Matching rescue animals with Veterans in need is LaVonne Bower’s passion and her drive to help others is evident the moment anyone meets her.
Oz, her founding partner, is a pit bull mix who was automatically at risk for euthanasia due to his breed when he entered the shelter. To make matters worse, his back leg had been shattered in an accident. Luckily, Nate’s Honor Animal Rescue stepped in to save him, but in order to get have the necessary and expensive back leg amputation surgery, he needed a foster home. LaVonne initially planned to foster Oz, but the moment she met him and he curled into her lap, she knew he wasn’t a foster dog; he was their dog. LaVonne and her husband, Matt, adopted Oz and they quickly witnessed how well Oz interacted with people.
Several months later, Oz passed his therapy dog certification test, and LaVonne took him to visit patients at the Veterans Administration hospital. Oz was a natural, with his gentle and calming temperament, and Veterans and their families were impressed by his resilience and optimism. Just as impactful, while interacting with patients, LaVonne heard from them about how difficult and expensive it was to get their own Service animals.
Through Oz, PAWs was born. Together, LaVonne, Oz, and a team of volunteers search far and wide to match Veterans needing emotional support animals or service animals. Great detail is required ensuring the very best fit for the Veteran, as well as the service pet, is achieved. PAWs hope and end result for each Veteran is to help them live a better life and to enjoy a life they’ve somehow lost. Through their matched, rescued animal, these Veterans are able to cope with matters they have not been able to do on their own.
LaVonne’s strength is largely defined by her overcoming breast cancer in 2017 while just beginning PAWs. LaVonne’s inner-strength has been the foundation of her passion to help Veterans enjoy a life they once knew. Through various networking and relationships built, PAWs is able to help find the right rescue animal no matter where the Veteran may live.
To date, Paws and Warriors have helped worked with organizations like Goodwill Manasota, Sarasota Manatee Association for Riding Therapy, Operation Second Chance, Black Dagger Military Hunt Club, Motherruckers, and The Brian Bill Foundation, to connect Veterans with therapy animals.