Fundraiser in Mount Clemens to benefit service dog program

Bark-E-Que Aug. 9 at American Legion Post 4

By: Julie Snyder | Mount Clemens - Clinton - Harrison Journal | Published July 19, 2019

 Veterans and their companions, who just completed service dog training in early July, are now ambassadors for Blue Star Service Dogs, based in Pinckney. A fundraiser will be held Aug. 9 to aid in Blue Star Service Dogs’ ongoing mission.

Veterans and their companions, who just completed service dog training in early July, are now ambassadors for Blue Star Service Dogs, based in Pinckney. A fundraiser will be held Aug. 9 to aid in Blue Star Service Dogs’ ongoing mission.

Photo provided by Christine Myran

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MOUNT CLEMENS — Since it was founded in 2010, Blue Star Service Dogs has brought countless dogs and veterans together — changing a multitude of lives for the better and forever.

Christine Myran, executive director of Blue Star Service Dogs, said the Pinckney-based organization, which changed its name from Stiggy’s Dogs just this year, averages 15 to 25 matches annually.

“We’re on track for 21 this year,” Myran said.

How do they do it? It all starts with a few connections with animal shelters around the state.

Myran said what sets Blue Star apart from many service dog organizations is that its canine companions are chosen from well-known shelters, such as Friends for Animals of Metro Detroit and the Macomb County Animal Shelter.

Next comes the training.

Blue Star Service Dogs started training selected shelter dogs at the Thumb Correctional Facility in Lapeer in 2015. These rescued dogs are housed 24/7 in the prison under the supervision of Michigan Department of Corrections administration and selected prisoner handlers. The organization also has a veteran prisoner housing unit at Saginaw Correctional Facility in Freeland through a program called Michigan Dogs of Correction, which allows veteran prisoners to train dogs to become support dogs for veterans and first responders.

“They’re trained in basic obedience for four to six months before they’re paired,” Myran said.

Any veteran interested in obtaining a service dog through Blue Star must first complete an online application, or pre-qualification survey. Myran said veterans with diagnosed PTSD, or who have incurred a traumatic brain injury, are the most common veterans who are paired with a service dog. Those veterans must also be able to travel to Pinckney one day a week for approximately a year to meet the dogs in the prison program, observe and take part in the training.

“I tease the guys, and the girls, by telling them it’s like online dating,” Myran said. “We know you, we know the dog, and we know what the dog needs to do for you. That’s how we’re able to make a successful match.”

There is no charge to the combat veteran to receive a service dog, but there are plenty of costs associated with caring for and training the dogs that come into the program. And that’s where local donations and monetary support become of vital importance.

To aid in Blue Star Service Dogs’ ongoing mission, Bark-E-Que, organized by Algonac residents Nick and Karen Straffon four years ago, has become an annual tradition at the American Legion Post 4 in Mount Clemens. This year’s fundraiser will be held Aug. 9.

Karen Straffon’s involvement in aiding military service organizations began after her father, a veteran, died in 2011. She had known about Wreaths Across America, but was moved to start a local chapter when she learned there was no wreath at Resurrection Cemetery in Clinton Township, where her father was laid to rest.

Straffon, whose husband is also a veteran, said her charitable work branched out from there with Blue Star Service Dogs.

Last year’s Bark-E-Que raised $15,000, and she’s hoping to raise even more this year.

“What they do is so important,” Straffon said of Blue Star. “Our guys, when they come home, it’s horrible sometimes. It really builds up for these guys.”

Myran said oftentimes veterans who struggle with transitioning into civilian life have problems going out into public places like shopping centers and parks, attending their own children’s athletic events, or going to live concerts and the like.

“They do individual tasks training and community access training and practice going out in secure locations,” she said.

Myran said that while needs to complete training differ at times, what is a constant need are treats for training. Other items needed include booties for the cold months, kennels for crate training and rest “because they’re training and working 24/7,” dog beds, and leashes and collars. She said private and corporate donations help them throughout the year, as do fundraisers like Bark-E-Que.

“Fundraisers like these are really fun ways to benefit veterans and these puppies,” she said.

The fourth annual Bark-E-Que will be held from 5 to 10 p.m. Friday, Aug. 9, at the American Legion Post 4, 401 N. Groesbeck Highway in Mount Clemens. Tickets cost $35 each in advance or $50 at the door. Children 12 and younger cost $10. A ticket includes happy hour, a pork and chicken ba rbecue dinner, face painting, a DJ, an open bar and soft drinks. There will also be a raffle and silent auctions.

One of those auction items is a wreath that Straffon made by hand from parts of the uniforms of three veterans: Army Sgt. Joseph Lilly, 25, of Flint, who died serving in Operation Enduring Freedom in 2012; Joseph Johnson, 24, of Flint, who was killed in action in 2010; and Lt. Col. Charles Kettles, of Ypsilanti, a Medal of Honor recipient and Huey helicopter pilot. He died from cancer in January 2019 at the age of 88.

“It’s still very emotional for us,” said Straffon, who was close friends with Kettles and was with him and his family when he passed. “It’s all very emotional for all the families and people who knew all these guys.”

In addition to the wreath, other items that can be won in the silent auction and raffle include two quilts made of pieces of uniforms from different veterans, two rides aboard a refurbished Huey helicopter, and autographed books.

Children in attendance at Bark-E-Que will each receive a stuffed dog bearing a vest with a Velcro closure made from the uniform of a fallen soldier. Those in attendance will also get to meet local veterans and their service dogs.

Tickets for Bark-E-Que can be purchased at Eventbrite — search for Bark-E-Que — or by calling (248) 268-3167.

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