AYNOR, SC (WMBF) - Our veterans and our first responders put their lives on the line for us every day and sometimes there are circumstances when they need our help in return. Big Paws Canine is providing a helping paw to our heroes in need.
The foundation provides service, therapy and companion dogs to first responders injured in the line of duty, and disabled veterans. In order to prepare the pups for our local heroes, Big Paws is opening its third facility, and its first in the southeast, in Aynor.
The foundation is working tirelessly to get it up and running for April. The goal is to enclose a large area to train the dogs, adding structures like doors and stairs to teach the dogs how to help veterans get through their daily tasks. The struggle is getting the supplies, monetary support and the skills to build it all together. Big Paws Co-Founder Mary Slavik said the goal is to get this done fast so the focus can be on saving lives.
"Every 65 minutes a veteran is taking their own life, and that's 23 per day, there are more killed per year than in most wars," said Slavik. It's the service dog that create a bond that is impossible to break.
"We actually have two dogs that I know of that have knocked the gun out of the hand of a veteran before they committed suicide and pulled the trigger," said Slavik. "So that bond is just invaluable."
For Mary and her husband Steve, their dog Boom has earned the title, man's best friend. Months of day-in and day-out training has prepared Boom to take on life-saving tasks.
"My husband took a fall up the stairs and he was the first one there to kind of get under him so that my husband can push off and actually get and stand up," said Slavik.
The couple relies on Boom to keep them in good health. After serving 13 years in the Marine Corps, Steve deals with more than just physical setbacks. It's his pair of "big paws," that have made a difference in his everyday life.
Each veteran and first responder has a different experience.
"There are issues that they're dealing with that no one should ever have to deal with," said Slavik.
So each dog will get customized training to its owner at the facility, which is a work in progress. Since struggles can build over time, these dogs are constantly learning. That's why the foundation promised continued training for the life of the veteran and the dog, at a down payment of $1 and a fee of $12 per year, but all employees volunteer their time and passion as a way to give back to those who selflessly give to us.
"These guys have already written a blank check with their lives to defend our country, and provide you and I the freedom we take for granted every day," said Slavik.
Big Paws is still looking for the local community to help with donations and sponsorships.
The grand opening of the Aynor facility is set for April 11. It will be a Chili Cookoff Fundraiser open to everyone. It is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., its location at 1379 Horry Road in Aynor.
You can pre-register to enter your chili, or donate $5 dollars to taste and vote. Big Paws is also looking for event sponsors and vendors. You can call Kathy Maupin 843-399-2939 or 844-Big-Paws (844-244-7927) x 701, before April 4.