For the last four weeks, eight staff members at FOX 7 have been taking classes to become certified puppy raisers for Patriot Paws.
That means everything from teaching the dog commands to learning about how to socialize a service dog.
Patriot Paws is a nonprofit organization that trains service dogs for mobility disabled veterans.
“So there's a lot of different things that these dogs are doing for the veterans, some that we can train them to do and some that they just do out of their hearts,” said Patriot Paws founder Lori Stevens.
Training the dogs starts when they are just eight to 10 weeks old and continues for two to three years.
The ability to help a veteran and spend time with a puppy was one FOX 7 did not want to pass up.
“FOX 7 has been working on veteran’s projects for the last four years. We started with Mike Warren and Careforce. We participate every year in the Veteran’s Day parade, this was just a logical step for us,” said Pam Vaught, Vice President of News at FOX 7 Austin.
“We have 120 veterans on our waiting list and they're asking for help, things that you and I take for granted each and every day. Opening and closing doors, pickup dropped items, having a good night's sleep are the things that these veterans want. They want to get away from the medication, the pills, and just get something that can be with them 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” said Stevens.
FOX 7 employees volunteered as designated puppy raisers. After learning the right and wrong ways to teach a dog new tasks and tricks, FOX 7 puppy raisers got to meet their new 14-week-old black lab, Tommy Leinbach.
“We got our puppy, Tommy, today so it was our first time to work with him officially as our dog. It's a lot of work. Most of us, as trainers, have dogs and we think we know what we're doing, but this is a completely different kind of training. We're training this puppy to be a service dog to help a veteran,” Vaught said.
Tommy is sponsored by the Leinbach Company in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Ed Leinbach, the company's founder, named Tommy after his uncle who died in combat in World War II.
After spending time with the FOX 7 family, Tommy will go to the puppy training program with inmates at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
“We'll have him for the next four months through the end of the year, so we will give someone a great Christmas present when he goes off to prison,” said Vaught.
That process will repeat until Tommy is ready to graduate and be placed with a disabled veteran.
Currently 120 vets are waiting for a Patriot Paws service dog and on average that wait lasts 3-5 years, but as vets at Patriot Paws will tell you, it's worth the wait.
“If you're sad, they'll lay their puppy dog eyes on you and sometimes they'll lay there with you all day. And other times they'll bring you a ball until you get up and go play ball with them,” Stevens said.
The dogs cost about $35,000 to prepare for veterans in need. That is paid for by sponsors and donations and the hundreds of volunteers at the nonprofit organization help to bring down the price as well. That way veterans don't have to spend a dime for their new best friend.
“I’ve been training dogs for over 30 years and I still cannot explain some of the magic that we've found in these dogs,” said Stevens.
Everyone will be able to follow Tommy on FOX 7 and fox7austin.com.
If you would like to donate, volunteer or apply for a service dog head over to patriotpaws.org.