Veterans and their service dogs paraded through the Home Depot in East Northport yesterday to give thanks for helping hands.
Paws of War, a nonprofit organization based in Nesconset that pairs veterans and first-responders with service dogs, thanked store manager Chris Holter and assistant store manager Ken Nathan on Thursday for donating their time to help the organization.
The two men spent eight hours building Paws of War an outdoor shed to house some of their training supplies.
The nonprofit also rewarded Holter their patriot award, recognizing the significance of how Holter secured a $10,000 grant from Home Depot, about $2,000 of which went toward supplies to build the shed. The grant also funded veterinarian supplies for the group’s furry friends.
“Chris has been helping the veteran community for a long time,” Robert Misseri, the president and co-founder of Paws of War, said. “When he learned of the needs of Paws for War, he stepped right into action.
“Because we are so limited for space, all of our apparatuses that we use for training such as wheelchairs and medical equipment are now in the shed,” he added.
As a district community captain for Home Depot, Holter works within a network of nonprofits to help the eastern Long Island organization with time and grant funds.
“Kenny (Nathan) and myself, we got a grant that got them a lot of supplies, and we were able to donate some time to build a shed as well,” Holter said. “We love working with not-for-profits, its something we’ve done for a long time and we’re looking forward to doing it in the future, as well.”
For the veterans who join Paws of War, furry friends provide companionship through trying times and transitions.
“Having Buddy has helped me get back into society, prior to that I was always staying home,” Angelique Williams, who served in the Navy for 19 years, said while looking down at her lab Buddy. “We love running, we like hiking, Buddy loves to play with his rope toy. He helps me get out.
“It’s very comforting to have Buddy, especially in crowds,” she continued. “He’s a very happy, loving dog, so it’s a blessing to have him.”
Perhaps more important than linking veterans with dogs, the organization helps vets connect with each other in meaningful ways. Michael Kidd, who served in the Navy during the Korean War, and his dog Amira joined the organization shortly after losing his wife in 2016.
He said he “felt funny” when he first opened up with people from the organization, but now helps veterans through that process.
“I know what he’s going through because I’ve gone through it,” Kidd said. “It seems like a lot of people in civilian life walk away from us, they shun us.”
For many veterans, the COVID-19 pandemic reintroduced or exacerbated feelings of isolation.
“The pandemic wasn’t kind to me,” said Rob Emprimo, who served in the U.S. Marines for four years. “I was pretty high-functioning and I thought this stuff was behind me. A lot of vets don’t know what they’re going through. I didn’t know if people were trying to help me or hurt me.”
After trusting and joining Paws of War, Emprimo was paired with Gracie, a loving dog who helped him while he was grounded at home, and brought his family closer together.
“She’s the Krazy Glue,” he said.