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Program hopes to pair retired greyhounds with local war veterans in Manatee-Sarasota

SARASOTA -- A local chapter of the National Greyhound Foundation is aiming to connect war veterans with retired racing greyhounds as part of a nation-wide movement to provide veterans with post traumatic stress disorder with a free service dog.

The Purple Heart Greyhound Service is modeled on the success of the foundation's 2nd Chance at Life Greyhounds & Inmates Prison Partnership Rehabilitation Program, which pairs the greyhounds with prison inmates suffering from PTSD.

Ken and JoAnne Wuelfing of Sarasota are part of the Southwest Florida chapter of the foundation and will soon have four greyhounds to pair with veterans. Veterans must undergo an application process before being awarded a greyhound. The dogs used for the veteran service are

trained by prison inmates.

"They're extremely docile gentle and laid back," Ken Wuelfing said. "Any breed can be trained to do commands, but in this case for veterans, they need a breed that won't panic. You need a dog that won't panic when a veteran has an episode."

JoAnne said the greyhounds are trained to circle their owner to create space.

"We expect them to bring the dog with them everywhere," JoAnne said.

JoAnne's father served in the Navy during World War II. She's hoping to connect her father with a greyhound.

"This is a way of giving back to the veterans," she said.

According to the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida, at least 5,000 former racing greyhounds are killed each year. Since 1994, the National Greyhound Foundation has found homes for thousands of retired greyhounds.

"We have 3,000 to 4,000 greyhounds available in Florida every year," JoAnne Wuelfing said.

In 2008, the Wuelfing's adopted a retired greyhound from the foundation's prison program and have fostered dozens since. The Wuelfings say there is massive potential for the program.

"They have been handled their whole life by multiple people," Ken said. "They know human contact."

Those interested in learning more about the service may call 941-312-1750 or visit www.purpleheartgreyhounds.org and www.bikersanddogs.org

Nick Williams, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411 ext. 7049. Follow on Twitter @_1NickWilliams

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