Sammy and friends

ROD STETZER, The Herald

Sammy, a resident at the Veterans Assistance Program in Chippewa Falls, gets attention from fellow residents, from left, Devin Baeen, a Marines veteran, Mark Lawrence, a Navy veteran, and Brian Burdick, an Army veteran. The Happy Tails Dog Park in Chippewa Falls is picking up cost of the feeding and medical care of Sammy so the dog can continue to serve veterans.

Sammy’s health care plan is kicking in, and his buddies at the Veterans Assistance Program in Chippewa Falls are thrilled.

“Just having his presence around is soothing,” said Navy veteran Mark Lawrence.

“He’s got the ability to cheer you up,” says Brian Burdick, an Army veteran.

But keeping Sammy, a 7-year-old golden retriever, at his post was uncertain. That’s where the people who run the Happy Tails Dog Park at 841 Chippewa Crossing Blvd., Chippewa Falls, are coming to Sammy’s rescue.

The veterans program at 2820 E. Park Ave., on the grounds of the Northern Wisconsin Center for the Developmentally Disabled, helps veterans make a transition to the next phase in their lives. Sammy arrived there two years ago, after a woman donated her therapy-trained dog to the veterans.

“That dog is so smart,” Burdick said. “It’s like he knows what you’re thinking.”

Sammy certainly knows about announcements about meetings and fire drills. When a meeting is declared on the public address system or when a fire drill sounds, Sammy makes sure everyone hears him barking. The dog even lets the veterans know it’s time to get moving.

His therapy training also is helpful.

“When I’m feeling down, I’ll go looking for him,” Burdick said.

Lawrence puts it this way: “With Sam, everything is unconditional.”

The problem is, there is an expense in keeping a dog. Besides feeding him, Sammy sometimes has to see a veterinarian. But there was no money in the veterans program budget for either.

Some of the veterans donated their own money to buy food for Sammy. And a program administrator paid Sammy’s medical bills out of his own pocket.

After the Happy Tails Dog Park held the fundraiser Pooch Party in October, the veterans program approached Karen Polzin, president of the dog park, to see if its board of directors could lend help to Sammy.

The board did better than that.

“They call it ‘Operation Sammy,’” said Christin Casa De Calvo, a case manager at the Veterans Assistance Program. “They pay for his food, his treats and his vet bills.”

Plus, they made Sammy a lifetime member of the dog park, where he is walked about every other day by one of the veterans program residents. “The veterans enjoy the walks, too,” Casa De Calvo said.

The change has made Sammy healthier. The dog has lost weight. Sammy’s medical treatment means he can now easily bound up steps.

“He’s a happy-go-lucky type of dog,” said Casa De Calvo, who is thankful for the actions of the dog park. “It makes it so we can keep Sammy here.”

That has made for some happy veterans, knowing their buddy will be around until it’s time for the veterans to depart the program.

“When I leave here, I’d like to take him with,” Burdick said.

Lawrence added: “When I’m gone, I’m going to miss him a lot.”

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