SHERIDAN — A love for furry creatures in his childhood turned into a career path for Donald Prosser when he enlisted in the U.S. military as a canine handler from 1977 to 1983. Now, Prosser furthers his passion for dogs and helping fellow veterans through his job at the Sheridan Veterans Affairs Health Care System.
In light of the looming winter season, Prosser noticed several of his clients at the VA with assistance animals in need of extra protection from the harsh Wyoming weather.
“The VA gets veterans from all over the United States of America for their programs,” Prosser said. “These dogs might be used to different types of weather than what we have here. If their dog needs a sweater or a jacket, it’ll be available to them.”
The VA does well in providing winter clothing for the veterans themselves, but Prosser saw a gap in care for the veterans’ companions.
He stepped outside of his career duties at the VA to obtain coats and sweaters for assistance animals.
“I know how important these dogs are to the veterans,” Prosser said.
The assistance animals provide companionship and aid in maintaining good health for the veterans. Because of this, Prosser said many veterans become cabin bound if their assistance dogs are uncomfortable in the adverse outdoor conditions.
Prosser knew he could not afford to purchase enough cold-weather protection to sustain a program for the dogs out of his own pocket, so he reached out to a local Facebook group and received “outstanding feedback.” The Second Chance Sheridan Cat Rescue donated 95 percent of the coats and sweaters he currently has and continues to support local veterans in their animal needs.
Elaine Kristiansen, the nonprofit’s director, said the organization began serving veterans free of charge for all services when a few years ago a veteran needed a place to house a cat while undergoing surgery at the VA. Since then, the shelter has provided any service to veterans free of charge for cats and other domestic pets. Services provided for the pets have included vaccinations, housing and fostering cats, spaying and neutering, microchipping and supplying dog and cat food.
“If we can help them with their animals, especially their service animals, then we can relieve the stress so they can go get the surgeries or go to the hospital as needed,” Kristiansen said. “The cats are taken care of; we give them reports and we don’t charge them.”
Kristiansen said she feels that it’s the shelter’s way of giving back to the veterans. The response from their customers often resulted in emotional reactions of overwhelming gratitude.
Prosser captured and continues to reach the hearts of like-minded animal lovers through his project. Mariellen Oxley — a cat owner, lover of furry friends and foster pet parent for the cat rescue — had dog coats on hand that she willingly donated to the cause.
“I help out people as much as I can who own pets,” Oxley said.
Oxley’s husband served in the armed forces, as did several other family members; veterans in need hold a special place in her heart.
Prosser can be contacted through Facebook for those wishing to contribute to the cause.
“I’m giving back to my brothers and sisters (through my job at the VA) and now I want to give back to the dogs,” Prosser said.