Dogs, Veterans and a Match Made in Cleveland
When U.S. Army veteran Frank DeLorenzo learned there was a three-year wait to get a medically prescribed service dog from an out-of-state organization, he and his wife Jeniffer began doing research that became life-changing for many veterans.
With the help of dog trainers, they adopted a puppy and began working with her to become Frank’s service dog.
Frank’s position as the Army Wounded Warrior advocate at the Wade Park Veterans Administration campus in Cleveland led doctors and other veterans to ask about his service dog. The couple worked with other veterans to help train their dogs, and the organization grew from that need.
The DeLorenzos co-founded Wags 4 Warriors in 2011 to help veterans who have been affected by their combat experiences that challenge them every day. Service dogs help with anxiety or focus issues, giving the veteran a reminder of where he or she is and that all is calm.
The group is a nonprofit agency that accepts tax-deductible donations to help with the adoption, veterinary care, training and equipment expenses.
“We didn’t want to see families struggle the way we did,” Jen says. “We wanted to make sure that if there was something we could do to help a veteran, we would. We quickly realized there was a huge need here in Ohio. We wanted to help veterans without causing them any financial burden or strain.”
Wags is the only organization in Ohio that does this free of charge for veterans.
As of 2017, the program has helped rescue more than 350 dogs and warriors.
“Ninety percent of these canines are rescues from shelters,” Frank says. “We have had approximately 50 or more Vietnam veterans and another 50 or more ages 50-plus in the program.”
Recently the program moved into a new training facility in Broadview Heights. Jen runs the day-to-day administration and Frank oversees the training.
“There are many veterans who apply for the program, so we do our best to work through the applications as fast as possible,” Frank says.
“We get to see where the veterans are when we first meet them, and in a short time they are smiling again. When you meet a veteran who tells you their life is over, we ask them to try the program out and we place a dog with them. Now you have given the veteran something other than themselves to think about.”
U.S. Army veteran Danny A. Werner, 68, learned about the Wags program at the Veterans Administration building open house in Parma. He met his service dog, Blu, in late 2012 and now volunteers as a trainer.
“After going through the program, I decided I wanted to give back,” Danny says. “I feel it has helped me and I now help other veterans with their service dogs. It’s very satisfying to see them progress from beginner to earning their vest to becoming a full-fledged service dog. It’s also good to see the change in the veteran.”
To find out more, visit wags4warriors.org, or call 330-285-3941.
Margaret Briller enjoys writing about and supporting military veterans in Northeast Ohio through auxiliary organizations.