Barbara Masi, a native of Larchmont, New York, wanted a majestic greyhound since the early 1960s. In 1980, she moved to Boynton Beach, Florida to escape the cold to a place where there are no chimneys. When she attended a 2000 Greyhound Pets of America adoption event seeking to make a decades-old dream come true, she asked a volunteer, “Who needs me the most?” Shortly after, she adopted a special needs brindle male named Flash, who had been in foster care for two years.
Barbara never stops asking,”Who needs me the most?”
Barbara established Awesome Greyhound Adoptions, Inc. in May of 2011. She started the Hounds and Heroes program to train this magnificent breed for our veterans as an integral part of the organization. A variety of trainers joined her and in 2013, trainer Carolee Ellison, an instructor at South Tech Veterinary Assistant Academy joined the organization as head trainer for the Hounds and Heroes team. Their efforts are not only unique in the state but exclusive on this planet. Together, they evaluate primarily young greyhound pups, typically between 18 months to 2 1/2 years old who display desire and potential ability to assist physically or emotionally challenged veterans.
Hounds and Heroes has united 12 greyhound service dogs with veterans and currently has two in training. The average cost of an assistance dog for purchase from an organization or private trainer ranges from $13,000.00 – $20,000.00, but Hounds and Heroes is committed to providing service dogs to those who have served free of charge.
Under Carolee’s direction, greyhound entrants undergo intensive training for four months learning 32 commands and how to drink from a water bottle. Once these are mastered and harness qualifications are met, hounds are paired with a veteran applicant. Together, they complete two months of additional canine and human training before permanent placement. When service dog and handler requirements are completed, the results are life-changing.
Steve Mundell was a Marine Corps Military Police enlistee who served a 2003 tour in Kuwait and two tours in Fallujah, Iraq in 2004 – 2005 returning with physical disabilities and PTSD. He completed his service in 2006 at Marine Corps Air Station in Cherry Point, North Carolina. In January of this year while attending a veterans’ Welcome Home event in Okeeheelee, Florida, he dropped by the Hounds and Heroes booth and completed a service dog application.
Two weeks later, Steve was paired with Buddy, formerly known as PJ TREE SHAKER by BD’s GRAYSON X GREYT SKY. An instant connection was forged. Buddy is a goof at home with Steve, his wife, and two children, but when donning a service vest, this red three year old is all business. Buddy proves a calming influence in a clamorous environment and keeps a close eye on auto mechanic Steve while working at Schmacher GMC, a high-volume dealership in West Palm Beach.
Frank Policastri is a Brooklyn, New York native and a Vietnam era veteran. He served as a U.S. Army Sergeant from 1972 – 1983 and ended his service due to medical issues. He began a career with the Federal Government as an IRS Research Analyst in 1983, and retired in 2003 from the US Department of Labor, Veterans Employment and Training Service as an Area Agent. Frank, who experiences physical mobility leg and knee problems, attended the South Florida Fair in January 2015.
Frank struck up a conversation with Barbara Masi, who is also a civilian officer of the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office Animal Kindness Unit. It was there he learned about Hounds and Heroes and soon after was paired with Buff, once named PJ SHAKE AND BAKE, a male littermate of Steve Mundell’s Buddy. Buff braces himself to help Frank with vertical movements and assists him with balancing. With Buff by his side, he can now navigate curbs and steps that used to be insurmountable obstacles. Frank said Buff has kept him out of a wheel chair and added at least a decade to his life.
Sometimes the person who’s been there for everyone needs someone to be there for them. With the upcoming holiday season of thanks and giving, ask, “Who needs me the most?” Check out http://www.AwesomeGreyhoundAdoptions.org to find out how you may help.