It can be pricey for veterans to find the perfect service dog, and even then, that dog isn’t always what they expect. Marine veteran B.J. Ganem from Wisconsin saw far too many downsides to service dogs for veterans. But he knew he could make a change for the better. So, he founded Sierra Delta.
Instead of charging veterans thousands of dollars for a specially bred service dog, Sierra Delta lets them choose a rescue dog. The organization will train that dog to be the perfect companion for that veteran. Thus, it saves the lives of both dogs and veterans in the process.
Helping Fellow Veterans
In 2004, Ganem was driving a Humvee that was struck by a bomb. Ryan Cantafio, a fellow Marine, died because of it, but Ganem survived with a mild brain injury, several wounds, and a leg injury. Returning home after his duties got him thinking about how most veterans need a companion after their service, but not all can afford a pricey service dog.
When Ganem was in the hospital recovering from his leg amputation, George W. Bush visited him. The former president liked his idea of an organization for veterans and rescue dogs, so he encouraged Ganem to go through with it. The founder and owner of Blue Buffalo pet food also supported his ideas. They all knew that Sierra Delta was the type of organization that could really make a difference in the world.
“We’re trying to get rid of the myth of presenting a veteran with a dog. Instead, a veteran picks a dog and we train them with a focus on rescue dogs because so many are killed every year,” said Ganem.
All Dogs Deserve a Chance
Sierra Delta first launched in 2017 after Ganem closely studied how service dogs for veterans worked. He quickly found out that a properly trained service dog for a veteran could cost as much as $65,000, but the veterans rarely get much of a say in the dog they get. After careful consideration, Ganem realized that veterans could benefit from a variety of different dogs. So, he felt it was most important for them to choose their own companion.
John Matter is one of the many veterans who have benefitted from Sierra Delta’s mission. He first paid a lot of money to a different organization for a highly-trained service dog who would help him with his PTSD. But he quickly learned that the dog he got wasn’t what he needed. Sadly, the service dog wasn’t a good family pet either. So, he got in touch with Ganem to seek other options.
“I simply didn’t need a $65,000 service dog. They only give away 1,000 dogs a year and if I got one, then it meant somebody else didn’t get one,” said Matter.
Not only does Sierra Delta train rescue dogs to help their humans, but they also directly help veterans too. They help veterans learn to communicate with their dog and set a daily routine. Also, they even provide games and challenges for the veterans to win free gear.
Unlike other service dog organizations, Sierra Delta has minimal restrictions. As long as there’s proof that a person is a veteran, they have the opportunity to get a service dog. It’s the perfect way to help bring veterans and rescue dogs together.