Jessica Mathews /

A large graduation ceremony is set this Friday for teams of military veterans and service dogs that have successfully completed a transformational program through a local non-profit.

Blue Star Service Dogs provides veterans diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury another method of healing through service dogs and training. Since 2010, the Pinckney-based non-profit has offered dogs free of cost for service men and women to use with their formal medical treatment to address physical and psychological injuries from combat. Through their programs, they seek to help heal visible and invisible wounds, provide families with new beginnings, and raise awareness about the potential of shelter and rescue dogs everywhere.

BSSD Executive Director Christine Myran says Veterans must have a diagnosis of PTSD or TBI, which are often accompanied by physical disabilities, but many also they also see a lot of anxiety, depression, and hyper-vigilance. She says their main mission is to rescue shelter dogs from around the state and place them in prison-housed dog training programs in Thumb and Saginaw correctional facilities. The dogs work with selected inmate handlers, who do basic obedience and other training. Myran says most dogs stay between 4 and 6 months and learn how to do all tasks based on standardized testing. Once they reach a certain standard and criteria, they’re introduced to a veteran.

Myran says the veterans will go in and meet all of the dog cadets and they work to determine who will best fit the needs of a particular veteran. Once that’s established, she says the veteran goes home and begins training at their center in Pinckney, where they learn how to utilize their dog in the best way they can to meet their personal goals and decrease their symptoms.

Myran says it’s about a year-long program on average and this Friday will be the largest graduation class they’ve had since they started. 14 veteran and dog teams will be graduating, accepting certificates, and be endorsed as one of their teams – which Myran says takes a lot of hard work. She says it’s very exciting and they’re hoping to increase their numbers as needs for service dogs have increased quite a bit, especially since the pandemic. While they are a non-profit and a small group, she says they are doing what they can to help more veterans.

Due to the large number of graduates and limited space at their facility, two ceremonies will be held at Manly West Bennett Park in Hamburg Township. The event is not open to the public as personal testimonies will be shared and Myran says there’s “not a dry eye in the house” when their veterans talk about how the dogs have saved their lives.

Separately, Blue Star Service Dogs will host its Freedom Gala fundraising event on November 5th. Tickets and sponsorships are available. More information is attached.

The full interview with Myran was featured on WHMI’s Viewpoint program this past Sunday, which is available in the podcast section of our website.