Jeff Bouton has served our country in the Air Force for the past 18 years and this winter he attended the Warrior PATHH (Progressive & Alternative Training for Helping Heroes) program at the Travis Mills Foundation.
The program is for combat veterans, current servicemembers and first responders and is the nation’s first ever program designed to cultivate and facilitate post-traumatic growth and enable participants to transform times of deep struggle into strength and growth.
A New Mission
The experience was not only life changing for Jeff, but it gave him an idea on how to give back to a special population that was also present during the week-long PATHH initiation – service dogs.
“I’ve had dogs but not a service dog,” said Jeff, a Buffalo, New York, resident. “I noticed that one of the service dogs, Dakota, paid extra attention to me during some of the more difficult, emotional times of the program.”
Jeff also noticed that the toys available to the service dogs didn’t stand up to the amount of chewing they did.
“They just shredded them,” Jeff said. “I think they absorbed a lot of the stress and emotions we were expressing.”
After the program, Jeff’s appreciation for PATHH – the experience is free to those accepted – and his connection to the dogs, inspired him to hold a fundraiser so he could supply durable toys to the service dogs who visit the Travis Mills Veterans Retreat for the PATHH and family programs.
He raised $500 through a Facebook fundraiser and sought a local Maine company to supply the toys.
Jeff connected with Heidi Neal from Loyal Biscuit, a Maine-based, family owned pet supply company with seven locations throughout the state.
“When Jeff asked me to help him with this project, it was a no brainer,” Heidi said. “The support that service dogs provide to veterans is amazing. I am beyond honored that he reached out to me and to be part of this.”
Heidi said the toys supplied to the service dogs are from the Kong line and are for aggressive chewers.
Heidi not only sold the toys to Jeff at cost, but the company the cost of shipping the 50 heavy duty Kongs to the Retreat.
Pete Way of Augusta Georgia, a retired Army major, was in Jeff’s PATHH class along with Rory, Pete’s service dog.
“TMF is incredibly welcoming to service dogs,” said Pete,” It’s the little things they do – water bowls, letting the dogs be without a leash, letting them run around and get exercise in the yard.”
“While traveling, it’s hard to bring toys,” Pete added. “So Jeff’s donation is especially meaningful to me.”
Pete said he bonded with Jeff during the program and appreciated his infectious, positive attitude.
“It has been great getting to know him better and it is really touching that he did this for the service dogs,” Pete said.
A service dog, in a situation like PATHH, doesn’t only benefit his or her handler.
“They offer others stress relief and unconditional love.”
About the Travis Mills Foundation
The Travis Mills Foundation is a nonprofit organization that supports post-911 veterans who experienced life changing injuries while in service to our country. The Travis Mills Foundation Veterans Retreat offers our nation’s recalibrated veterans and their families a week-long, barrier free, all-expenses-paid experience at its world-class retreat in the Belgrade Lakes Region of Maine. It offers various programs that help these brave men and women overcome physical and emotional obstacles, strengthen their families, and provide well-deserved rest and relaxation. The Foundation also offers the Warrior PATHH Program (Progressive & Alternative Training for Helping Heroes) for combat veterans and first responders, the nation’s first of its kind program designed to cultivate and facilitate post-traumatic growth.