Ten years ago, Rae Erickson saw a need in Las Vegas. The dog lover wondered, ‘what happened to dogs when their elderly owners can no longer care for them?’
“Basically,” she said, “Their dogs are left behind.”
That was the seed which started an effort to save, feed and foster animals without a home. The “Those Left Behind Foundation” helps 150 pets across the Las Vegas valley.
“We take dogs that are so terrified of their own shadow,” said Erickson, “(We) turn them into confident, happy animals.”
As she and her fellow volunteers worked to make sure animals weren’t left behind, she grew to realize someone closer to her was being left behind. Her son. He served with the Air Force for six years.
“You didn’t know if you were going to get that call,” said Erickson, “You live with that fear that I’ve got him out of overseas, but now am I going to lose him?”
Her son suffered with Post-Traumatic Stress Distorder and “no human could get to him.”
Everything changed when he got a service dog, which gave him a reason to live, care and love. Today, he works for Tesla.
“It’s just not fair,” said Erickson, “Whatever we can do, whatever little bit we can do, we’re going to do.”
Erickson and her friend Diane Meier started an organization within Those Left Behind called Pups, Prisons and Patriots.
“What if we took dogs,” she recalled, “Took them to a prison and had the prisoners train them and paired them with veterans with PTSD?”
Erickson and Meier take dogs to Lovelock Correctional Center in Northern Nevada and let selected prisoners train them to be American Kennel Club certified. Right now, nine dogs are in the program.
Moving forward, Erickson hopes to expand towards helping local children with autism become more outgoing though the love of dogs.
“These men are going to be your neighbors one day,” she siad, “These men are going to move into your communities. Do you want them to have compassion? Do you want them to have skills?”
With this program, she said, they do.
Those Left Behind received Channel 8’s Acts of Kindness award.