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American Vet Dogs

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Members of the Port Jefferson Lions Club stand next to Howard, a Marine vet, and his new service dog Kito. Photo from Bruce D’Abramo

As a part of a tradition that has continued for over 20 years, the Port Jefferson Lions Club sponsor a dog through the Guide Dog Foundation to be matched with someone who needs it. Each dog sponsored is named after a Lions member, though this year was a little different. 

Dean T. Jenkins, president of the Port Jeff Lions, said the organization has been sponsoring a dog every year for the past 25 years. This year’s dog, Kito, was named after a member, Ben Kito, who passed away suddenly two years ago. Also, this is the first dog sponsored by the group that was matched with a veteran. 

“When we told Ben’s wife, Janice, about what we’re doing she thought it was very touching,” he said. 

Bruce D’Abramo, Village of Port Jeff trustee and Lions member since 1983, said he was glad he could support veterans. 

Initially, Kito was meant to be a guide dog, but D’Abramo said it fell short in some areas and instead was made into a service dog through St. James-based nonprofit America’s VetDogs, which trains service dogs for veterans. 

“Training of the dog takes a long time,” the trustee said. 

Service dogs undergo a rigorous training program, according to the America’s VetDog website. The animal companions can be trained up to over 200 tasks, and once the client is matched with a dog, instructors customize its training to meet the client’s specific needs.  

At the graduation ceremony March 24, Janice Kito presented the dog to Howard, a Marine veteran who served in Afghanistan as well as Iraq and suffers from PTSD.  

“Janice was ecstatic about finally presenting Kito to Howard,” Jenkins said. 

D’Abramo said Howard really loved the presentation and is glad Kito will be part of his life and will take him back home to Baltimore. 

“These veterans need our help, and it was a rewarding experience,” the trustee said. 

The Port Jeff Lions, which is a part of the Lions Clubs International, the world’s largest service club organization with more than 1.4 million members, raised over $45,000 for about 26 charities they support this year, according to Jenkins. 

The Port Jeff organization will be hosting a charity golf outing at the Port Jefferson Country Club May 20 at 12 p.m. The event is a major fundraiser for the club.