OXFORD — The Oxford Hills Chamber of Commerce Christmas Parade on Saturday will be to the dogs, and Lorraine Hill of the Post 9787 Foreign Wars Veterans Auxiliary couldn’t be happier.
Military veteran Christy Gardner of Oxford, who suffered multiple amputations following an accident while serving in South Korea, accepted Hill’s invitation to be guest of honor at the auxiliary on his chariot, the first he entered.
Hill said the plan was to collect enough donations for Mission Working Dogs to fill the beds of two pickup trucks and be piled on top of the tank. Some of the dogs will ride the float and others will walk with their handlers.
The Auxiliary’s lead truck will pull a flatbed trailer equipped with hay bale seats, a Christmas tree adorned with vintage and handmade ornaments, and a decorative reindeer. A second truck will serve as bookends.
Considered the largest Christmas parade in the state, the theme is Christmas has arrived! The procession begins at 11 a.m. near Café Nomad on the main street in Norway and ends in the market square in Paris around 2 p.m.
Hill said volunteer recruits of all ages will participate. Auxiliary members Mary Maberry and Dot Forini, both 90, have their seats chosen in each of the trucks. Students from Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School in Paris will walk alongside the float, handing out candy to onlookers and raising financial donations to Mission Working Dogs.
“We’re focused on Mission Working Dogs,” Hill said. “We will have Christy’s banners on the sides of the float. Our boombox will play “Who Let the Dogs Out” and the barking song “Jingle Bells”. And we also have patriotic songs to sing.
While the Auxiliary built his float, Gardner lined up Mission Working Dog co-workers and customers to participate. She wants as many dogs as possible to accompany her and her two service dogs, retired Moxie and newcomer Doug.
Moxie and Doug, along with eight young dogs in training, act as an exuberant welcoming committee of visitors to Gardner’s home in Oxford. It was completed last summer by veteran support groups Tunnel to Towers and A Soldier’s Journey Home. The pack befriends anyone who crosses the threshold and gets along incredibly well.
“We’re up to 28 dogs in the program,” Gardner said. “And three new candidates. Last April, we graduated our first class of four.
She said the foundation’s greatest need is donated goods. “Croquettes. Dry dog food. A bag of dog food lasts about four days,” she said.
Monetary support is also always welcome, she said.
Gardner’s vision for Mission Working Dogs is a training facility with a kennel, offices and cabins where customers can stay when they come to meet their service partners and train alongside them. The training “campus,” as she calls it, will cost just over $1 million to build.
There are myriad other ways people can support Mission Working Dogs, including puppy supplies and training equipment such as portable kennels, dog treats, leashes, collars and harnesses. The group maintains wish lists on the Amazon and Chewy websites, accessible through the missionworkingdogs.com website. Volunteers are also in high demand.
“We need puppy breeders,” Gardner said. “The basic requirements for raising an assistance dog are that people love dogs. They must be disciplined to commit to helping transport the dog for training. Other animals in the house are possible but it is There are conditions for a dog in training to live with other dogs, and they must be willing to give up the dog after caring for it for so long.
There are other ways for volunteers to work with dogs: helping with training sessions on socialization and exposure to different public situations, either as a handler or as a distractor; and organizing or working at fundraising events.
Breeders whose puppies have the temperament and intelligence to work as service dogs often donate their litters.
In addition to the VFW Auxiliary sponsoring Mission Working Dogs, the State President has adopted it as his flagship project for the year.
Hill said her entire group was thrilled that Gardner had accepted their invitation to the Christmas parade and that she was looking forward to meeting her.
“Between dogs and veterans, we’re addicted!” she laughed.
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