Operation Delta Dog
Class: 2013 Winter Accelerator
Operation Delta Dog is a nonprofit organization with a mission to rescue shelter dogs and train them to work as service dogs for U.S. military veterans who suffer from PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) and TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury). The dogs get the homes they need, and the veterans get the help they deserve!
February 22, 2013
Great news to report… Just in time for the finale of the Accelerator, Operation Canine’s federal nonprofit incorporation application (otherwise known as the formidable Form 1023) is officially in the mail! Now it’s all up to the IRS. If—or should I say, when—the application is approved, OC will be a federally recognized 501(c)3 nonprofit. Please keep your fingers crossed for speedy approval!
I also just got a look at the website designs, and they are wonderful. Very clean with a peaceful vibe… The designer recommended light blue and yellow for a color scheme, and I’m so glad she did. Now I just have to figure out how to get it up and running on WordPress. I guess that will be my first post-Accelerator, solo challenge. Daunting.
On another topic, I just started reading a book called “Developing the Leader Within You” by John C. Maxwell. I’m not very far along, but the book so far has really great insights. I wanted to share a few quotes I found particularly valuable:
“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Leadership begins with the heart, not the head.”
“A leader is great, not because of his or her power, but because of his or her ability to empower others. Success without a successor is a failure.”
“Loyalty to the leader reaches its highest peak when the follower has personally grown through the mentorship of the leader.”
All of these things have made me rethink my approach to managing volunteers. Before, I was planning to ask, “What can you do for us?” Now, I will also ask, “What can we do for you?” I have to learn how to make it a mutually beneficial relationship, not a one-way street.
February 18, 2013
Assumptions, assumptions, assumptions! The testing was all going so well, and then… A speed bump.
My two main assumptions were: (1) At least some local animal-welfare organizations would be willing to work with me, and (2) At least some local veterans’ organizations would be willing to work with me. Testing those two assumptions in the past few months has had wonderful results. I now have two animal shelters and one breed-rescue organization on board (with many more in the works), and also five different veterans’ counselors/social workers/psychologists who are excited about the program and eager to recommend veterans who can participate. The biggest of these is the VA Hospital in Bedford, which is so huge it resembles a college campus. The case worker I spoke with there has more than 9,000 veterans in her care.
So that was all great. Then I learned that one of my other assumptions was dead wrong. I had estimated the salary of the dog trainer based on research of nationwide averages, which ranged from about $15-$18 per hour. I bumped that up to $25 an hour, taking into consideration the higher salaries of the Northeast, and asked a few people if that sounded about right. I got the thumbs-up and proceeded from there to make all of my cost estimates based on that amount.
Then I had an in-depth meeting with some experienced dog trainers (some of whom have worked with service dogs). They told me they loved every aspect of my proposal except one: the salary. Turns out, I wasn’t even in the ballpark. They all told me I should budget for at least $60 an hour, if not more, for a quality trainer. Needless to say, this threw my entire budget into a tailspin! I’ve had to revamp everything and unfortunately my costs are now quite a bit more than I had planned for.
I’m trying to look on the bright side and realize that it’s better to learn this now than later… At least now I can plan for it, instead of being blindsided down the road. Either way, it won’t put a damper on Operation Canine’s plans. If we have to raise even more money to make this happen, then that’s what we’ll do.
February 11, 2013
Just returned from a wonderful week in Walt Disney World, where I was surprised and happy to notice that service dogs have designated “break” spots in each park. You had to search for them, but they were there! The first one I saw was tucked away behind Space Mountain in the Magic Kingdom… It was a well-landscaped little grassy area surrounded by a quaint fence. (Apparently, even dogs get the “magical” treatment at Disney!) A sign indicated that it was set aside for service dogs. I did encounter one service animal during the week: a seizure-alert dog that was walking along with its owner and taking in all the sights. Very cute.
I also learned a thing or two about animal training while in the Animal Kingdom park. I took my kids to an animal-encounter show, where we had a great time watching a trained skunk and a trained porcupine (yes, you read that right) perform a series of behaviors. The trainers explained that they use the positive-reinforcement clicker-training method, which is the same method we plan to use at Operation Canine. She also explained exactly how it works and how they trained each animal to do particular tricks. The show made me feel less intimidated by the process… If they can make a skunk roll a plastic bottle with its feet, surely we can train a dog to flip a light switch!
February 1, 2013
I just stumbled across a great new start-up that was “cooked” by Start-X, an Accelerator program run by Stanford University. The company makes Roominate, a build-your-own dollhouse toy that encourages right-brain play and building skills—it even has wiring for lights, etc. The company was started by three young women who wanted to inspire the next generation of female engineers and entrepreneurs. Pretty cool! They raised $85,000 through Kickstarter and also received some Angel Funding. So far they have sold more than 2,000 Roominate kits at $59 each. Love that story. Here’s the website:
Here in Operation Canine territory, it was another busy week. Todd’s presentation about… well, presentations, was especially fun and inspiring. I also added another talented person to my advisory board and had a long-awaited visit to the VA Hospital in Bedford. Elizabeth Price is the case worker for thousands of Massachusetts veterans; she gave me the skinny on the local situation, offered to set up meetings with veterans she knows who have service dogs, and agreed to work with OC on the pilot program and beyond. It was a wonderful meeting and I’m looking forward to many more.
I also met with Jill O’Connell at the Lowell Humane Society, who was very supportive of OC’s efforts and eager to get involved. She had several specific bits of advice for dealing with shelters that will come in very handy as I move forward. I also touched base with my mentors during the week with specific questions; they were each quick to research/respond. The four of us just planned our next (and final?) meeting, which is slightly bittersweet for me. When the program ends, I will miss those regular mentoring sessions.
Meanwhile, I have two books I’m eager to crack open: one about fundraising for nonprofits, and another about grantwriting. I seem to learn best by reading, so I’m hopeful they will be like a mini-seminar on those very important topics.