DAV Charitable Service Trust grant program gives veterans—and shelter dogs—new purpose.
Mark Mills spends a good portion of his week volunteering to help veterans in the Baltimore area. He serves breakfast at the Loch Haven VA Hospice Clinic; plays bingo with the residents of the clinic’s assisted living facility; and organizes fundraisers so they can maintain their greenhouse, buy toiletries and maybe enjoy dinner and a movie out. He’s also an active veterans advocate, sits on the board of representatives for mental health for the Vet Centers in the state of Maryland and is the commander of DAV Chapter 18 in Baltimore.
Despite his own disabilities, he’s able to do all this, and more, thanks to a four-legged, wet-nosed friend named Georgi.
Mills, an Army veteran, sustained a traumatic brain injury after being injured by a Hellfire missile in Afghanistan in 2003. Several years later, while deployed in Iraq, enemy insurgents attacked a weapons depot and set off an explosion that caused a second brain injury.
After years trying to manage the symptoms of those injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder—memory loss, headaches, tremors, balance issues, anxiety and hypervigilance—Mills’ therapist recommended a service dog.
“At first I resisted, because a dog would bring attention to my disabilities, which I tried to hide,” said Mills.
Eventually, Mills sought help through American Humane’s Pups4Patriots program, whose mission of pairing veterans with rescued service dogs is supported by a grant through the DAV Charitable Service Trust.
“We take dogs who are in need of a forever home and train them to become lifesaving service dogs for veterans coping with post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury,” said Marjorie Tharp, spokesperson for American Humane. “It is a program that truly is saving lives on both ends of the leash.”
Georgi, a black lab from a Colorado shelter, turned out to be exactly what Mills needed—and in return, she got a new lease on life. Most importantly, Mills said, Georgi helps him pay it forward to other veterans after he received claims assistance from DAV.
“[Without Georgi] it would be much more difficult, because I would not leave the house as much as I do and be as active with the DAV and the veteran community,” he said. “DAV and Georgi have given me purpose.”
Since Pups4Patriots began in 2017, through grants and hands-on training, it has paired more than 100 veterans with lifesaving service dogs—which in turn means the program has also saved as many rescue animals from unknown fates in shelters.
“With DAV’s grant, for which we are tremendously grateful, and other grants and donations, we will continue to help as many veterans and dogs as possible,” said Tharp.
But programs like this don’t run cheap, she noted. Waiting lists are long, and training is both time-consuming and expensive—upward of $30,000 per dog.
“There’s clearly a great need here, and we’re extremely proud to help provide support for meaningful programs like these,” said Richard E. Marbes, president of the Trust. “We are fortunate that so many have given so generously to the Trust, allowing us to provide resources to groups that are fulfilling unmet needs in the veteran community.”
And in this case, meeting those unmet needs means giving hope and second chances to veterans—and animals—who need it most.
“I am amazed with her ability to help me,” said Mills. “She brought me back to who I was before.”
Veterans wanting to submit a service dog request application can visit dav.la/si.