Retired Army Sergeant Christy Gardner is the Founder and President of Mission Working Dogs or MWD. Served by an active volunteer board including a youth advisor, a veterinary medical advisor, and a certified trainer, their mission is to improve the lives of community members who are living with disabilities and PTSD. They do this by providing them with properly raised and trained mobility assistance and PTSD service dogs, so they can live independently. They also offer therapy and facility dogs to reduce stress and bring mental well-being to those in nursing homes, hospitals, and schools.
Christy believes there has been a void in service dog training in Maine. So, in July of 2020, this seasoned service and therapy dog trainer and puppy raiser initiated MWD, and others excited to join her mission came on board. By April of 2021, the first class of four service dogs and their handlers graduated – today there are thirty-eight teams in the program. “It grew incredibly fast,” said Christy. “I’m constantly getting emails from the VA (The United States Department of Veterans Affairs) and individuals who’ve seen me on the news. It’s been an unbelievable two years.”
She hopes to redirect others’ lives through these gifted dogs. Her backstory is partly the reason for establishing this nonprofit. Her life went sideways in 2006 while serving as a Sergeant in the Military Police in Asia. Traumatically injured and forced to retire, she was plagued with seizures, pain, memory loss, and relied on leg braces to walk. Doctors told this accomplished athlete that she’d never be independent, never participate in sports, and was advised to apply for a service dog.
This Oxford veteran underwent years of physical and speech therapy and revisited her education. With fierce determination, a strong support system, and the addition of her ever-loyal service dog named Moxie, she redefined herself. She opted for a double amputation with various sets of prosthetic legs for specific activities. She defied doctor’s predictions and is Founder and President of the New England Warriors Hockey Program. Other accomplishments include competing with Team USA on the Women’s Para Ice Hockey and the USA Para Surfing Team. She trained with the Tokyo 2020 US Paralympic Team (until the pandemic halted them), and she’s a world ranked Para Shot Put thrower.
She’s known as a successful athlete and motivator because she’s risen above adversity. A Soldier’s Journey Home and the Tunnel to Towers Foundation had their eyes on Christy and knew that through MWD, she’s selflessly giving to others in need. So, in 2021 she was chosen as the recipient of a fully accessible, mortgage free, smart home. “It is truly and incredible, it’s freeing to have everything within reach. It’s beautiful,” she said of her modern home that’s patriotic with its blue siding, white roof, and red front door.
Programs and Pups
Because of the opportunities her now retired Moxie and her current service dog Doug have afforded her, Christy wants to encourage others who are experiencing a stalled life. She’s doing this by raising and training MWD pups as service dogs in a wide variety of jobs to assist their handlers. Tasks include pulling a wheelchair, opening doors, turning on or off lights, and fetching medication during a medical crisis. They can also provide intervention during a panic attack or nightmare.
MWD also specializes in therapy dog programs. They have different roles than service dogs but are important in the community. Their objective is to certify teams who’ll provide comfort and love to those in hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and other facilities.
Their pups are raised and trained for approximately two years and have assessments on their health, temperament, and skills. Several breeders have donated pups including Beth’s Bernedoodles, Maine Line Golden Retrievers, and Bear Pond Retrievers. MWD welcomes puppies from reputable breeders who follow mandatory health testing.
Christy indicated they have a need for puppy raisers - she’s currently raising thirteen pups herself, “They’re wicked cute.” She said it’s hard to raise a pup because it’s easy to become attached to the little ones, but it has an upside, “It’s incredibly rewarding if you can handle it.”
The Future of MWD
To accomplish all their goals and aid those in Maine who will benefit the most, Christy wanted a brick-and-mortar facility. “My dream is for it to be internationally accredited,” she shared. This will allow them to aid more people in need, especially vets, and qualify for additional grants. Christy said a key factor with this accreditation means the VA will cover all medical bills for the life of veterans’ dogs.
Ground has been broken for the fully wheelchair accessible facility. She said it’s on three acres in Oxford and hopes to have it operational by summer. Once completed, the campus will have ten buildings including a training center, offices, a veterinarian area, and kennels with indoor and outdoor dog runs. There will be cabins for those coming to meet, bond with, and train their new service dog.
To access the landlocked campus, a 3,400 ft. road was needed, and town officials invited Christy to name it. Christy felt it should send a significant message to all coming to the campus while being special to her. So, she named the road after her beloved first service dog and best friend who gave her so much confidence. Yep, MWD is on Moxie’s Way.
Note: MWD is hosting a Gala at the end of April. They are hoping for sponsorships and donations. Visit MWD at missionworkingdogs.org/ for details and all info on their programs, guidelines, and applications.