The public is invited to a two-day celebration of a veteran service dog graduation in Marion.
Seven veterans arrived in Southern Illinois earlier this month and were quickly introduced to their new partners: specially trained service dogs. The service animals were extensively trained and prepared for them over the course of the past year by This Able Veteran, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping veterans heal. The veterans and their canine partners have been participating in a trauma resiliency program together since April 11, getting acquainted and learning to live and work together.
The veterans and their dogs will be the guests of honor at a special graduation ceremony and a send-off event.
The pairing ceremony and graduation will take place at the American Legion,11720 Longstreet Road, at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, April 29. After the ceremony, the Stateside Outlaws will perform in honor of the graduates. Members of the blues/classic rock/country band are themselves veterans.
In addition, a veteran send-off is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, April 30, at the Heartland Regional Medical Center, 3333 W DeYoung Street. Well-wishers will bid farewell to the vets and their service dogs as they depart for their homes and the next phase of their lives.
Both events are free and open to the public. Several regional legislators have notified organizers they plan to participate in the festivities.
This Able Veteran in Carbondale, provides veterans with specially chosen and trained service dogs at no cost to the veterans. The cost of acquiring, training and equipping a service dog averages about $25,000. This Able Veteran relies completely on donations and fundraisers to support their mission. Since the program began in the spring of 2011, nearly 30 veterans have received partner service dogs to help them overcome injuries, whether physical, psychological or both.