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Uniting disabled vets with service dogs

Mar. 21, 2014 - 09:02AM   |  
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Laky, left, a retired Baltimore County Sheriff K-9, and Zander, a retired Massachusetts State Police K-9, relax with their respective handlers Dave Crawford and Kevin Finizio, both disabled Navy veterans, after a presentation March 6 given by Northern Illinois University students on the Save-A-Vet program in Dekalb, Ill.
Laky, left, a retired Baltimore County Sheriff K-9, and Zander, a retired Massachusetts State Police K-9, relax with their respective handlers Dave Crawford and Kevin Finizio, both disabled Navy veterans, after a presentation March 6 given by Northern Illinois University students on the Save-A-Vet program in Dekalb, Ill. (Monica Maschak / AP)
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Laky, a retired Baltimore County Sheriff K-9, tries to roam the room with handler Dave Crawford, a disabled Navy veteran, after a presentation March 6 given by Northern Illinois University students on the Save-a-Vet program in DeKalb, Ill. (Monica Maschak / AP)

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DEKALB, ILL. — Theresa Van Den Eeden is one of 12 Northern Illinois University students gaining real-world experience while telling disabled veterans’ stories for a good cause.

Van Den Eeden, a senior marketing major, is helping create a magazine through the College of Business’ Experiential Learning Center to benefit Save-A-Vet, a Lindenhurst-based nonprofit organization that pairs disabled veterans with decommissioned service dogs.

NIU students will create a 68-page magazine and distribute 15,000 copies around the DeKalb area to raise funds for a Save-A-Vet facility to be built in DeKalb. The effort is still in its early stages, but NIU officials want Huskie House, a Save-A-Vet facility in DeKalb, to house disabled veterans while they study to earn a degree.

“It’s inspiring for me to be able to help out these dogs who never really had a chance and to be able to help veterans,” Van Den Eeden said.

NIU chose to help Save-A-Vet in January because the organization is the only one in the nation that saves decommissioned service dogs. Service dogs who retire otherwise have to be euthanized because they are trained to attack or harm people, which makes them dangerous to be adopted by the average person.

Danny Scheurer, the founder of Save-A-Vet, was at the university Thursday listening to students give a presentation about the magazine, which will include disabled veterans’ stories.

Scheurer said the NIU student’s project will be a pilot for the organization’s goal to present similar efforts at other universities.

“They’re our working business model,” he said. “We want to use this to help more veterans. Imagine how many veterans we’d be able to help if we got this in every university.”

A November 2012 article in Military Times Magazine ranked NIU 28th in a list of the top 50 four-year colleges in the country for veterans. The article asked universities to respond to a survey, which asked schools what programs they offer for veterans.

The university fell off the list entirely for 2014, however.

NIU officials want the school to become the best for veterans, said Thaddeus Hupp, director of college affairs. The Huskie House would be a location where veterans could go for all of their needs, Hupp said.

“NIU is a phenomenally veteran-friendly school,” he said. “There’s no reason why we can’t (be No. 1) to benefit veterans.”

Navy veteran Kevin Finizio has already benefited from the Save-A-Vet program. Finizio lives in a Save-A-Vet facility in East Dundee with a German Sheppard named Zander.

Finizio received the dog after he broke his back and suffered a head injury while on active duty in Norfolk, Va.

“It’s great to go to work and come home, and he’s happy to see you,” Finizio said. “No matter how bad a day you had at work, (Zander’s) just happy to see you.”

Chelsey O’Brien, an NIU student and sales representative for the magazine, said the effort gave her real-world experience. NIU students will offer a final presentation of their magazine May 2. Students plan to print the magazine during the last week of April, O’Brien said.

“On top of that,” O’Brien said, “we’re able to tell stories and help with the awareness.”

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