For the better part of three days last week, more than 100 volunteers with hammers, shovels and paint brushes worked to construct 10 new kennel runs for Franklin County Operation Save-A-Vet, Save-A-Pet program service dogs.
The project partnered Lowe's Heroes, a Lowe's Home Improvement stores corporate volunteer program, with Franklin County Veterans Affairs.
Lowe’s Heroes is a company-wide program that gives employees the opportunity to support local community improvement projects and make a lasting impact.
Operation Save-A-Vet, Save-A-Pet is a program dedicated to helping Franklin County veterans with service-connected disabilities lead happier, healthier and more productive lives by pairing them with trained served dogs.
“This is beyond exciting and we are so thankful to be chosen by Lowe’s for this project that will help our Franklin County veterans,” said Justin Slep, director of Veterans Affairs.
The Save-A-Vet, Save-A-Pet program is based at Good Dog Training & Boarding in Antrim Township.
*** More room ***
"Every year, each store does a Lowe's Heroes project," explained Marlin Stauffer, manager of the Carlisle Lowe's Home Improvement store. "Lowe's was founded by veterans returning from war, so we were excited by this project. We pooled our resources as a store to make a bigger impact."
More than 70 employees from Lowe's stores in Chambersburg, Carlisle, Hanover, Mechanicsburg and Harrisburg worked side-by-side with volunteers from the county and others to work at the kennels located at Good Dog Training & Boarding.
"The interest in the program when we announced it to our employees was phenomenal," said Pam Hartzok, manager of the Chambersburg Lowe's. "It's a great team-building opportunity for us because employees who don't typically work together get to share their talents, and it's a great way to thank our veterans for all the things they've done for us."
"We've certified five dogs so far, we have eight more in the program and three to five ready this year to certify," said Good Dog owner Helen Carlson, who has been training the dogs since the Save-A-Vet, Save-A-Pet program began in 2015.
Carlson said the dogs who go on to become trained to serve veterans must have a particular natural temperament and there's only so much room in her home for housing paws.
"A lot of times, I'd like to bring a dog in and evaluate it for a month, but I don't have enough space," she said. "I have three to five program dogs in my house and I'm at full capacity. This will enable us to expand the program. It's very exciting."
*** Helping hands ***
The Lowe's Heroes quickly got behind the project.
"This project realistically didn't exist a month ago," Stauffer said. "In one month, we designed it, got permits and poured concrete."
Work included building 10 indoor/outdoor kennel runs and improvements to the inside of the barn to allow for situational training rooms and a grooming area, as well as general painting and other tasks.
"We have crews from different Lowe's stores running different projects, as well as people from the county and just volunteers," Stauffer said Thursday, during a break from roof work.
But it took more than on-site volunteers to provide sweat equity.
"We leveraged our resources with our vendors," Stauffer said, mentioning Owens Corning and Quikrete, as well as local businesses such as M.E.L.'s Landscaping, St, Thomas Development, The Pet Store, Hickory Ridge, York Building Products, Pepsi Beverages Co., Mayes Septic & Port-A-Pots LLC, Annette Thompson, Lopez Construction, Dumpster LLC, Johnnie's Restaurant and Hotel Services, UGL, Scott's Hauling, Jared Reister, Amy Pensinger and Perry Fencing.
"It's one thing for me to ask for 200 tons of stone, but to ask if they can get it here today ... not only did they participate, they bent over backwards to get this done," Stauffer said. "Without these partnerships, this wouldn't have happened."
Despite one day of rain and a day of chilly wind, it wasn't hard to get — and keep — help.
"They're here on their own time on their own accord," Stauffer said. "Everyone stayed despite the conditions. No one was like, 'Hey, we gotta get outta here.'"
Stauffer said he and the volunteers were just happy to be helping a good cause.
"This program changes lives," he said. "The lives that have been changed and the lives that will be changed because we can impact more people. It's incredible."