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BENTLEY'S CORNER: Mutts with a Mission

This episode of Bentley's Corner gives you an inside look at a service dog training program for veterans and first responders.

PORTSMOUTH, Va. — Dogs are always mission-driven, whether it be for a treat, for a squirrel or for that open run in a big field.

But sometimes, they are called upon to embark on a mission that will envelop their whole lives and bring immense purpose to their objective.

So what’s the mission?

“We train service dogs for wounded warriors, veterans, police officers, first responders, and federal agents,” Brooke Corson said.

Brooke Corson is the founder of Mutts with a Mission. She has dedicated her life to training and molding dogs into perfect companions for those in desperate need of them. She saw first hand the need for these animals through her service in the U.S. Army.

“I started getting calls about losing friends to PTSD, they were committing suicide, so I kept telling my husband, there has got to be something we can do and he said you know, either shut up or do something and I did something so with the help of him and my brother we started Mutts with a Mission,” Corson said.

What better location to launch this program than the second-largest veteran community in the U.S. What’s different about this organization is that they are one of the few to work with veterans from all wars.

Brooke has a true passion for what they do here, and it comes down to a very strict selection process to find these heroes a dog.

“It takes a lot, a lot of work, a lot of time. So first of all, not every dog can be a service dog. I have four dogs at my house personally that could never be service dogs just because not every dog can. We look for a specific temperament and then we start at eight weeks old working them on everything they are going to need to know,” Corson said.

Corson abides by very high standards and even one slip up could mean disqualification from the program. The whole process, which includes inception into the training regimen to placement with a veteran or a first responder, takes about 2 years.

Together, Corson and her trainers have placed dogs with more than 50 veterans, monumentally and forever changing their lives.

Johnny Ayo is a medically discharged 20-year veteran of the USMC with a service dog named Eclipse. He was beaming the whole time 13News Now talked with him about his experience with Eclipse.

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“She means the world to me. It’s kind of funny, my wife used to say no dogs on the bed well apparently we had to get a king-size bed because eclipse is part of that now,” Ayo said.

Ayo has mobility issues and Eclipse is specifically trained for tasks like picking up his cell phone if he drops it and accompanying him if he is in a wheelchair.

“Not only does Eclipse enable my independence, I have numerous friends that have seen that change, a couple of them have applied to be puppy raisers and I am just excited to know that they will be able to do that,” Ayo said.

Corson said that funding is always welcome, but what they need most is puppy raisers.

“Puppy raisers come in, we place a puppy with them, and they come to class once a week training with us. They take the puppy home, they help raise it, take it out places, work on the obedience they really give a solid foundation being out in public working the tasks and things like that. We pay for everything, all expenses are handled by Mutts with a Mission,” Corson said.

Tina Batty started puppy raising for the program and is not the Puppy Raiser Instructor.

“This program fell right in our laps here. and we began puppy raising Amelia and Abe, two of our mastiffs that are now graduates and in the program, it was a wonderful experience and I was very very blessed,” Batty said.

13News Now Meteorologist Tim Pandajis was blown away at what the organization has been able to accomplish and the work that goes on there that legitimately changes lives. The smile on Johnny’s face when he looks at Eclipse, the way Brooke talks about her labor of love and the excited tone in the voice of Tina shows just how much this program means to so many.

Anyone in need of a service dog can find Mutts with a Mission online and fill out an application there. The program has been so successful that there is now about a year-and-a-half waiting period for dog placement.