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Niles church helps veteran get service dog

Money raised will go to German shepherd puppy’s training

Tribune Chronicle / Bob Coupland Wags for Warriors representatives Jennifer DeLorenzo, executive director, far right, and trainer Frank DeLorenzo, center, speak with Pastor Paula Marbury of Niles First United Methodist Church, left, and veteran Dan Zarzour, who is feeding Bubba, a 7-month-old German shepherd ready to be trained as Zarzour’s service dog.

NILES — Members of the First United Methodist Church spent this fall selling baked goods, prayer beads and other items to raise $4,597 that will be used to train a German shepherd puppy named Bubba to be a service dog for a veteran.

The check presentation was made recently at the church to Wags 4 Warriors representatives Jennifer and Frank DeLorenzo, who brought Bubba and the dog’s new owner, Dan Zarzour, with them to meet the congregation.

Church pastor Paula Marbury said many church members sold items outside Walmart, Perkins Restaurant and Dragon’s Den to raise the money. She said between $4,500 and $5,000 is needed for the training provided by Wags 4 Warriors.

Church members said the event was one way the church gives back to the community.

“The community really supported our effort overwhelmingly,” said Patrice Kish, a church member.

Kish said there are many veterans at the church and the congregation wanted to do something to help a veteran like Zarzour, who was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

The mission of Wags 4 Warriors is to unite veterans, who suffer from PTSD or a traumatic brain injury, with an appropriate dog and to provide all of the training, equipment and support at no cost to the veteran. The ultimate goal is for the service dog to help the veteran face everyday struggles.

Jennifer DeLorenzo, executive director of Wags 4 Warriors, said Bubba, who is 7 months old, began his training at 12 weeks old.

“He is still in the beginning stages of training and will soon earn his service vest. He must complete so much training before he gets the vest. Even after he gets the vest, there will be several more months of training,” she said.

DeLorenzo said the dogs are taught the difference between how to act with the vest on and off.

“They learn that when they have the service vest on, they are working,” she said.

DeLorenzo said Bubba is very energetic.

“For being 7 months old, he is doing a great job,” she said.

Zarzour said he appreciates what the congregation did to help him.

DeLorenzo said the dogs learn to feed off what their veterans are going through and often help pull them out of situations and calm them down.

Bubba will put in 120 hours of training, which includes 60 hours with Zarzour in public settings such as malls, restaurants and businesses. Some veterans attend school or work.

“It takes about a year to complete all the training,” DeLorenzo said, noting training takes place in Broadview Heights.

The service dogs are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act and can go anywhere their veteran goes except sterile areas, such as operating rooms and restaurant kitchens.

“Each dog must learn a minimum of three tasks to perform for their veteran. Most of our dogs learn as many as 10,” DeLorenzo said.

Wags for Warriors was co-founded by the DeLorenzos. The organization was started to help service men and women that have been affected by their combat experience.

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