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Philanthropy Cape-Style

Sierra Delta: Improvement, Purpose, Innovation and Community

Text by Christina Galt

Sierra Delta, the Nantucket-based nonprofit, strives to empower veterans through the love of dogs. Founder and CEO of Sierra Delta, BJ Ganem explains, “I knew from my personal experience, after I was injured in Iraq, just how much a dog can help.” The goal was to figure out a way to make things more accessible for vets. “Currently on the traditional system, only about a thousand veterans a year get help with service dogs.”

The nonprofit realized that, “Life Buddies,” companion and emotional support dogs, were just as needed and important as service dogs. “We quickly began working on ways to help more veterans get connected with dogs,” says Ganem. Sierra Delta developed two programs, their Service Dog Program through their Academy Partners and their Life Buddy Program through their platform and community.

Full-Access Service Dogs are specifically trained to go everywhere with a veteran, even places that do not allow dogs. The Service Dog Program can train for severe PTSD, loss of limbs, vision or hearing loss and more. The program can provide emergency assistance, item retrieval such as prosthetics, rousing from night terrors, opening and closing doors, pulling wheelchairs, and daily activity assistance. Veterans that are interested in a service dog can apply in minutes through Sierra Delta’s website. Sierra Delta then works with veterans to educate them on what it means to have a service dog and gets them in contact with one of the nonprofit’s Service Dog Academies across the country. Veterans then learn and bond with their new service dog through instructor-led, focused training through one of the nonprofit’s service dog providers. After graduating, veterans and their dogs can continue with the Life Buddy Program.

Limited-Access Life Buddies are trained to a veteran’s specific needs with access anywhere dogs are welcome. The Life Buddy Program can train for basic commands, Canine Good Citizen, house and crate training and more. The program provides enhanced wellness, motivation to engage, emotional support, increased independence, and home and public assistance. For veterans who want to join the Life Buddy Program, they just have to apply. “In the Life Buddy Program, veterans can bring their own dog and we source trainers in their area to help them customize the training to their specific needs and lifestyle,” explains Ganem. If they don’t have a dog, the nonprofit encourages them to adopt. “The main goal is to connect them to a dog and through that dog to their community.” The Program even developed an app, the Life Buddy Program App, for ongoing community, care, and support. “Every veteran with a dog can use the app,” explains Ganem. “It offers games they can play with their dog, training tips, and veterans can earn points by just walking their dog and getting out of the house.”

Ganem notes, “We are trying to build a program that allows veterans to be a part of a growing community based on our love of country and dogs.” This year alone, the nonprofit has helped almost a thousand veterans get connected with a dog. “We can’t do this work without everybody’s help,” says Ganem. “We’re really just trying to bring awareness in any way we can, while expanding in a responsible, reasonable and sustainable way so veterans are getting their needs met, while also giving these dogs a forever home.”

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