even though the puppies are donated to Hero Dogs from breeders or sometimes adopted from shelters, each dog costs upwards of $30,000 to raise, train, and place. Donations are welcomed through www.hero-dogs.org or the Combined Federal Campaign (#20303).

There is no charge to the veteran for the dog or any associated training.

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