Training center for assistance and therapy dogs coming to Oxford, Maine

OXFORD, Maine — While serving as a sergeant in the U.S. Army in Korea in 2006, Christy Gardner suffered devastating injuries, including to her spinal cord. These injuries eventually led to her having both legs amputated below the knee. The Oxford resident credits her service dog, a golden retriever named Moxie, for helping her regain her independence and get her life back.

This life-changing partnership is the inspiration behind the non-profit organization Mission working dogs. Gardner and dozens of volunteers help train service and therapy dogs for other Mainers in need. His dream of establishing a one-of-a-kind training center is now becoming a reality. The center will be located across the road from Gardner’s house, which was built last summer by veterans’ support groups Foundation of the tower tunnel and A Soldier’s Homeward Journey.

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The new center will have training rooms, an office, a conference room and bunk beds for volunteers. The hope is that the training center, which is the main building of the campus, will be completed by the summer of 2022. In total, the campus will have nine buildings.

All buildings will be wheelchair accessible, allowing the campus to be internationally accredited. The $1.1 million campus will feature nine kennels with indoor and outdoor runs and eight cabins — four on each side for people to come and get to know their dogs.

“They’ll really have that one-on-one bonding time, being full-time with the dog for two straight weeks,” Gardner said.

Moxie, specially trained to put Gardner on the path to independence, came into his life in 2010.

“She helped me with my wheelchair, picked up things I dropped, she was trained to call 911 on the house phone,” Gardner explained.

Being able to live on her own again has led to incredible accomplishments. Gardner is assistant captain of the USA women’s sledge hockey teamand she began training service dogs and therapy dogs after returning to Maine.

But Gardner wanted to do more to meet the demand for service dogs from people with physical disabilities and mental health issues such as PTSD.

She founded Mission Working Dogs shortly after the pandemic. A network of approximately 100 volunteers helps train service and therapy dogs in a variety of locations, from big-box hardware stores to sporting events.

One such volunteer is Colin Thompson, a freshman at Brunswick High School who is on the autism spectrum. The teenager works out with one of the dogs in training each week.

“It’s so empowering for him as a person. He’s not receiving services, but as a person who is now working to provide them,” Colin’s mother, Jennifer Thompson, said.

Moxie has since retired from service dog duties and Gardner has a new service dog named Indi. In the meantime, Mission Working Dogs needs financial support and supplies to help make the training center a reality. The non-profit organization also recruits volunteers to help raise puppies for up to a year before they move on to professional training. If you want more information about donations and volunteer opportunities, click on here.

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