May 24, 2019  

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USM Veterans Center Unveils “Paws for Patriots” Program

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Pictured are members of the Crispell family with their new dog "Major." Front row, left to right: Kara (10), Bruce (4) and Andrea (6). Back row: Gary Grispell and Fanny Crispell..

Contemporary dogs in military roles are often referred to as a military “working dog” or K-9. Such canines serve as lookouts, search and rescue, guides, and mascots. Retired working dogs are often adopted as pets or therapy dogs and most often prove to be the best of companions for service members and veterans through friendship, and devotion.

To further illustrate this unique partnership, the Center for Military Veterans, Service Members and Families at The University of Southern Mississippi recently established a new program entitled, “Operation Paws for Patriots.” The program -- the first of its kind in Mississippi -- identifies individuals across the local community interested in donating a canine “working dog” to a student-veterans and his/her respective families. 

“These canine companions provide moral support and more to student-veterans and their families as they transition from the military to life as a member of the South Mississippi and USM communities,” said Maj. Gen. (U.S. Army ret.) Jeff Hammond, who serves as the Veterans Center director. “This program is exclusively designed to unite USM student-veterans with a ‘working dog” that serves to bridge the military transition to college student.”

The “Operation Paws for Patriots” program was officially launched when Army veteran Dustin Simmons of Purvis donated a nine-week-old pure breed German Shepard to USM student-veteran Gary Crispell. When his female German Shepard was preparing to deliver a litter of puppies, Simmons decided he wanted to give back to a student-veteran. 

In speaking with his mother, Simmons stated, “I have a lot of respect for veterans and wanted to give a puppy to one of our student-veterans.” That’s when he and his mother reached out to the USM Center for Military Veterans, Service Members and Families in search of a deserving student-veteran. 

Upon identification, screening and notification, Crispell excitedly exclaimed, “We are proud and honored to be the first recipient of a ‘working dog’ under the auspices of the 'Paws for Patriots' program."

Crispell is a U.S. Navy veteran who served active duty for five years and in transition from the military decided to apply his GI Bill to embark upon an advanced education and professional future in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). He is nearing completion of a doctorate in molecular biology and plans to enter the field of medicine. 

Crispell noted that he, his wife and children recently had suffered the loss of a family dog. When reached by Doug Robinson of the USM Veteran Center about the “Operation Paws for Patriots” donation, they were overwhelmingly in favor of welcoming a new canine member into their home.

He acknowledged the importance of military “working dogs” and the role they assume in the lives of service members and their families. He further stated the addition of “Major” to their family is nothing short of “a truly wonderful blessing” not only as a family pet, but most helpful in “relieving stress in my life.”

Hammond said that he and the center extend warmest regards and appreciation to Simmons, his mother and the many supporters across the community who are “making a difference” in the lives of student-veterans. 

If you are interested in or know someone who may want to support “Operation Paws for Patriots,” please contact the Center for Military Veterans, Service Members and Families ( or 601-264-4629.