Past, present and future service dogs are, clockwise from rear left, Moxie, Libby, Belle, Indy, Abigail, Ranger, Doug and Eleanor. Christy Gardner’s foundation matches service dogs with veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and/or mobility challenges. Submitted photo

OXFORD — The Oxford Hills Chamber of Commerce Christmas Parade on Saturday is going to the dogs, and Lorraine Hill of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9787 auxiliary could not be happier.

Military veteran Christy Gardner of Oxford, who underwent multiple amputations following an accident while serving in South Korea, accepted Hill’s invitation to be the auxiliary’s guest of honor on its float, the first it’s ever entered.

Hill said the plan is to collect enough donations for Mission Working Dogs to fill the beds of two pickup trucks and be piled onto the float. Some of the dogs will ride on the float and others will march alongside with their handlers.

The auxiliary’s lead truck will pull a flat-bed trailer set up with hay bale seats, a Christmas tree adorned with vintage and handmade ornaments, and a decorative reindeer. A second truck will act as a bookend.

Billed as the state’s largest Christmas Parade, the theme is Christmas Is Here! The procession begins at 11 a.m. near Cafe Nomad on Main Street in Norway and ends in Market Square in Paris about 2 p.m.

Hill said volunteer recruits of all ages will participate. Auxiliary members Mary Maberry and Dot Forini,  both 90 years old, have their spots picked out in each of the trucks. Students from Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School in Paris will walk alongside the float, passing out candy to spectators and collecting financial donations to Mission Working Dogs.

“Our focus is on Mission Working Dogs,” Hill said. “We’ll have Christy’s banners on the sides of the float. Our boom box will play ‘Who Let the Dogs Out’ and the barking ‘Jingle Bells’ song. And we’ve got some patriotic songs to sing, too.”

While the auxiliary built its float, Gardner lined up colleagues and Mission Working Dog clients to participate. She wants as many dogs as possible accompanying her and her two services dogs, retired Moxie and up-and-comer Doug.

Moxie and Doug, along with eight young dogs-in-training, act as an exuberant greeting committee of visitors to Gardner’s home in Oxford. It was completed last summer by veterans’ support groups Tunnel to Towers and A Soldier’s Journey Home. The pack makes immediate friends with all who cross the threshold and get along amazingly well.

Christy Gardner of Mission Working Dogs doles out rawhide treats to Moxie, center, her retired service dog, while the rest of the pack wait for theirs at her home in Oxford. Nicole Carter/Advertiser Democrat

“We are up to 28 dogs in the program,” Gardner said. “And three new applicants. Last April we graduated our first class of four.”

She said the foundation’s greatest need is donated goods. “Kibble. Dry dog food. A bag of dog food lasts about four days,” she said.

Monetary support is always welcome, too, she said.

Gardner’s vision for Mission Working Dogs is a training facility with kennel and office space and cabins where clients can stay when they come to meet their service partners and train alongside them. The training “campus,” as she calls it, will cost just over a $1 million to build.

There are myriad other ways that people can support Mission Working Dogs, including puppy supplies and training equipment such as portable dog kennels, dog treats, leads, collars and harnesses. The group maintains wish lists on Amazon and Chewy websites, which can be accessed through the website  missionworkingdogs.com. Volunteers are also in high demand.

“We need puppy raisers,” Gardner said. “The basic requirements for raising a service dog are that people love dogs. They need to be disciplined to commit to help transport the dog for training. Other animals in the house is possible but there are conditions to a dog in training to live with other dogs. And they have to be willing to give the dog up after taking care of it for so long.”

There are other ways for volunteers to work with the dogs: help with training sessions on socialization and exposure to different public situations, either as a handler or a distractor; and organize or work at fundraising events.

Breeders whose puppies have the right temperament and intellect to work as a service dog often donate from their litters.

Mission Working Dogs take their seats on a bus to go to a training field trip. Clockwise from bottom left are Doug, Libby, Abigail, Ranger, Belle, Indy and Moxie. Submittted photo

In addition to the VFW auxiliary sponsoring Mission Working Dogs, the state president has adopted it as its signature project for the year.

Hill said her entire group is thrilled Gardner accepted their invitation to the Christmas Parade and cannot wait to meet her.

“Between dogs and veterans, we’re hooked!” she laughed.


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