Oceanfront pingpong tournament to benefit service dog nonprofit Mutts with a Mission for veterans

By Lee Belote Correspondent

Mutts with a Mission spent a recent afternoon training service dogs at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront. The program offers program-trained dogs or one can have their own dog go through the program assuming the puppy meets the requirement to become a service dog. 

These dogs serve their country through Mutts with a Mission. The nonprofit trains veterans, wounded warriors and their dogs as service teams in order to return the independence the veterans sacrificed while serving our country. Mutts with a Mission provides selected dogs from shelters, rescues and breeders as trained service/assistance dogs to qualified veterans and wounded warriors. 

Brooke Corson founded Mutts with a Mission, a nonprofit that matches service dogs with veterans. The Suffolk resident was in the Army for eight years and grew up training dogs. When she left the Army, she started losing friends to suicide due to PTSD and wanted to do something about it. That’s when she came up with idea of Mutts with a Mission. Corson said she realized the valuable impact a dog could have on reducing the stress of soldiers.

Eclipse, a chocolate lab, is a service dog trained by Mutts with a Mission. She’s a dual purpose dog that is trained for mobility and PTSD. John Ayo, a Virginia Beach resident, is Eclipse’s owner. “Mutts with a Mission is helping save lives,” said Ayo. “It’s giving people their independence that they thought they would never have again.”, shares Brooke Corson has been serving her country for years. The Suffolk resident was in the Army for eight years but has continued her service through Mutts with a Mission, a nonprofit that matches service dogs with veterans

When Corson was called to active duty in Fort Benning, Ga., as a supply sergeant for the Infantry Training Brigade, she acquired a cairn terrier puppy named Angus. She trained Angus to track wounded deer. Since Corson worked long and odd hours, she would bring her dog to work, and he quickly became a favorite of the drill sergeants.

“The guys would come in my office and have Angus jump up on their laps,” Corson said. “You could see the tension from the day leave them as they sat there and patted him.”

She quickly realized the valuable impact a dog could have on reducing the stress of the soldiers.

When Corson returned home from Fort Benning, she started losing friends to suicide due to PTSD. She wanted to help in some way and started thinking about service dogs. Corson had grown up training dogs and did it to help pay her way through college.

“At the time, service dogs for PTSD was still a fairly new concept,” she said. “After talking to my husband for a long time, he said, ‘Either do something or shut up about it.’”

In 2008, Corson founded Mutts with a Mission and received nonprofit status. The organization’s goal is to train veterans, wounded warriors and their dogs as service dog teams in order to return the independence the veterans sacrificed while serving .

The organization provides selected dogs from shelters, rescues and breeders as trained service/assistance dogs to qualified veterans and wounded warriors.

If veterans have a service-connected disability, they can fill out an application at muttswithamission.org. Decisions are usually made within three weeks, and it takes a minimum of six months and a maximum of two years to train a dog through the program.

“We have to make sure we have dogs with solid temperaments and who are physically sound,” Corson said. “We need dogs who will perform their job no matter what is going on.”

Once dogs are trained, they’re able to complete tasks that help mitigate the handler’s documented disability. Assistance can include retrieving medication, assisting with balance, bringing a phone, creating a space in a crowd, waking up a person during night terrors or turning on lights.

Currently, there are 29 dogs in the program, and the nonprofit is always in need of puppy raisers, which helps the program train more dogs. Puppy raisers are those who open their homes to a puppy and help raise them to become a service dog.

Elizabeth Van Velzen, a Chesapeake resident, went through a year and half of training with Orion, her golden retriever. Van Velzen raised Orion from a puppy before entering the program. Orion is now a trained service dog that assists her with mobility issues.

“Having a service dog has given me the opportunity to experience the world again,” Van Velzen said. “I can do things like navigate crowds, safely transit sloped paths without handrails and even ride on a boat again.”

Corson said her biggest reward is to hear stories down the line about how the dog made a difference in someone’s life.

“I tell people hands-down that I have the best job in the world,” she said. “I work with heroes and dogs every day. Who can beat that?”

On April 14, there will be a pingpong fundraiser to benefit Mutts with a Mission and Ping Pong.GIVES, a local charity that uses the sport of table tennis to improve mental health and brain fitness. Kirk Kimble, event organizer, said the pingpong tournament will be a fun day of supporting veterans and brain health.

Thank you Lee Belote, writer for The Virginian Pilot. Read full article here.

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