By John Grimaldi
One way to show appreciation for U.S. veterans’ service to our country is to ensure they receive the support and services they require upon coming home. Smithtown resident Robert Misseri has stepped forward to answer that calling.
Misseri is the founder and president of Paws of War, a Nesconset-based nonprofit organization that since 2014 has been helping train shelter dogs to serve and provide greater independence for veterans and first responders suffering from post-traumatic stress disorders and other mental illness.
Although he has not served in the military, Misseri firmly believes in the importance of his nonprofit’s work.
“We feel we are saving lives, we have vets tell us if it had not been for Paws of War as a second — or sometimes first family — they may have taken their own lives,” he said. “The veterans get involved. They want to be part of something and they want to make it effective for other veterans too.”
For his passion and commitment to helping Long Island’s veterans, Misseri is one of TBR News Media’s 2018 People of the Year.
When he isn’t at his day job, Misseri, 49, spends most of his free time at Paws of War — often there on nights and weekends.
“It has pretty much become a second full-time job,” Misseri said.
He is fully hands-on involved in every aspect of running the Nesconset organization from small tasks like making sure there is enough dog food available to larger ones like reviewing applications for training classes or running group meetings.
“You can’t imagine how much dogs make an impact on your life,” said Frank James, a retired police officer from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, about his dog Bailey. “She’s helped significantly, really significantly.”
This October, Paws of War moved to a new storefront within the Nesconset Plaza shopping center that offers more room to operate, due to the success and growth of the nonprofit. With the expansion, Misseri said the organization has added quiet rooms and lounge areas where veterans can relax with their companions. As many veterans suffer from PTSD, these quiet rooms and lounge areas serve as a sanctum where the former service members and first responders can go to unwind or relax with their four-pawed companions.
The new, larger location has allowed the nonprofit to double the number of veterans they can train per day from 15 to 30, which, according to Misseri, made things “a lot less stressful.”
Paws of War then launched a new mobile vet clinic in November it calls the Vets to Vets Mobile Animal Clinic.
“One thing we see is that [veterans] have a hard time getting proper care [for their animals]; it’s expensive to get vaccinations and simple trimmings and services,” Misseri said. “It helps veterans mentally as well to know their animal is healthy.”
In addition to vaccinations and grooming, the mobile service will provide annual exams, dental checks, FIV/FeLV testing for cats, flea and tick preventative care, heartworm testing and microchipping services.
And the need for the nonprofit’s services keeps growing.
“There was an explosion of needs with constant referrals by [Veterans Affairs], and we realized we need to expand and expand quick,” Misseri said.
With a new location and mobile clinic, the Nesconset nonprofit is better set to provide veterans with the services they need. To learn more about Paws of War, visit www.pawsofwar.org.