Written by Tim Hadac
The old Sid’s site in Palos Hills (above) could be the new home of PAWWS, an organization that pairs service dogs with veterans. Photo by Jeff Vorva.
PAWWS hoping to make a 3.3-acre property in Palos Hills its new home
The former Sid’s Greenhouse site in Palos Hills could become a 3.3-acre dog house.
Pam Barnett, the founder and president of the Palos Heights-based Paws Assisted Wounded WarriorS is looking for some new and bigger digs and she is eyeing the Sid’s site at 10926 S. Southwest Highway.
“Our goals are to buy Sid’s eventually,’’ she said. “It is 3.3 acres, and it will serve as our PAWWS house, our base camp—like a military base camp. It has five buildings over there—it will include a kennel, a training facility, house where a caretaker can live, a place where the veterans can sleep when they come in from all over the country to train their [service] dogs for the three to four weeks it takes for us to give them a dog.”
That’s a long-term goal. In the next couple of weeks, Barnett and her crew will be preparing for its first fundraiser to help the organization which uses service dogs to help heal the psychological wounds of military veterans invites the Palos-Orland community.
PAWWS for Love coming upA veteran named Chris (PAWWS does not release last names) poses with his black lab, Buster in a show of bond between veteran and dog. Submitted photo.
PAWWS for Love is set for 6 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 15, at the Lexington House, 7717 W. 95th St., Hickory Hills. Tickets are $50 at the door, $40 in advance and may be obtained at Pack Leader Academy or online at pawws.org. The event, expected to run to midnight, will include a buffet dinner, cash bar, entertainment, and prize drawings.
“I’m excited about it. It’s our first official non-profit organization fundraiser,” said Barnett, whose current location is headquartered at 12332 S. Harlem Ave. in the Pack Leader Academy dog care facility and behavior center.
Launched several years ago and formally incorporated as a not-for-profit last year, PAWWS aims to acquire dogs and train them as service dogs to be paired with veterans in need, particularly men and women with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or traumatic brain injuries, at no cost to veterans, including the cost of food and veterinary care.
To date, PAWWS has trained two service dogs, but has ambitious plans.
Like most service animals, PAWWS dogs are trained to handle an array of duties.
“Our dogs are obedience-trained and house-trained, as well as trained to do house tasks,” Barnett said. “The majority of the tasks are the same from dog to dog, such as picking up stuff, reminding them to take their medication, waking them up when they have a nightmare, leading them outside of a building when they have a panic attack, alerting them when someone is approaching from behind, clearing a home when a veteran comes home [to re-assure the veteran that no intruders are in the home] and the most important thing is, we teach the dogs to block, to keep people away from the veteran by getting in between or even nudging people away from the veteran.”
That’s important for veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“What most people don’t realize is that [many veterans with PTSD] don’t want to celebrate,” she explained. “They don’t want you to throw a party for them. They don’t want to come to your party. We can barely get them to come to our events.”
Many of those tasks are performed because many veterans with PTSD “don’t feel safe anymore,” Barnett explained.
“[In combat situations], they always had a battle buddy to watch out for them, but now they don’t. Now, they’re on their own,” she added.
Most of the veterans she serves are homeless, as well as suicidal. “Twenty-four [veterans] a day kill themselves,” she said. “It was one a day when I started this.”
Dogs are never a trigger
Part of the canine training, Barnett added, is to ensure that the service dog never becomes a trigger for a veteran’s stressors.
“Just about anything can be a trigger [for a veteran with PTSD]. It’s anything that reminds them of war, and it can be something you’d never expect,” she noted. “For example, the wife made chicken again, and now he got mad at her and beat her up or whatever because he can’t stand to eat any meat with bones in it, because that reminds him of bodies.
“And that’s just one thing. It can be a Coke can on the ground. It can be a little kid running up to them. It can be a word, a TV newscast, seeing a person on the street [in Middle Eastern attire]. Anything can remind them of war, because everything reminds them of war.”
The service dogs are not a trigger, Barnett said, because they “never hurt [a veteran’s] feelings. They give love unconditionally and never do anything wrong.”
The dogs bond with their new owners and often make a remarkable improvement in a veteran’s life. Barnett tells the tale of a Palos Heights veteran who came to PAWWS to return his dog, because he was about to become homeless and he did not want the dog to be homeless, too. “I said, ‘Are you kidding me?’” Barnett said as she recalled that she then found lodging for the man—the same man who later credited the service dog with preventing his suicide.
Barnett reports a bit of frustration in getting pet-related corporate donors to assist PAWWS, so she is turning to local groups, individuals and units of government to see the value in what she is doing.
“Aside from the good we’re doing for veterans, wherever we locate when we expand—whether that’s Sid’s in Palos Hills or somewhere in Palos Heights or wherever—we will make a solid contribution to the local economy,” she said. “I already have people coming from all over [to Pack Leader Academy, one of the region’s premier facilities]. The revenue we could bring in [from a PAWWS development] would be substantial, when you think of the effect we’d have on local hotels, restaurants and more. We’d make Palos—whether it’s Palos Hills or Palos Heights or Palos Park—the nation’s top destination for veterans and their families to be helped like this. We just need a little help to move it forward and make it a reality.”