My name is Lori Stevens, and I am the Founder and Executive Director of Patriot PAWS Service Dogs. In 2005, I was working as a professional dog trainer when I was asked to help a group of disabled veterans by assisting them in training their dogs. After visiting the VA Hospital in Dallas, I realized the great need that many of our mobility-impaired veterans have for assistance dogs. I wanted to try to help them, so with only a few friends and family members on board, I started Patriot PAWS in a small storefront in Rockwall in 2006.
I can hardly believe how much we’ve grown since then. We now occupy an entire warehouse and are outgrowing it so rapidly that the top of our current wish list is for someone to help us acquire a piece of land and custom-build a training center to better meet our ever-expanding needs. Our small paid staff is assisted by a host of volunteers from all walks of life doing everything from administrative work to socializing our dogs to holding demonstrations and fundraisers on our behalf and much, much more. I call them my “angels unawares” from the quote from Hebrews.
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) came on board with us in 2008 when they allowed us to start an all-female inmate training program in Gatesville at the Crain and Lane Murray units. Carefully-screened inmates are selected for our program in which they are trained to become dog trainers. They take puppies new to the program and teach them all the basics with the puppies living with them behind bars. After basics, custom training begins in which the dogs are taught behaviors to assist someone who is mobility-impaired. They can pick up dropped items, provide bracing to get up and down, bring the phone, help with household chores such as laundry, go get help in an emergency, ease the effects of PTS and so much more, not the least of which is be a best friend and full-time companion. A number of these inmates have gone on to work in dog-related fields after parole including two who now work for us as trainers here in Rockwall. We are very proud of the success of our TDCJ program in which our dogs get quality training, the inmates learn skills they can use after parole and disabled veterans get the help that they so desperately need.
We Serve Heroes
A young lady once told me that I’m her hero. I was taken aback by her words, and upon reflection, concluded that I’m no hero, that heroes are those who have served our country and sacrificed so much for all of us. What I am is a truly blessed person who, with the help of my staff, volunteers and inmate trainers, is able to give back to these true heroes to make their lives just a little bit better. We owe them far more than we can ever repay, but we’re doing what we can, four paws at a time.