By Trey Youngdahl
Order of the Eastern Star (OES) Mountain Meadow Chapter No. 14 in Hatfield helps place a service dog for a local veteran in need. The project was funded through donations and fundraising over the past 5 years.
Every year when new grand line OES officers are elected, they decide on a charity to focus on for the year. This year, under Denise Hickey and Bobby Cooper’s administration, Arkansas OES focused on helping to place service dogs with veterans.
“This is the first year that we’ve been able to place a dog with a veteran,” said Arkansas Grand Chapter Chairman of the Service Dog Committee and current Mountain Meadow Chapter No. 14 Associate Matron Jodie Jennings. “That’s why it’s such a big deal to us.”
Will Rios, an Army vet with Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 153 Regiment, received the dog on Friday, Sept. 2.
“I met Will years ago before I was ever in Eastern Star when he was doing his tours in Iraq. He’s not the same guy that I met ten years ago,” noted Jennings. “When I joined Eastern Star, he was seeing (a doctor). He places dogs from shelters as companion dogs and wanted to do one for Will. It wasn’t enough—that wasn’t what he needed. He needed a service dog that was trained specifically for his PTSD, high anxiety and seizures.”
As you could imagine, these service dogs can be expensive, ranging anywhere from $25,000 – 40,000 depending on the training the dog needs based on the patient’s needs. The Alaskan Malamute and Husky mix, named Maya, actually belonged to Will before being trained as a service dog. After raising the funds and finding a good dog to place for service, Will and OES, as well as their chosen dog trainer, decided that it would be better to train a dog that was already well-acquainted with the veteran.
“Will had just gotten the dog. Her father is a police canine in Nashville, Arkansas. Her mother is the compassion dog for the LSU medical hospital, so she is quite perfectly bred for what she is doing,” Jennings explained. “Will was trying to do it all on his own and it just wasn’t working. A lady at Puppy Paws offered to train Maya, so I got her connected with Will. OES funded it all.”
The dog was presented alongside several members of the order, including several members of the Service Dog Committee, Maya’s trainer with Puppy Paws, and even the current Grand Worthy-Matron Denise Hickey. The reception was met with gratitude from Rios.
“It’ll make a big difference,” Rios said. “What the Eastern Star has done has made it to where I can take Maya with me when I need her.”