By Anne O'Connor
DEVENS -- QC Molly is a very nice little girl. Like most dogs, she keeps a close eye on her owner.
After all, she has a very important job to do. Molly is a Delta Dog.
The black and white dog with basset hound legs was rescued and trained by Operation Delta Dog to be a service dog for Jean Labbe, an Army veteran.
"She's my girl," Labbe said. During an hour-long presentation at the Fort Devens Museum on March 18 Molly and Labbe kept in close contact, facing each other while Labbe spoke to the audience.
Operation Delta Dog, headquartered in Chelmsford, has a dual mission, helping veterans with traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder while at the same time, rescuing homeless dogs.
"There's a lot of emphasis with placing the right dog with the right owner," said Lauren Burbridge, director of Operation Delta Dog. Labbe and Molly proved to be a good team.
"I'm not very tall," Labbe said. "Molly's not very big."
Not every dog can become a Delta Dog. Behaviorists and trainers identify the best candidates in shelters and breed-rescue foster homes. The dogs must be highly food-motivated so they can be trained.
After six weeks spent with a trainer, the dogs and veterans are matched. They live together and work with Delta Dog trainers every week. If a veteran needs a small dog, or one that is good with children or cats, that is part of the planning, said Sarah Stratton, operations director.
Molly's first veteran turned out to be allergic to dogs and Molly became available. Labbe needed a dog. Her previous service dog had died.
Labbe learned that QC was part bassett hound and part border collie. "I'm thinking this dog's going to look funny," she said. Instead, "I looked at her and said she's a Molly."
All over the dogs that Delta Dog trains are for veterans diagnosed with PTSD or TBIs.
Labbe has both diagnoses. When she begins to dream of the Berlin Wall, where she drove officers from 1980 to 1984, she recalls the people she could not save from getting shot.
Molly is there to break the trauma.
"She literally puts her head on me," Labbe said and thumped her sternum, "until I wake up."
Getting Molly ready to go out for the day allows Labbe to go out for meals, appointments and classes.
"Wherever I go, she goes with me," Labbe said. Molly will stand between her owner and others when Labbe gives her the sign.
Molly does whatever is needed. When the veteran fell, the dog assisted her in getting back to her apartment for help.
When Molly picked up a pen and then a stick from the floor for Labbe, she got a double reward: a big treat from her owner and a chorus of "oohs and aahs and good dog" from the audience.
Molly has yet to take her service dog exam. Training was interrupted in December after Labbe broke her leg in a fall. The dog went back to her original foster while Labbe healed.
"I just got her back last week," she said. Labbe tapped Molly's nose whenever the dog's attention wandered. That meant another treat for the eager-to-please dog.
It takes up to two years for a dog to be certified as a service animal. The process is expensive, about $10,000.
The veterans are not charged a cent. Donations, sponsorship and fundraising events all help.
The Maysek family sponsored Molly, who is more formally known as QC. The dog was named after the Maysek's father and husband. He worked in quality control and loved it so much, he earned the nickname "QC."
The initials remain part of her name.
Operation Delta Dog welcomes contributions from a full $10,000 "scholarship" to smaller amounts. The organization needs volunteer foster parents and help with organizing fundraising events.
Because the group has no central storage space, rather than donations of items, they ask for cards: gift cards to pet shops for the dogs and gas cards for the veterans who travel with their dogs to classes every week and for the trainers who travel to veterans' homes.
The mailing address is Operation Delta Dog, P.O. Box 121, Chelmsford, MA 01842. Their website is www.operationdeltadog.org.
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