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Friends caring for friends

-Submitted photo
Austin and his dog Sasha share some bonding time as Sarah Peters, Best Friends Project director, looks on. Sasha has been staying at the Dayton Doggie Dude Ranch as a part of The Best Friends Project. Austin received inpatient treatment at Community and Family Resources in Fort Dodge, and the project is providing continued support to both Austin and Sasha while he continues his journey.

DAYTON — The Best Friend Project realizes the roles that pets play in an individual’s speedy recovery, so its goal is to make sure owners and best friends do not get separated.

If an individual doesn’t have friends or family able to step in and watch their pet while in treatment for mental health or substance abuse, they are normally taken by animal control to a designated shelter or pound.

Once the owner is out of treatment, that individual is then responsible for paying to get their pet. Often, the owner is unable to afford to pay for the bill.

The Best Friend Project, a new nonprofit in Dayton, is willing to drive to any community in Webster County and the surrounding counties to pick up a beloved pet and care for them while their owner gets the care they need.

Owners can feel confident that their best friends are being well cared for during their recovery at the Best Friend Project at the Dayton Doggie Dude Ranch.

“As an animal lover, but also a person with experience with mental illness that has used my experience to become a peer support specialist and mental health advocate, this project has become more than a passion of mine, it has become my determination, and I am determined to watch it succeed,” said Sarah Peters, project director.

Peters already owned the Dayton Doggie Dude Ranch, which is a dog boarding facility and doggie daycare.

“I had the building, I have the training and I realized I had the capability of making a difference,” she said.

The project does not change how she does her original business. The boarding at the Dude Ranch is what helps provide income to help maintain the building and pay expenses.

“Boarding with us at the Dude Ranch is a wonderful way to support the Best Friend Project,” added Peters.

Since beginning in the summer, the Best Friend Project has received about one call per week and has been sheltering animals anywhere between 30 days and six months.

“The response we have received since the beginning of August has shown that the project is not only needed in our state, but is long overdue,” said Peters.

The project also benefits Dayton by bringing more attention to the rural community.

“Do you ever hear people say where is Dayton?” asked Peters. “We hear it all the time at the community outreach events we attend promoting our program. Our answer is always, Dayton is in the heart of north central Iowa, and it is not just the home to the Dayton Rodeo but also the Dayton Doggie Dude Ranch.”

As part of its outreach program, Peters has been able to set up informational booths at different events throughout Iowa. At those events, they are then able to hear firsthand from peers who could have benefited from these services, had they been available during their treatment. Some even lost their pets.

“It is truly touching and heartbreaking. It is what drives us to keep this project going,” said Peters. “Imagine if you lost your pet during a hospital stay? How would that affect you? Now imagine that hospital stay was for mental health or substance use recovery.”

Many peers stated that finding care for their best friends was a reason they delayed treatment or hesitated to get help, including the peers that they are currently assisting through their program.

The Fort Dodge Community Foundation has given the project a community impact grant of $5,000. This grant is made available through the Grow Greene County Gaming Corp. in Jefferson, which provides the Fort Dodge Community Foundation with grant funds for the purpose of improving the quality of life in communities in Fort Dodge and Webster County.

The Best Friend Project is spreading the word about its services through the Department of Health and Human Services, UnityPoint Health and other organizations that assist with providing treatment for mental health or substance abuse.

The project is normally contacted by a case worker, law enforcement or a peer-run program at a treatment facility. If an individual or family reaches out about care, they will need to provide verification that the pet’s owner is going into treatment.

The service is also extended to those who are actively involved in a treatment program, also known as integrated home health, and receive care on a daily basis.

“There’s no application to fill out, they just need to meet those requirements and then we can come in and we just have them fill out a form giving us permission to care for their pet, including veterinarian care,” Peters said.

For more information about the Best Friend Project, call Peters at 515-715-7266.

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