Not many people exude passion and caring as much as Watertown’s Karen Lanser when she talks about her beloved, relatively new, pursuit in life — aiding veterans in obtaining service dogs through her charity organization, Heroes for Heroes.
“When you said you wanted to do a story on Heroes for Heroes, it brought me to tears,” Lanser said one recent day as she spoke with the Daily Times at Watertown’s Veteran’s Park, her one-and-a-half year-old German shepherd Loki tugging at his leash as he wanted more freedom to inspect the grounds.
“With Heroes for Heroes, we want to raise money so first responders and vets can get service dogs at no cost to them. And then we work to educate and advocate for people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder,” Lanser said.
Lanser started Heroes for Heroes in August of 2019 and is the organization’s president. “There are three of us — myself, Susan Gossett, who is vice president and Kathie Bergen, director of community relations. We do all of our marketing, events and fundraising.
“We didn’t do much in 2020 due to COVID limiting in person events, but we are back at it now,” Lanser said. “On Sept. 11, we put on a 5K run to honor fallen first responders from that fateful day in 2001 and and veterans that have fallen afterward. Also in September, we had a volleyball and bean bag tourney at Kathy’s Buffalo Bar in Watertown.”
Heroes for Heroes does not provide the service dogs directly to veterans, but raises the funds so veterans — from any era and any place in the United States — can obtain them.
“We are currently partnered with Custom Canines Service Dog Academy of Madison,” Lanser said. “We donate the money we raise to Custom Canines. I met Nicole (Meadowcroft), who is the founder of Custom Canines in June of 2019. She is an amazing woman with an inspiring story, as well. After meeting some veterans that had service dogs, I was moved and wanted to do something. Nicole and I talked and she encouraged me to start this non-profit. I want to expand on our mission and do more events and I want to be doing some speaking on PTSD.”
Lanser is well aware of the help a service dog can provide to a veteran.
“When speaking with some of these vets with service dogs, one of them said, because of his service dog, he is a ‘survivor’. He is a Vietnam vet,” Lanser said. “I talked to another one who was in the Iraq War and he said, after he got his dog, he could sleep through the night for the first time since being back. Another child had said that, if it were not for her mother’s dog, her mom, an Iraq veteran, would not be here.”
The cost to raise and train a service dog so it is fully ready to take care of its new owner, is $25,000.
“And through various events over the last couple years, we have been able to help multiple veterans,” Lanser said. “There are so many more in need and we want to be able to help as many as we can”
Lanser said if someone is interested in getting a service dog through Custom Canines, he or she can simply apply for it with Custom Canines.
“Custom Canines has the trainers and they secure the dogs. They work with the animals and vets to make a good pairing,” Lanser said. “We are purely the money-generators.”
Lanser said as people are increasing their immunities to COVID-19 as time progresses, she would like to hold a golf outing, or shooting event at a place like Milford Hills to raise more funds.
“A couple of big events a year would be fabulous and then smaller events we can do more often,” she said. “We have done three 5K run and walks, two at Riverside Park in Watertown in September for National Service Dog Month, and one virtual in 2020.”
Heroes for Heroes also has held a “Santa, Paws and Patriots,” pictures with Santa event that was free for veterans and its crew also pools its resources around Christmas to send “thank you” cards to veterans at VA hospitals.
Lanser said the amount of time she devotes to Heroes for Heroes varies during different times of the year. She devotes a lot of time when event planning is going on.
“The rest of the time, it’s a good balance of just talking with veterans, as well as trying to have a good work/life balance,” she said of her career as an information technology project manager at the corporate level. She also leads a veterans and military resource group in the workplace.
Lanser has lived in the Watertown area for the past 26 years after moving here from the Quad Cities of Iowa. Her family life, she said, consists of, “a lot of spending time with friends and family, my puppies and kitties — just enjoying what life has to offer.”
Lanser said the number of veterans whom she has helped is unknown.
“I don’t just donate money, I donate time,” she said. “My life changed when I stopped just assuming certain things and started listening to veterans and their needs — then acting on what they said. They just need to talk sometimes. I listen to them when they need an ear. I let them know they are not alone. Through that and talking to people like the Daily Times, it is raising awareness of the needs of veterans. I like to think I’m not just helping vets, but their supporters and educating people, in general, on how to be there for vets when they need it.”
Lanser said that Heroes For Heroes means a lot to her because , “It’s one small thing I can do for those who have sacrificed so much for us. I would like to just say donating to Heroes for Heroes and helping provide a vet with a service dog not only changes the life of the veteran and their family and friends, but it can save a life.”
Contact information for Heroes For Heroes includes: a mailing address of N1130 County Road Q, Watertown, 53098; phone 920-988-8294; email — email@example.com; Facebook- https://www.facebook.com/heroesforheroeswi/. Donations can be made via mail or through the Facebook page, Venmo — @heroesforheroes or PayPal — firstname.lastname@example.org.