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Robert Misseri

Niki Halloway secures the cage of a dog being airlifted out of Bahamas to safety.

During the first week of September, the nation watched as Hurricane Dorian ravaged the Bahamas. Thousands of people have been left without homes, and many have also lost contact with their pet dogs. Some animals were lost in the storm, while other dogs may have been left behind as families attempted to reach safety.  

Animal organizations estimate that hundreds of dogs in the Bahamas are now in need of being brought to safety and provided with medical care and food. 

Guardians of Rescue, a Smithtown nonprofit that specializes in bringing together people and dogs in need, has stepped in to help. It’s bringing in the stranded dogs on chartered planes from the Bahamas to safe spots in Florida and New York.

The animal rescue organization reports that it initially brought back its first 30 dogs Sept. 9. A second flight took off 24 hours later and more flights are scheduled in the days ahead, the group said, until all of the abandoned animals are in safe haven in the United States. They initially planned to eventually relocate 98 pets, but now have created a rescue network to save more animals. 

“We are no strangers to helping dogs in dire situations, this is exactly why our organization exists,” explained Robert Misseri, president of Guardians of Rescue. “We will do everything we can to help as many dogs as we are able to, but we can’t do it without the help of the public. This is going to be a very costly endeavor, so we can use all the financial assistance we can get.”

The organization has started a website fundraiser for the cause. It’s goal is to raise $20,000 and has so far received close to $6,000 in donations.

The organization is working with Chella Phillips, a Nassau, Bahamas, resident, who manages The Voiceless Dogs of Nassau. She took in nearly 100 stray dogs when the storm was approaching to provide them with a safe place. Her story went viral in the news and on social media. 

The Smithtown organization has also teamed up with two other nonprofits for the mission, Animal Aid USA, based in New Jersey, and Animal Wellness Foundation in Los Angeles to help prepare and load the dogs for a flight to Florida. The relationship has allowed for transportation of the dogs to a safe place and has enabled the people in the Bahamas to take in more abandoned dogs.  

The networks’s overarching goal is to take in displaced pets and either return them to their owners or place unclaimed pets up for adoption, according to Lorenzo Borghese, founder and president of Animal Aid. Animals shipped to the U.S. are fed and receive a health examination and undergo a two-week quarantine until they find the animals permanent homes. 

“We are on a mission to help these animals, and we hope that the community will help support the mission,” said Misseri. “There are many dogs in need of food, medicine, shelter and permanent loving homes. Together, we can make a wonderful difference.”

Misseri added that animals that have already made the trip to America are still quarantined and not yet ready for adoption. People interested in adopting a pet should monitor the guardian website at www.guardiansofrescue.org. Misseri expects adoption information should be available in the days and weeks ahead. 

To donate to the Bahamas cause visit: https://guardiansofrescue.networkforgood.com/projects/80292.

Guardians of Rescue provides assistance to animals out on the streets. They are located in the Village of the Branch and also have a chapter in Miami, but they help animals in many places beyond their chapter locations. Their members are also involved with Paws of War, which helps train service dogs for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. 

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Timothy Boyd, stationed at the COP De Alencar, formerly known as Camp Blackfish, Afghanistan seeks to adopt a dog named Mischa to remove her from the trauma of war. Photo from Paws of War

War is hell, but soldiers find solace in rescuing and adopting scared and abused animals from the battlefields overseas.

Timothy Boyd, stationed at the COP De Alencar, formerly known as Camp Blackfish, Afghanistan seeks to adopt a dog named Mischa to remove her from the trauma of war. Photo from Paws of War

Paws of War, a nonprofit organization based in Nesconset, is dedicated to aiding veterans and their pets through an array of programs. Funded entirely by donations, it’s become a unique charitable cause that has caught the attention of local lawmakers as well as people actively serving in the military.

Tim Boyd is a U.S. soldier assisting Special Forces in the fight against ISIS, stationed in war-torn Afghanistan. He’s heading back to his home in Dallas, Georgia to retire after serving three decades in the military. He’s reached out to Paws of War to help transport a young dog named Mischa that he and his unit befriended, after rescuing the animal from abuse.

Paws of War typically helps reunite four dogs with soldiers each year and Boyd and Mischa are one of this year’s recipients of their altruism. “Humans truly have it backwards. We think we are rescuing the animal,” Boy said via email from an undisclosed location. “That is so much not the case, not with our fur babies. They undoubtedly rescued us.”

Soldiers saw the young animal being dragged by her neck, so they rescued and cared for her. Once stateside and out of “this godforsaken place,” Boyd said the dog can lay on his furniture instead of tearing up her feet running and walking the terrain of Nangarhar, Afghanistan.

When soldiers choose to adopt a dog found while serving the military, the process is intensive. “There’s a lot of red tape involved,” according to Robert Misseri, co-founder of Paws of War. Transporting the dog alone can cost $6,000, his office staff explained. That fee does not include the cost to travel to Georgia, once the dog arrives at John F. Kennedy International Airport. The flight, health certificates, customs fees and boarding along the way are all part of the expense.

Mischa is expected to arrive stateside before  Boyd. His wife, Tara, will welcome Mischa, who already has adopted Mischa’s sister Bella Lynn. “Bella is also a pup that rescued me and our family when I found her washed under some tree branches out in the middle of the woods,” Boyd said.

Once Boyd and his troops return, he said he will be free to send a group photo that he has taken of Mischa with the unit. “I appreciate any and all assistance that people can provide in helping make Mission Mischa a successful operation,” Boyd said. “She needs to come home with me. I can’t imagine it any other way.”

Paws of War also provides service and therapy dogs to veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. People interested in knowing more about Paws of War programs or who might want to help with Mission Mischa can visit www.pawsofwar.org.

Robert Misseri speaks at the grand opening of the Nesconset location of Paws of War in December.

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. 

A trainer works with a service dog at Paws of War in Nesconset.

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.

By Kyle Barr

Fallen U.S. Airman Christopher Raguso, who perished in a March 15 helicopter crash, promised his Commack family he would get them a dog upon his return. Although he never came home, a local organization has stepped in to fulfill his pledge.

Paws of War, a Nesconset-based nonprofit that helps connect dogs with veterans and retired law
enforcement as companion animals or to be trained as service dogs, gifted a 4-month-old black Labrador named Calvin to the family Aug. 24.

“I didn’t sleep at all last night I was so excited,” Raguso’s wife, Carmela, said. “We needed this — we’re wounded, our dad was a warrior, our hearts are broken and maybe this dog can help us.”

Carmela Raguso told her two daughters, Eva, 5, and Mila,7, when the truck rolled up it was just their family friend, Joe Bachert, a retired member of the New York City Fire Department, bringing his own dogs for them to play with. Instead, Bachert came out of the vehicle with Calvin cradled in his arms.

Eva ran forward with her arms outstretched, screaming with delight, and started to hug and kiss the young pooch. Mila asked her mother if the dog was theirs, who responded that of course he was. 

“I’ve been dreaming about this,” Eva said, as she held Calvin’s head close to hers. “I like him so much.”

Raguso’s wife said Eva took the death of her father hard. The couple’s youngest had taken to sleeping in bed with her, “to keep her father’s side of the bed warm.” Now, with the addition of Calvin, Eva said she will be sleeping in her own bed with Calvin always at her side.

“To have this dog be her buddy and especially be her sleeping buddy, maybe she’ll sleep well,” Raguso’s wife said. “It’s been tough, but we put one foot in front of the other — we honor the dead by living.”

Raguso was one of seven members of New York’s 106th Rescue Wing killed in the line of duty when a H-60 Pave Hawk helicopter crashed while carrying out a mission in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, an American-led mission to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria, according to the U.S. Department of Defense. 

“One can’t even imagine what the family is going through, and we hope that this adds a little sunlight to their lives because they’ve been in darkness for some time,” said Smithtown resident Robert Misseri, a co-founder of Paws of War.

The black Lab was just one of a litter of 11 puppies that Paws of War’s sister organization and nonprofit rescue group Guardians of Rescue saved from a high-kill shelter in Louisiana, days before they would have been put down, according to Misseri. The rest of the dogs will be given to other veterans and veterans’ families either as a companion animal or be fully trained as a service dog.

The Nesconset nonprofit provided the Raguso family with a puppy starter kit that included everything from food to toys, and even a cage. Calvin is already leash trained and housebroken, and Misseri said the rest of the dog’s training will be provided for free.

“The goal is just to make their lives better and put smiles on their faces,” said Bachert, who is a member of Paws of War and served as Raguso’s drill instructor in the Commack firefighter academy.

By all accounts, Calvin was excited to be with his new family, but he was still nervous of new places. As the family tried to bring him into the house the young puppy shied away from the door. 

It was only when Eva went inside, suddenly upset by a rush of emotions, that Calvin darted after her. He instinctively knew his role with the family, to comfort them in their continued grief.