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Service dog named for Whitehall’s Jesse Reed, who was killed in Afghanistan, will go to a veteran in need

Military working dogs wait in formation during a memorial service for two dogs who recently passed away at Joint Base Andrews, Md., Oct. 28, 2016. The service honored the MWD’s accomplishments and included a 21 gun salute and the playing of Taps. (Senior Airman Mariah Haddenham/U.S. Air Force)

Jesse Reed loved dogs and he loved to help others.

So Dolores Reed found symmetry in the fact that a service dog trained to help a veteran would bear the name of her son, who was killed in 2010 at age 26, while serving as a U.S. Army Specialist in Afghanistan.

Dolores Reed was there Tuesday night when the auxiliary of the Donald S. Reinert Egypt Post 7293 presented a $17,854 check to representatives from the Tails of Valor program to sponsor and name two dogs that will help veterans in need.

“I’m almost crying right now just thinking about it again,” Reed said by phone Thursday. “Just knowing there will be a dog out there named Reed who will be helping a veteran in need is an honor. Jesse loved animals, especially dogs. So for him to have an animal named after him helping people, I am sure would mean the world to him.”

When Whitehall High School graduate Jesse Reed died, he left behind his wife, Heather, who was pregnant at the time, and a nearly year-old son, Dylan. He never met his younger child, Jesse Jr., but Dolores Reed said the now 9-year-old boy is the spitting image of his father and his personality has a similar fire. Jesse Reed’s legacy lives on in his loved ones, his mother said, but the auxiliary’s gesture adds to it.

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The other dog sponsored by the Egypt VFW will be named after Donald S. Reinhart, a World War II veteran killed two weeks before his 21st birthday on May 11, 1945. Reinhart, for whom the post is named, was an aviation ordnance man on the USS Bunker Hill, which was destroyed by a Japanese suicide plane. He died with 372 other servicemen.

Deb Smith, president of the auxiliary, has led the fundraising effort to acquire and train the dogs through the Coopersburg-based Tails of Valor, Paws of Honor program.

The program, founded in 2014, thrives on donations by businesses and individuals, which pay for the acquisition and training of dogs that work as service animals and companions to qualifying veterans, many of them wrestling with the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder. Smith said the VFW initially expected to raise enough money to sponsor a single dog, but the community support was such that it was able to afford two dogs, for a total of $10,000. The rest of the money will cover the costs of raising and training the dogs.

Jana Spess, program administrator for Tails of Valor, said it costs $25,000 to $35,000 to acquire, raise and train a dog for a life of service. The organization graduates about five or six each year and has 16 dogs in various steps of the training process. The program has given 14 dogs to qualifying veterans since 2016.

Veterans can apply for a dog on the organization’s website — tailsofvalor.org. The process is comprehensive, requiring letters of recommendation and notes from a mental health professional. The veterans who receive a dog do not have to pay for the animal and are provided with dog food for life through Verus Pet Foods, a program sponsor.

With suicides averaging more than 16 a day among veterans since 2007, the stakes remain very high, Spess said.

“The goal is to save them,” she said of the veterans who receive dogs through the program. “The dogs help them focus. There are so many things a dog can do for someone in need like that.”

Smith, from the auxiliary, was struck by how the community rallied around a cause to help veterans while also honoring the legacy of a fallen soldier.

“It ended up being bigger than we ever thought it would be,” she said. “Being able to sponsor and name two dogs was just so special for us. Our auxiliary was never able to do anything like this before and it was worth every bit of our hard work.”

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