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COSAM supporter helps provide therapy dogs for veterans

Published: 06/01/2015

By: Lindsay Miles

Gordon Sumner, a 2006 Auburn graduate, is a COSAM supporter and retired colonel select with the U.S. Army. He serves as interim president of Veterans Moving Forward (VMF), a nonprofit organization that places fully-trained therapy dogs in the homes of veterans dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other physical and mental challenges.

The dogs offer service 24 hours a day for 5-7 years at no cost to veterans or their families, and are trained to provide comfort and serve as assistants for carrying items, opening and closing doors, and alerting in an emergency.

“There are no paid employees,” said Sumner. “We rely fully on volunteers and donations to maintain this organization. Every dollar we receive goes toward defraying costs of training, supplies, equipment and other fees.”

The dogs must undergo an extensive training process, taking 18-24 months to provide assistance for veterans dealing with PTSD, or 3-4 years of training to fully assist veterans with physical handicaps. After a dog is placed in a home, trainers work with the veteran for 3-6 months until he or she is fully comfortable. VMF also continues to provide financial support for the dog and veteran for three years after placement.

“The effect these dogs have on our veterans is tremendous,” said Sumner. “The testimonies we hear and the improvements we see are amazing. It is truly a life-changing service these dogs provide.”

Cmdr. Karen Jefferies, U.S. Navy, retired, began VMF in July 2010 after being a part of K9 therapy programs in the past and recognizing the continuing need for that type of service.

“Karen was looking for people to serve as a board of directors and she reached out to me,” said Sumner. “After hearing her story, I was immediately hooked and knew this was an organization I wanted to be a part of.”

He served as secretary of the board for four years and became president in January 2015.

Sumner attended Auburn in 1970, but left the university and joined the Army where he spent his initial military career as an infantryman and later as a master aviator. He finished his undergraduate career in music performance and music education at Jacksonville State University.  He went on to obtain a master’s degree in education from Boston University, a doctorate in adult education from Madison University and was also a graduate of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

“Even though I collected different degrees from different schools, I always wanted to be an Auburn grad,” said Sumner. “That may sound silly to some people, but if you’ve ever been a part of Auburn, you understand.”

Sumner decided to return to Auburn for his master’s degree in business administration while his daughter, Ande, was working toward a bachelor’s degree in zoology.

“Ande and I were talking over the holidays while we were both enrolled at Auburn and to our surprise, realized that we’d be graduating on the same day,” said Sumner. “Graduating with her was absolutely my favorite Auburn memory.”

Upon Ande’s graduation, Sumner established a COSAM scholarship in his daughter’s name, which will become an endowed scholarship this year – a dream of the Sumners. The Sumner family enjoys keeping in contact with scholarship recipients and following the careers of those they have sponsored.

Ande went on to complete a doctorate in biomechanics and was then offered a direct commission by the U.S. Air Force to be a physician assistant. She accepted and her father swore her in at a Washington D.C. commissioning ceremony.

After completing a physician assistant course with the Air Force and acquiring a second master’s degree in medical science at Methodist University in Fayetteville, N.C., Ande then attended Officer Training School at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala. She is now a first lieutenant serving as a physician’s assistant at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro, N.C.

“I am so proud of Ande, and I am thrilled we could share the Auburn experience together,” said Sumner.

*** Veterans Moving Forward is a 501(c)(3) public charity whose mission is to provide service dogs to veterans with physical and mental health challenges. For more information, visit the website.    

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