MILFORD, Va. (WRIC) – Five yellow lab puppies have been given a mission. Starting this week they start the next step of their journey towards becoming service dogs for veterans.

The nonprofit organization Leashes of Valor trains and pairs service dogs with Veterans at no cost to them. The group typically rescues and trains shelter dogs for the role. The five Labrador puppies were donated by Hero Labradors to help the nonprofit meet heightened demand caused by COVID-19. Hero Labradors has worked with Leashes of Valor in the past and provides dogs to trainers under the condition that the recipients will never have to pay for their trained dog. 

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“Every day we take calls from veterans whose condition has been worsened during this pandemic, the quarantine and isolation,” said Navy veteran and Leashes of Valor President Danique Masingill. “Increasing the size of our program is just the right thing to do.”

The puppies will begin their training with foster families from as far away as Boston, Massachusetts. The fosters will house break, socialize and raise the dogs until they’re ready to be returned to Leashes of Valor and be paired with their veteran. 

“I’m so incredibly grateful for the families who are helping us respond to this crisis,” Masingill said

Once the puppies are old enough, they’re paired with veterans and trained to meet the veteran’s specific needs. The dogs will learn skills such as identifying physiological changes caused by post-traumatic stress disorder, retrieving medicine, waking veterans up from nightmares or performing roles specific to physical handicaps. 

Leashes of Valor has the veterans work with the dogs for 16 days on the farm before they go home together. In order to help veterans struggling with quarantine and isolation Leashes of Valor has worked to speed up their placement process. The non-profit will expand its 16-day program from one veteran at a time to four. 

“We know how these dogs can help, especially in times like this,” said Leashes of Valor Founder and Marine veteran Jason Haag in a press release. “So, while we don’t want to sacrifice the quality of our program, because that’s what makes these partnerships successful, we need to step up.”