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Operation Orion: Rideout Elementary helping our veterans Jeannie Blaylock, First Coast News

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Operation Orion is in full swing! Do you have a heart for rescue dogs? Do you believe in helping our veterans? This project is right up your alley. And Rideout Elementary in Clay County is giving us all some terrific ideas on ways to help at your office or with your friends.

Operation Orion is raising money to help K9s for Warriors operate its new facility, which will be built at Nocatee. The non-profit group has helped warriors from Afghanistan and Iraq receive specially-trained service dogs at no cost. The waiting list is a yearlong, but the new, 17.000-square-foot facility will quadruple the program and become the largest K9 recovery program in the U.S. for our veterans.

The veterans all must have a medical diagnosis of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) or TBI (traumatic brain injury) or MST (military sexual trauma).

The dogs come from all over the U.S. Many were just 24 to 48 hours from being euthanized. 95% are rescue dogs in the K9s for Warriors program.

The Weaver Foundation will match your donations. So if your office raises, say $200, you'll actually be giving $400.

Rideout Elementary in Clay County stepped up to the plate already to raise funds.

The teachers and parents worked with principal Laura Johnson to hold bake sales, and pie-in-the face contests and other fundraisers.

The students especially liked the "Cutest Pet" contest.

That's an idea for your office! Bring in photos of your pet and put the pictures on boxes or jars. The pet with the most donations wins the title. Rideout students heard their teachers for days "campaign" for their own dogs.

The teachers explained to the students that Operation Orion is to help our veterans have hope and regain a comfortable life after their service overseas.

Matt is a veteran who says his service dog, Dozer, has helped him tremendously.

For example, veterans with PTSD, he says, do not like surprises, including people out in public coming up from behind them.

That makes getting money from an ATM or a jar of jelly off a shelf a potentially difficult situation. The anxiety, Matt says, happens in an instant.

The K9s, though, are trained to "cover." That means in one word Dozer crisply lines himself up behind Matt and nudges Matt's thigh if a stranger approaches him from behind. No surprises. Many panic attacks avoided.

So a big thanks to Rideout Elementary for its hard work and fundraising efforts. FCN will air the total money raised as we continue Operation Orion.

If you'd like to have a fundraiser, let Jeannie Blaylock know. jblaylock@firstcoastnews.com

You could have a dress-down day at work and charge $10 for folks to wear jeans. You could have Pet Photo contest or a barbeque. Whatever you create is up to you.

If you'd like to donate to the non-profit K9s for Warriors, go to K9s for Warriors website: http://www.k9sforwarriors.org

Remember, everything you give will be doubled because of the Weaver Foundation's community challenge grant.

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