Volunteers are the lifeblood of any non-profit organization and for K9 Partners for Patriots (K9P4P) Cindy Dietrich is a shining example of the selfless spirit of volunteerism. Mrs. Dietrich has been with the organization since its inception in 2014. Having been a nurse for forty years, service to people comes naturally to her.
Cindy had known Mary Peter, founder of the organization, for several years through their work with the Humane Society. When Ms. Peter, a professional dog trainer, approached her about the idea of starting a program training service dogs for veterans, Cindy immediately joined Mary’s mission.
An animal lover, she has two dogs and fourteen cats. Until he died recently, Cindy also had a Doberman Pinscher named Barron, a service dog who aided her when she fell, so she understands how service animals can be a lifeline to someone with a disability. For veterans this disability is often psychological, taking the form of PTSD or Traumatic Brain Injury.
At the age of 75 and having been a volunteer for the past seventeen years, Ms. Dietrich, even with a somewhat debilitating illness, is a dynamo of activity and enthusiasm. In the early days of K9 Partners for Patriots, she did just about everything – from answering phones and fundraising to cooking and cleaning. Now, Cindy is the coordinator of thirty volunteers and, as she says, she could use many more.
Mrs. Dietrich recruits and screens volunteers as she would anyone for a paid job and treats them with professional respect.
“I just ask for one day a week and we have a training program for our volunteers,” she comments. “Our biggest need is for short term fosters – people who will take a dog for just two to four weeks to get them acclimated to people.”
Many of these animals have been abandoned or neglected and could end up being euthanized if not for this program. K9P4P supplies all the food, leashes, collars, crates, etc. You don’t have to have a fenced-in yard. In fact, the organization wants the dogs to be walked so they get proper exercise and get used to walking on a leash.
Another area in which K9 Partners for Patriots needs volunteers is to fill in for office staff when they’re sick or go on vacation. This entails such duties as answering the phone and greeting visitors. They are also looking for people to be part of their acquisition team – looking for dogs to be trained for the program.
Because K9P4P is a non-profit, raising operating revenue is always in the forefront. Training a dog and matching it with a veteran who also goes through the training can cost $25,000 to $35,000. Rent on their building, utilities and other expenses takes another big bite out of their budget. There is always a need for volunteers to help with fundraising events. Their next fundraiser is a 5K run. It will take place on November 13 at J.B. Starkey Wilderness Park in New Port Richey.
“For a long time, Cindy was doing these fundraisers all by herself. She was the glue that kept it all together. Cindy sets the standard for all the volunteers,” states Communications Director Gregg Laskoski.
But, according to Mrs. Dietrich, “I get more than I ever give. What this does to your heart is unexplainable. It gives you peace to know that you’ve done something for someone that you do not know.”
With any job, whether it’s paid or volunteer, there are challenges and rewards.
“The most satisfying thing about volunteering with K9 Partners for Patriots is getting to see people who were broken and won’t make eye contact with you and then as the weeks progress they’ll hold their head up and maybe smile at you,” Cindy remarks.
One of the more challenging things for Cindy, as a dog-lover, is not being allowed to go up and pet the dogs. Service dogs are not pets; they’re workers. This is important to keep in mind when you meet anyone with a service dog.
Besides Cindy, there are two other volunteers that have been with K9 Partners for Patriots almost as long as she has and are an invaluable asset to the organization.
Bonnie Kauffman works with the dog acquisition team and at the front desk. She also helps with volunteer coordination and has done some speaking for K9P4P.
“One of the most rewarding things is watching the veteran get his freedom back,” states Ms. Kauffman.
Sandy Berg primarily works in the front office, answering phones, etc. She also helps with outside events.
“One of the most satisfying things is seeing dogs being placed and matched with the veterans. I just love the work that they’re able to do with the dogs and the vets together,” Ms. Berg remarks.
If you are a veteran or know a veteran who could benefit from the service dog program, call 352-397-5306 or go online at www.k9partnersforpatriots.com. If you are having any kind of mental health emergency, DON’T WAIT. Call the Veterans Crisis Hotline 1-800-273-8255.
Please consider volunteering your time in any capacity. Call 352-397-5306 to find out how you can help.