Suzy and Mike Kitchens of Smoky Mountain Service Dogs won Farragut Rotary Club’s Shining Light Award.
They received the award at the Farragut Rotary Club meeting Wednesday, June 1, in Fox Den Country Club.
“Definitely, I think the silver award is going to be something that helps us to take our organization further and for more people to know about us,” Suzy Kitchens, SMSD board member at large and chairwoman emeritus, said.
“Most importantly, I think people need to know that we spend an immense amount of time training service dogs to help veterans with issues of walking, balance, opening doors, retrieving items and that training and those dogs make a huge difference in the quality of life for a veteran who has been injured to the point that his life is totally changed after he has served our country,” she said.
“These dogs are trained to perform lots of specific tasks,” Mike Kitchens, chairman, said. Retrieving dropped items, bringing phones and bringing medicine bags are among tasks performed by SMSD’s dogs.
“So you have those many helpful tasks that the dog’s trained to do for the veteran but also that bond between the dog and that veteran … You can’t describe it. The veteran feels that ‘Well, I’ve got my battle buddy,’ because they come out of a war environment where they depend on their friends,” he said.
The dogs relive the need for veterans’ spouses and children to perform the kinds of jobs the dogs do.
“It’s a great addition to the family unit,” he said.
Suzy Kitchens said the organization serves veterans in a 350-mile radius of Knoxville. The radius allowed them to cover several states and to do home visits, as part of the application process, and get back in touch with the dog’s recipient if there are any issues.
The dogs helped with veterans who had difficulties with mobility. She said most recipients us a cane at least some of the time.
“It’s not necessarily a specific injury or disease. It is more the ability of their body to be able to perform tasks that are easy for you and I, in terms of walking, picking up items and so forth,” she said.
“We are always looking for volunteers because without our volunteers we simply could not do what we do,” Mike Kitchens said.
The organization’s greatest need is for puppy raisers who will work with trainers and raise puppies for about six months.